I’m sitting in Howie Roseman’s expansive office, overlooking the NovaCare practice field, three days before the start of training camp. On a shelf next to his desk is a photo of his wife Mindy and their three kids, and across the room there’s a massive whiteboard listing the Eagles roster. In gray dress pants, with the sleeves of his blue button-down shirt rolled up, Roseman could pass for a decade younger than his age, thanks to a youthful face that’s never suffered a bone-crushing hit. In a business where even the guys with clipboards look like ex-players, or at least like jocks, Roseman resembles—well, a Howie. Bill Parcells once told him the only other man he knew named Howie was feared defensive end and Villanova grad Howie Long, who pulled it off with an imposing six-foot-five-inch frame. Roseman said he was sticking with it anyway.
Beneath his unassuming exterior lies a tunnel-vision obsession. While players have a few months to escape the game and recharge their batteries, Roseman’s most intense work begins when the NFL’s season ends—signing contracts, diving headfirst into draft preparation and assessing what went wrong the year before. Back when he was still an intern, Roseman would hang out with the scouts to watch tape long after everyone else went home. That work ethic hasn’t changed: His days at the NovaCare complex often begin before 6 a.m., and after roughly five hours of watching college and free-agent tapes, plus meetings, team practice and hitting the phones, he’s lucky to make it home by 8 p.m. “My job is to bring talent to our football team,” Roseman says. “We’re gonna look under every rock and explore every option to improve our team. There’s no way I’m ever satisfied.”
Aside from football, Roseman will only cop to two other passions: pizza (he’s a fan of Tacconelli’s in the Northeast) and his family. And even the latter seems increasingly wound up with football. His oldest child was born on Super Bowl Sunday (one can imagine Roseman doing the conceptual math and planning that intentionally), and for this year’s annual family vacation to Orange Beach, Alabama, where his wife’s family has a summer home, he had game tapes shipped down so he could prepare for the supplemental draft.
Roseman’s obsession with putting together the perfect roster began as a kid, even though at the time, fantasy football didn’t exist. That didn’t stop him from compiling research in preparation for the NFL draft, which he’d watch from start to finish. When his family went out on Sundays, Roseman would stay home, glued to games on television. At age eight, he met Jack Elway, father of future Hall of Fame quarterback John and himself a college coach, on a flight to Florida. After talking football with Roseman for two hours, Elway was so impressed that he told the kid’s mom her son should audition for the TV show That’s Incredible. “I finally had someone believing in me,” Roseman says of the encounter. “I used to tell people I wanted to be a general manager in the National Football League. And everyone would go, ‘How are you gonna get there?’ I didn’t really know. I just knew what I wanted to do.”
Roseman’s vision of his future sounded implausible even to his own family, so much so that his mom “misplaced” Elway’s business card. But he had two distinct
advantages—a laser focus on his life’s passion, and a relentless drive, like a math whiz consumed with solving some knotty equation or a spelling-bee champion memorizing the dictionary. His senior year of high school, while his more athletic classmates were catching touchdowns, Roseman sent letters to every NFL team, asking for career advice. He only considered colleges with top-tier football programs, just to get close to the game. “He’s a very meticulous guy,” says Jedd Fisch, offensive coordinator for the Miami Hurricanes and Roseman’s roommate at the University of Florida. “Very detailed, very organized, very driven.” As proof, Fisch points to the 1995 NFL draft, during which Roseman made their apartment look like the Jets war room, with binders and a draft board.
His singleminded approach continued at Fordham Law, where he paid close attention to topics that applied to football, be that contract negotiations or salary-cap management. It was the perfect time to be a number-cruncher looking for a path to the NFL: The cap was a new obstacle along the road to a championship, and teams needed guys with degrees, not gridiron pedigrees, to balance their books. After Roseman’s second NFL
letter-writing campaign—in law school—Eagles president Banner, unsure whether
he was a talent or a stalker, agreed to meet him in person, and hired him as an unpaid intern. With no real estate to spare, Roseman sat at the edge of the desk of Banner’s assistant, a feisty South Philly native. On his first day at work, Roseman’s not-so-inner Urkel made an impression. “Ever see the movie Uncle Buck, where Macaulay Culkin asks him, like, 40 questions in a row?” Roseman says. “I was 25, fresh out of school, and I had all this energy and ideas. So I started shooting off questions, and she finally turns to me and goes, ‘Enough with the fucking questions.’”
In sports today—as in pop culture and business, where guys named Jobs and Zuckerberg are the patron saints—being a geek isn’t such a bad thing. Statistician Bill James used sabermetrics to strip baseball down to a series of numbers and equations; now you’ll hear analysts talking as much about WHIP and WAR as wins and losses. Pencil-necked Yale grad Theo Epstein, the youngest GM in the majors, built the Red Sox team that snapped an 86-year title drought. Meanwhile, Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player ever, has been an utter failure as an NBA executive and owner.
Of course, by the time Roseman joined the Eagles, there was already a nerd in the front office: Banner. But not all geeks are alike, and Roseman’s image as “Joe’s guy” wasn’t seen as an advantage to all, considering Banner’s reputation as a ruthless bottom-line manager. Some within the organization even questioned the speed of Roseman’s ascension—by 2006, he was vice president of football administration—and the collateral damage that came along with it. As Roseman studied the personnel side of the team, those he’d learned from moved on, including vice president of operations Jeff Kaplan; vice president of personnel Jason Licht; and finally general manager Tom Heckert. That Roseman impressed Banner and Lurie enough to make longtime, well-regarded lieutenants above him expendable speaks to his unrelenting pursuit of that childhood dream. “He put in the time,” says a former Eagles front-office staffer, who says Roseman was no suck-up. “You knew he wasn’t content where he was. It was never enough. He always wanted to do more.”
With Banner gone, Eagles insiders agree it’s Reid’s show to run, but emphasize that Roseman isn’t an empty suit, particularly important given that Reid is dealing with the aftershocks of losing his son Garrett. “Howie’s right in the middle of it,” Didinger says of the team’s off-season this year. “You get the feeling that Howie and Andy have a pretty good working relationship. Andy has more influence, but he really trusts Howie.” Though Roseman shared Banner’s academic mind for the game, the consensus is that internally, it’s a very different team with Roseman at the helm. “Joe does a lot of things well, but as a people person, he’s terrible,” says the former staffer. “When he went into the cafeteria with the players, he was staring at his shoes. Howie says hi.” Roseman’s also known for keeping in touch with agents, even when there’s no business on the table. Unlike Banner, whose connections with players seemed to run only as deep as the ink on their contracts, Roseman sees relationship-building as essential to his job. (Largely for that reason, insiders speculate that if Roseman had been in charge in 2009, longtime fan favorite Brian Dawkins would never have left for Denver.)