TAMPA — Jason Licht was awakened at 5 a.m. by his father, Ron, at the Residence Inn near the Philadelphia airport.
“Did you move the truck last night?” he asked nervously.
Licht had rented a U-Haul truck to transport his few belongings from New England to Philadelphia, where he had accepted a job as the Eagles’ assistant director of player personnel after the 2002 season.
The truck had been stolen from the hotel parking lot.
“We got off on the wrong foot," Licht said. “Philly. The City of Brotherly Love."
With only some personal items in his possession, Licht’s first day of work during organized team activities with the Eagles was memorable. “Everybody felt bad for me,” he said.
That’s when Licht first met Howie Roseman, who offered the use of his apartment in New York City to visit the Big Apple for the weekend. At the time, Roseman was the Eagles’ director of football administration who managed the team’s salary cap and commuted back to NYC on the weekends.
From that moment on, Licht and Roseman have been close friends, confidants and fierce competitors.
They climbed the ranks of NFL front offices and are now among the most successful and longest-tenured general managers in the league.
Both have built Super Bowl champions. Roseman’s Eagles beat Tom Brady’s Patriots to win Super Bowl 52. Three years later, Licht signed Brady away from New England to lead the Bucs to a win over the Chiefs in Super Bowl 55.
The Eagles have completely reloaded and won the NFC Championship last season before losing to the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57. This year, Licht has begun the process of threading the needle between remaining competitive while building a contender.
If Roseman has a lifelong edge over Licht, it’s that he introduced Licht to his eventual wife, Blair. Roseman’s wife, Mindy, and Blair went to high school together in Cleveland.
“From the day he walked in the door from New England, we kind of hit it off,” Roseman said of Licht.
But before the Rosemans and Lichts became as close as extended family, it was Howie and Jason beating the bushes together, looking for players for the Eagles.
Learning the league together
They were an odd couple. Roseman is a Jewish kid from Brooklyn who grew up wanting to quarterback the Jets like Joe Namath. By the time he was 12, he told everyone he was going to be the general manager of an NFL team.
In high school, he sent letters to every club, and the campaign was accelerated during his time at the University of Florida and Fordham School of Law. Eventually, persistence paid off when he connected with Mike Tannenbaum, the pro personnel director of the Jets at the time.
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He interviewed Roseman for an intern position in player personnel in 1999, but Roseman didn’t get the job. The next year, Roseman was hired by the Eagles as an intern to work on salary cap issues and he’s been there ever since.
Licht, meanwhile, was raised on a farm in Yuma, Colorado, and was big enough to play linebacker and offensive guard at Nebraska.
Licht began his NFL career working for Tom Heckert Jr., a scout for the Miami Dolphins. After one year as an offensive quality control coach, Licht went back to the personnel side. When Heckert became the Eagles director of pro personnel in 2001, he summoned Licht from the Patriots.
Roseman and Licht made a good team with the Eagles. Rosseman knew the salary cap inside and out and helped Licht learn about the market value of players while thinking about the financial constraints of long- and short-term roster building. Licht was a former player and had a knack for evaluating talent, which he passed on to Roseman.
“I took him on a scouting trip. We hit South Florida and Florida,” Licht said. “I remember a couple different times that stood out, like taking the train down to Washington or on the bus to the Meadowlands. He would go over his free-agent projections, the salaries, the salary cap stuff. He was trying to show me that and also, he was learning the ropes of scouting.”
They talked about their futures and dreamed of building their own teams one day.
“Jason and I both had these goals at some point of being GMs and trying to help each other," Roseman said. “I think we spent a lot of time together, talking about players, talking about building teams, talking about the salary cap, talking about everything that goes into building a team and then we had the benefit of being social.
“From my perspective, when I think of Jason and I, we’re just very lucky to be able to have somebody on and off the field, we were able to talk about beliefs, talk about how we saw things. Hopefully, I helped him a little bit from the administrative standpoint. He certainly helped me. I’d tell him about players and he’d give me his perspective."
Just consider who worked for the Eagles at that time. There was not only Roseman and Licht, but Ryan Grigson, who would become general manager of the Colts; and Brett Veach, the eventual general manager of the Chiefs.
“I like to joke I’ve never worked in any other industry but it was almost like the Google of football,” Roseman said. “I felt like those were some of the formative years for me and having someone like Jason to share it with and then at the same time being able to share good food with him, and obviously the connection we have with our wives.
“At his heart, (Licht’s) a football nerd. He’s like me, he loves building teams, he loves scouting players, he loves putting the pieces together and we shared that.”
When Roseman’s first son was born, the Lichts were at the hospital to meet him before anyone else. The Lichts have three children; the Rosemans have four.
On the field, their career parallel is unmistakable.
The Bucs drafted Jamies Winston No. 1 overall out of Florida State in 2015. A year later, the Eagles selected Carson Wentz second overall out of North Dakota State.
“We had several conversations over the year, when we had Jameis, he said, ‘I saw what that did to your city. The hope factor,’ ” Licht said. “Draft a quarterback. He showed some good things and they did that with Carson Wentz and that was a little of that inspiration that we’re going to go after it. Wentz was doing well, and just like us, you could only go so far and we had to make a change. They had to do the same thing. There’s a lot of lot of similarities.”
Wentz was an MVP candidate in his second season, throwing 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions before tearing his ACL in Week 13. The Eagles and Nick Foles went onto to win the Super Bowl over the Patriots. When Roseman arrived at the NFL scouting combine the next month, he wasn’t celebrating.
“We talk about it a lot. I remember after he won in ’17. I’m at the NFL combine and I see him and say, ‘Congrats!’ ” Licht recalled. “And he goes, ‘Oh. If you win it they expect you to win it every year.’ ”
Licht would have been happy to reach the playoffs with Winston. But after Winston set an NFL record with 30 interceptions in 2019, Licht knew it was time to find a new quarterback. The Bucs signed Brady the next season.
Similarly, Wentz’s production faded quickly and the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round of 2020.
“You got to give Jason credit, he knew Tom (Brady) and he had a couple more years left and you just try to find the next guy,” Roseman said. “I think that’s our job. It’s a hard thing to do. At the time we did it, we had made the playoffs three straight years and everybody was like, ‘We’ve got to go find another piece.’ Same thing with Jason. He had a quarterback that was there who was a good player and you’re trying to win now.”
Both the Eagles and Bucs are off to 2-0 starts heading into their game on Monday Night Football. The pundits projected Tampa Bay would be among the worst teams in the league. Roseman says he knew better.
“Jason has done a tremendous job of putting that team in the position they’re in there,” Roseman said. “We know going in on Monday night, we know what kind of team we’re going against, and they’ve always had an identity and (head coach) Todd (Bowles) is another one I have tremendous respect for. He was here in Philadelphia for some of our toughest times and the person he is, too, is incredible.”
On Monday night, Licht and Roseman will meet on the field, shake hands and maybe talk about their families for a minute or two.
But once the football is kicked off, they can’t be friends. Far from it.
“You do your best to not say those word, ‘Good luck,’ ” Licht said. “Not today. You kind of look at him a little bit differently. You’ll be friendly but you really want to kick his ass.”
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