How the Eagles are Trying to Stay Ahead of the Curve
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) — Maybe the Philadelphia Eagles aren't the "Gold Standard," but the organization is inching up the medal platform these days and is standing right below the New England Patriots when it comes to reputation.
In a copycat league that means everyone wants what you have whether it's a quarterbacks coach turned offensive coordinator like John DeFilippo, an OC turned head coach like Frank Reich, or a personnel chief now settling into the big chair with the New York Jets like Joe Douglas.
It's why national news outlets proclaim your GM as No. 1 and the head coach goes from "least prepared" to top five with a Lombardi Trophy in less than four years.
It's also why the ambitious in the building use the organization as a launching pad.
It didn't cause much of a stir in the Philadelphia area last week when many fans in the Delaware Valley were preparing to enjoy a summer weekend but the Eagles lost a couple of bodies in the front office, one on the personnel side and another in the analytics department.
Scout Chris Nolan went up the Jersey Turnpike to join Douglas with the Jets and it was revealed Taylor Rajack left the Eagles to become the first director of football analytics for the Carolina Panthers.
The latter was perhaps the more interesting move because other organizations are starting to take notice of what Philadelphia is doing on the analytics side and Rajack, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology-schooled data expert, will be passing on what he learned in perhaps the most innovative front office in the sport to the NFC South.
"Yeah, so, you know, we’ve claimed that we were the first team to create an analytics department," former team president Joe Banner recently told The Athletic Philadelphia. "It was a priority that [Jeffrey Lurie] and I identified before he even bought the team. And it’s only gotten bigger and better and more impactful, frankly, because it’s kind of become part of the culture and everyone who’s hired is somebody who’s open to utilizing it."
Rajack is only 27, quickly racing from intern to running the analytics department for an NFL team because of what he was a part of in the Philadelphia front office.
“Working [with the Eagles], we were very well researched in every decision we made," Rajack explained to the Panthers website. "Trying to gain that edge. We wanted to understand the risks and understand the expectation with any decision to make smarter choices. Why would you ignore information that’s out there? It’s the idea of bringing all the pieces together.
“In Philadelphia, we became identified as one of the more analytically-inclined teams. That paved the way for me to get here and start something new.”
New in Carolina is already a decade old with the Eagles where Alec Halaby has emerged as the Eagles' vice president of football operations and strategy and de facto head of the analytics branch of the organization.
"I’m gonna say, probably nine or 10 years ago we hired Alec, and I thought what separated Alec from lots of people we had there was — we brought in lots of people over the years who were really, really good at the analytic part of things," Banner explained. "They didn’t always understand what was the right question to create something that was actionable.
"They always created questions, some of them created questions that were really interesting if you love football and you love math and you love analytics. But it wasn’t always something that you could always put into effect to make a difference, make the team better, give yourself a better chance to win. And you could see right away that Alec had that. He understood what areas of his work could actually make a difference."
Proprietary information or trade secrets are always on the clock in the NFL, however, where front office movement is assured.
The Eagles have been ahead of the curve but others are now catching up so the next idea seems to be marrying personnel with analytics better than most which is where Andrew Berry, the team's VP of football operations, comes in, according to an NFL source.
The Harvard-educated Berry who has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a master’s degree in computer science has had his feet in both camps during his time in the league.
He's both a "football guy" and "analytics guy," starting all four years for the Crimson at cornerback as a three-time All-Ivy League player and beginning his NFL sojourn as a scouting assistant before being promoted to a pro scout and ultimately pro scouting coordinator over seven years with the Indianapolis Colts.
With the Browns as a Sashi Brown wingman, Berry was regarded as a numbers cruncher but also had his hand in all talent evaluation efforts for the club, including college prospects and free agents.
Remember Banner's words: "everyone who’s hired is somebody who’s open to utilizing [analyics]."
While Berry was overlooked in the shuffling of the football operations department in the wake of Douglas' exit, Roseman made sure to mention him in a statement announcing the moves.
"We are confident that providing increased responsibilities to Andy Weidl, who will lead our personnel staff, and Andrew Berry, who we recently brought to Philadelphia as our Vice President of Football Operations, will allow us to continue to build upon our culture and add to the leadership that exists across the entire football operations department," Roseman said.
It's now Berry's job to wed what Weidl's scouts find out to the analytics Halaby and his staff unveils, the buffer funneling information to the top which remains Roseman.
The race to stay ahead in the NFL never ends.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen