PHILADELPHIA -- The answer to the question was staring right back at Philadelphia Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman.
With Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon the topic of conversation during a pre-draft media gathering, Roseman was asked if the Eagles are uniquely qualified to handle the public relations backlash that comes with bringing in a controversial player. They were the ones, after all, who took a chance on Michael Vick following his release from prison.
“I don’t know how many teams in the league have a pre-draft news conference that looks like this,” Roseman responded, looking out at dozens of reporters in the media house at the NovaCare Complex. “So I don’t know that I would say we’re uniquely able to handle anything. This media market, there’s a lot of attention. So I think if we’re unique in any way, we’re unique in that we have more people covering the team than other places in the league and we’ve got to make the right decisions about what reflects well on our organization and the people who work in our organization on and off the field.”
Now a week out from the 2017 NFL draft, the debate continues in the host city about whether the Eagles should fill a big need by taking a shot on Mixon, a gifted football player with significant character concerns. In 2014, Mixon punched a woman at a sandwich shop, breaking four bones in her face. The incident was caught on camera and released to the public in December. He accepted a plea deal and was suspended for his freshman year at Oklahoma.
“A lot of people feel that he is one of the top backs in this draft,” said Eagles VP of player personnel Joe Douglas. “If you take character out of the equation, he’s physically a very gifted player -- but most teams aren’t doing that.”
Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently gauged the league’s temperature regarding Mixon by asking 11 personnel executives what round they would feel comfortable drafting Mixon in, if any. Six have decided not to take him under any circumstances, two declined comment, and three were open to taking him with grades ranging between the first and third rounds.
“You talk about the things you’re looking for in a three-down back, there’s not much he can’t do,” said Roseman. “He’s incredible with the ball in his hands, you can split him out, he’s got really good hands, he can pass protect, he can make people miss. He’s an extremely talented guy. But everyone that we talk about, the total package comes into the equation.”
The fact that the Eagles did roll the dice with Vick, fresh off a prison sentence for dogfighting-related charges, is a factor in this conversation. There was no bigger undertaking than bringing a star like Vick to a city like Philadelphia in a polarizing situation like that one. Owner Jeffrey Lurie, nudged by head coach Andy Reid, decided to make Philly the city where Vick would get his second chance, and all things considered, it was a successful venture.
The circumstances were different then, however, as Roseman pointed out Thursday.
“When you talk about those teams, those are veteran, mature teams. And you knew that when you were bringing guys in that you had guys that were a part of that team -- Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, [Jon] Runyan, Tra [Thomas] ... you knew that those guys were going to grab guys and say, 'This is the way we’re doing it.' Coach [Doug Pederson] is in his second year, we’re trying to build that identity. We were 7-9 last year. We’re not coming off being in the championship game. So I think those are things that you have to take into the equation."
As we wrote around the time of the owners meetings in March, there is some sentiment inside the building that it would be best for Mixon’s opportunity to come elsewhere. Pederson is a green coach, Wentz is just taking flight and the locker room might not be properly equipped to handle all that comes with adding Mixon to it, especially in a market this size.
As it often does, it will come down a team’s own research and philosophy, and how risk weighs against reward.
All things considered, the Eagles ought to consider this the wrong time and wrong place to bring Mixon in.