The Eagles built their championship team the Patriot way

Despite differences in the front office, both used similar player acquisition tactics.

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
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Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman was recognized as the 2017 Executive of the Year by the Pro Football Writers of America. The Patriots — the team the Eagles are facing in Super Bowl LII — haven’t had anyone named Executive of the Year since 2007. Repeat: Despite four trips to the Super Bowl, two championships and nine division titles in the last decade, New England hasn’t had a single person win that accolade.

Is that because football writers take the Patriots for granted — or is it because the team has almost no “front office” staff?

New England’s official website lists three people: Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft, president Jonathan Kraft and director of player personnel Nick Caserio. That’s it. That’s the list. Coach Bill Belichick pretty much runs that franchise.

By comparison, there are 216 names on the list of Eagles’ front office personnel.

There may not be a better indication of how these two franchises are run. More than two hundred names to three. And yet, while the Patriots seem to relish success in secret and want everything to be about their people at the top, success permeates the entire franchise. There’s not a more successful American sports franchise over the last 15 years, and part of the reason for that is the number of homegrown players the Patriots employ and the smart and team-friendly contracts they add to that core.

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

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Belichick is a master of finding mostly no-name players and turning them into stars, then discarding them the instant they’re no longer at a championship caliber.

But sometimes — albeit rarely — Belichick makes mistakes. Former Eagles safety Patrick Chung was one of them.

“For a combination of reasons — I’d say a big part of it [being] mistakes that I personally made — it just didn’t work out the way that we had hoped it would,” Belichick said about Chung’s first stint with the Patriots, via ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “But we got it right the second time.”

Chung was originally drafted in 2009 by the Patriots, playing four seasons there before Belichick let him go. He signed a three-year contract with the Eagles in 2013, starting 10 games that season. He was, in a word, terrible — so bad the Eagles got rid of him after just one season. He landed back with the Patriots, signing a long-term deal after the 2014 season. Now, Belichick is calling him “one of the best players in the league.”

Treasure from trash

Patrick Chung

Patrick Chung

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Belichick has a history of finding treasure from other teams’ trash. Rex Burkhead went from a non-factor in the Cincinnati backfield to one of the Patriots’ most important players. James Harrison couldn’t get on the field for the Steelers this season and hours after he was released by Pittsburgh, the rival Patriots snatched him up, put him on the field and he’s starting in the playoffs.

It’s not all trash, as it were. The Patriots also went out and spent, when needed, to upgrade the roster, most notably with the signing of Stephon Gilmore — who made the defensive play of the game in the AFC Championship — signing a five-year $65 million deal with the Patriots after last year’s Pro Bowl season in Buffalo. Brandin Cooks was traded by the Saints for a first rounder and a swap of mid-round picks last offseason, and he’s the Patriots best wide receiver.

The Eagles have built their roster in very similar ways. While the Pats traded for Cooks, the best available receiver on the market, the Eagles signed the consensus best available receiver in free agency, bringing in Alshon Jeffery on a one-year deal before extending him for another four.

Alshon Jeffery

Alshon Jeffery

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While the Pats signed the top free agent cornerback from Buffalo, the Eagles traded for another from the same team, swapping Jordan Matthews for Ronald Darby before the season to sure up the secondary. The Pats added Burkhead into their backfield rotation via trade. The Eagles added Jay Ajayi via trade to bolster their stable of backs.

Roseman and his staff, just like Belichick and his, made a number of smart, low-risk moves that paid off in big ways. The Eagles moved down 25 spots in last year’s draft to add Timmy Jernigan in a trade with the Ravens. They’ve subsequently signed him to an extension.

Both teams have built their rosters focused on winning now, with a clear eye on the future as well. And much of that starts with homegrown talent.

Homegrown help

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Philadelphia Eagles
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The Patriots have 34 players on their 2017 roster that were originally drafted or signed by the team, 32 of who have never played for another NFL franchise. The only Patriots to leave and come back are Chung and backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Speaking of backup quarterbacks, Nick Foles is the only member of the current Eagles to have started his career with the team, left and come back. The Eagles have 30 players on the 2017 roster who started their careers with the team, 29 who have never played anywhere else.

While the Patriots do have a number of impact players on the roster who got their NFL careers started elsewhere, it stands to reason the Eagles would have more, given the Chip Kelly era stripped the Birds’ roster of much of the homegrown talent Roseman spent time with Andy Reid putting together. While that turnover could have set the Eagles back half a decade, it didn’t. Just two years later they’re in the Super Bowl, thanks to a remarkably quick roster rebuild by Roseman and his staff.

Shared history

Dion Lewis

Dion Lewis

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The rebuild hasn’t been seamless, but the misses haven’t hurt the team this year. The Eagles drafted running backs in each of the last two seasons who have largely been non-factors, but found free agent Corey Clement who is fast becoming a team favorite, to join Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, who they signed late in the off-season after a Super Bowl run with, yep, the Patriots.

Blount is one of three former Patriots on the Eagles’ roster this season, joining Chris Long, as the two who signed with the Birds after a Super Bowl run last season. The third player on the Eagles roster is Kamu Grugier-Hill, who was a sixth-round pick of the Patriots in 2016, but got cut before that season. He was signed by the Eagles off the waiver wire the next day, and has played in 30 games over two seasons, including both playoff games.

The Patriots have four former Eagles on their current roster. Defensive back Eric Rowe was traded for a fourth-round pick last year, a curious move at the time given the Eagles’ lack of depth in the secondary when Pederson took over. Rowe has been in and out of the lineup for the Patriots, but has played in every playoff game the last two seasons.

Dion Lewis is another former Eagle on the Patriots. He was a non-factor for the Eagles for two seasons before landing with the Patriots. This season — his third in new England — he led the team in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, accounting for more than 1,000 yards of total offense. 

Chung has obviously rejuvenated his career with the Patriots, but he’s not the only New England player with a brief stint in Philly that led to eventual success with the Pats. Danny Amendola never played for the Eagles, but he was on the practice squad for nine months before finding his way to the St. Louis Rams. After four seasons there, he joined the Patriots, working his way into the offensive rotation to become an integral part of this year’s success. Amendola never forgot where he came from, though, and he even has a framed Eagles jersey in his house to remind him of his experience in Philly, brief an unsuccessful as it was.

It seems likely, given the characters at hand, that a former Eagle will help the Patriots win or a former Patriot will push the Eagles to prevail in Super Bowl LII Sunday. For those in Philly, the hope is Blount or Long get to experience back-to-back titles, not the group on the other side of the field. But for both teams, the core should remain intact next year, and likely years to come.