MIKE SIELSKI,
INQUIRER COLUMNIST
msielski@phillynews.com
POSTED: Friday, January 2, 2015, 3:01 AM

What Howie wants, Howie gets. There is no other conclusion to draw from the Eagles' dismissal of Tom Gamble, formerly their vice president of player personnel, formerly the man in the franchise's front office whom Chip Kelly respected most, formerly a thorn who apparently pricked general manager Howie Roseman one too many times.

For years now, there really has been no other conclusion to draw about the power structure within the Eagles organization. Roseman has owner Jeffrey Lurie's ear. Lurie trusts him. Lurie puts him first. There's a long list of executives who have left the Eagles because they were in some measure of conflict with Roseman or because they understood that he was blocking their path to more influence: Tom Heckert, Jason Licht, Ryan Grigson, Louis Riddick, now Gamble.

Those executives have something in common. They are regarded around the NFL as "football guys." It's a common debate around the league. Who does a franchise want making its player-personnel decisions? Does it have to be a "football guy," someone who played or coached? Why can't it be someone such as Roseman, someone who was a salary-cap manager and wanted to learn how to evaluate football talent?

It's that dichotomy between Roseman's background and Kelly's and Gamble's backgrounds that led to Gamble's departure. Roseman is not regarded as a "football guy," and to look at him is to understand why. At 39, he's the youngest GM in the league. He doesn't cut a physically commanding figure. He began his career in the NFL as a numbers cruncher. But he has been with the franchise long enough, and Lurie's loyalty has empowered him enough, that he is unafraid to go toe-to-toe with Kelly or Gamble or anyone else. Lurie likes to think of this dynamic as a form of creative tension, but when it comes to Roseman, it seems that the accent is often on the tension.

"Howie has a tenacity that transcends his appearance," said former New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum, a close friend of Roseman's.

That's the risk for the Eagles here. If Roseman and Kelly are clashing over differences both in their professional relationship and in their player-personnel philosophies, then the schism threatens the entire stability of the front office and the efficiency and effectiveness of the Eagles' decision-making process.

"The important thing about a general manager is obviously picking the players," said former agent and NFL executive Andrew Brandt, who analyzes the league for ESPN, "but more so building consensus between the three parts of the football operation, which are player evaluation, coaching, and financial management."

If that consensus doesn't exist, why would Kelly stay? He would be the most sought-after candidate on the head coaching market the moment he decided to walk, whether now or later, and for all the lip service that Lurie and Roseman have paid to Kelly's intelligence and innovative thinking, it won't take much for him to find another franchise willing to afford him even more freedom to implement his vision.

Similarly, though, it wouldn't take much for the Eagles to believe that they could survive, even thrive, without Kelly. Roseman oversaw the Eagles' excellent 2012 draft, in which they acquired Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles, and Brandon Boykin. He was here when the Eagles drafted DeSean Jackson, and he signed Jackson to a five-year contract extension in 2012, and after Kelly persuaded the organization to release Jackson in March, Roseman this season watched Jackson torch the Eagles secondary in two games and remain perhaps the league's most dangerous deep threat.

There may be people around the league who don't like Roseman, but he is not some pip-squeak laughingstock when it comes to doing his job. He's gotten plenty right, and with Lurie, that gives him leverage. That gives him power. That gives him control.

Everyone thought Kelly had those things, and he has said more than once that he has final say-so over the Eagles' 53-man roster. But even assuming that's true, remember something: Roseman was not a rookie GM who happened to be hired at the same time that Kelly was. Roseman was here first.

"The lens I look at everything is through negotiations and leverage," Brandt said. "A young rising candidate who's never been a GM is not going to be in position to say, 'I want my own guy.' Someone who's got a lot of skins on the wall, they've got a different opinion that could be taken into consideration."

In Jeffrey Lurie's mind, it doesn't matter if Howie Roseman isn't a football guy, because Howie has those skins, which means Howie gets what he wants. So Tom Gamble's gone, and Chip Kelly's now on notice: That's a tenacious general manager you're working with, Coach, and if you expected your authority to be complete and unquestioned, you've come to the wrong place.