Arm Chair General Manager | Philly’s Draft Dilemma

49TIbn3 Arm Chair General Manager | Philly’s Draft Dilemma 

Alex Bell | Anyone that knows me is aware of how much of an NFL Draftaholic I am. When that fateful weekend swings around every spring, you might as well forget about me for a solid four days. This love affair of mine has blossomed over the course of the past decade, and I’ve got absolutely no shame in considering myself a draft junkie. Each year teams get another chance to strike gold through a selection process that spans an “absurd” (according to my mother) amount of time. Sure, the amount of time spent during the actual draft is absurd, but what’s even more mind numbing is the amount of preliminary research that organizations do beforehand. Scouts, coaches, general managers, and owners scour the nation for collegiate players that they think can be the building blocks for their team. Choosing the right pieces to link the puzzle of your team together is vital, and the draft is where it all starts. Some teams are notoriously horrible in the draft process, while other teams seem to make their draft board come together year after year stocked with talent. It takes a group of true architects to compose a successful draft class, and there’s no doubt that the draft process is what affects a team’s culture more than anything else. Like I said, I go gaga over the whole thing, and truth be told I think it’s from playing so many damn Madden dynasties as a kid. While all other thirty-two NFL teams are researching, picking, prodding, and analyzing player after player, I also do my best to brush up on my knowledge of players as well. Just as a general fan of the NFL I know what most team’s specific needs are, but when it comes to the Eagles I pay a little bit closer attention.

Yes, as it states in my bio, I am a Philadelphia Eagles fan. As most people know, the Birds hired current visionary head coach Chip Kelly two years ago on January 16, 2013. Kelly had been the hot coaching name on the market that offseason, and after Philly parted ways with long time walrus head coach Andy Reid, the Chip man slid safely into the drivers seat in Philly. It was a shock since a week earlier Kelly was reportedly going to remain the lead guy for the Ducks of Oregon out in Eugene. Owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman were adamant that they would get their guy, and they eventually did. In two years with the Eagles, Kelly has brought forth a new culture to Philadelphia football. That, and a no huddle offense that moves at the speed of light. With two 10-6 seasons, and an NFC East title under his belt over a 24 month span, it’s pretty evident that Chip is the shot in the arm that the Birds needed to get the organization trending back in positive motion. Though Kelly has done a great job to revitalize the DNA of a legitimate, talented organization, the fact remains that the team must improve upon this past season’s underachievement. Dallas proved to be a tough, contending team this year, and that coupled with a number of the Eagles own problems had them on the outside looking in once the playoffs arrived. The team struggled in a multitude of areas this season, namely with red zone efficiency, secondary coverage, consistent offensive line and quarterback play, and worst of all, countless turnovers. It’s true that most teams that struggle in these areas have no business flirting with playoff contention, but somehow the Eagles managed to take it to the wire. Solid special teams play, a big play offense, and a stout defensive line kept them in the thick of playoff contention all season, and at one time they even looked like a top five team in the NFL. Because of that, they’re nestled on the 2015 NFL Draft board with the twentieth pick of the first round. While the Birds could be perfectly content with sitting at pick twenty and making their selection this year, a certain someone is on everyone’s draft board this year, and he’s got a past with Chip.

Former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the winner of this year’s Heisman Trophy award. Mariota accounted for 57 touchdowns and 5,224 yards of total offense this season on the way to leading the Ducks to the inaugural College Football Playoff National Championship,

After deciding to return as the sheriff of the Oregon Ducks offense after an impressive redshirt sophomore season, Marcus Mariota couldn’t help but to pull the trigger after a 2014-2015 redshirt junior campaign that saw him win the Heisman Memorial Trophy, as well as finish as the runner up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Marietta accounted for 5,224 yards of offense this season, with 4,454 of those yards through the air, and another 770 yards on the ground. He threw for 42 touchdowns, ran for another 15, and get this… He only threw a total of 4 interceptions! All of that success is the product of that lightning fast Chip Kelly no huddle scheme, coupled with ridiculous measurables (6’4″, 220 lbs., 4.4 40-yard dash), and a pinpoint accurate arm. With the way things are stacking up right now for Mariota, all signs are pointing to him being a first round, and more than likely a top-five overall pick. There are conceivably six-eight teams picking before Philadelphia this season (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, New York Jets, Los Angeles St. Louis, New Orleans, Houston, Kansas City, Buffalo) that could justify taking a first round quarterback, so there certainly is not a lack of interest out there for signal callers. Some out there believe that it’d be foolish for Philly to even consider a quarterback in the first round, while others are starting to believe that things are shaping up for a Mariota-Kelly reunion. Indeed, it’s a tricky situation for the Birds brass, especially considering the coup that they’d have to surrender in a trade for the pick that’d land the Heisman winner, but it’s a possibility that many analysts and media types have debated over the course of the past two years building up to this potential remarriage. With that being said, let’s visit the possibility of this move from both sides of the spectrum.

Why Philly Should Make the Move | Alex Bell  As soon as Philly hired Chip back in 2013, questions began to circulate about who the new guy would have as his quarterback. The Eagles already had Mike Vick coming off a dream season under Andy Reid in 2010, a much more mediocre 2011, and an increasingly worse 2012. The other option at the time of Kelly’s hire was Arizona second year man Nick Foles, who in his rookie effort showcased a strong arm and leadership qualities after Vick went down with a concussion, capping a tumultuous season that ended up proving to be just too much to ignore for owner Jeffrey Lurie. Kelly was inheriting an offense that was already pretty well stocked with weapons like Shady McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, not to mention an offensive line that boasted All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters, as well as All-Pro left guard Evan Mathis. Chip knew what he was getting himself into when he took over Andy Reid’s old squad, and that was a personnel group that had the makings of an offensive juggernaut. Rumors circulated about how Chip planned to translate his fast-paced “college” offense to the professional level; I even remember an initial rumor that he’d try to implement a three quarterback system to minimize the amount of wear and tear on his signal caller. Most of the theories about Chip’s transition to the pros, however, proved to be merely media manipulated mumbo jumbo. Chipper went with Foles after Vick went out early in 2013 with a hammy issue, and the rest is history for Foles’ first legitimate season under the helm in Philly.

After a performance that included 30 total trips to the end zone against only 2 interceptions, Napoleon Dynamite was the lead man in Philly for the forseeable future. As 2014 would have it though, Foles showed signs of struggle in his second year as the signal caller for Philly. In a season that ended abruptly after suffering a broken collarbone injury against the Texans, Foles turned the ball over entirely too much, showing signs of indecisiveness in the pocket, which in turn resulted into a horrific red zone inefficiency. Things just weren’t clicking for number 9 throughout the first half of the year. Luckily Philly kept things together, and the quarterback was being bailed out on a weekly basis by continuous herculean performances from the likes of Darren Sproles, the Birds defense, and multiple phases of the Eagles special teams unit.

Sure, the Eagles lacked offensive line continuity due to injury very early in the season, but Foles didn’t do enough for me to cement him as a surefire starting, and more importantly Super Bowl winning quarterback. When Mariota opted to turn pro, the grapevine literally began to seep with comments about Philly needing a quarterback, and that Mariota would undoubtedly make a smooth transition to a familiar offense and a darker shade of green. Kelly and current Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich recruited Mariota as a high school quarterback out of St. Louis School out in Honolulu. Looking more like a basketball prospect than a college QB, the Ducks saw something in the limited amount of time that Mariota spent as a starter in the high school ranks. To the Ducks coaches, Mariota possessed an “it” factor that Kelly and Helfrich fell in love with. Mariota committed to the Ducks on June 30 of 2010, and he was eventually named the starter as a redshirt freshman after the untimely departure of Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas due to several notable off the field run ins. Though Kelly has had his fair share of success with the quarterback position at Oregon, both as a head coach and as an offensive coordinator, no quarterback has orchestrated Kelly’s symphony as sweet as the humble Hawaiian.

Oregon v Oregon State

A silent, lead-by-example type, Mariota possesses the processing speed, pinpoint accuracy, and the wheels to boot that give the Eagles the link their offense has been missing. Too many times over the course of the Eagles first two seasons under Chip Kelly have teams loaded the box to stop Eagles running backs, disregarding both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez as potential zone read threats. And while Kelly’s offense seems to have squeaked by with the current personnel on the roster, it makes logical sense that adding the puzzle piece of Mariota will be the keys that will make the car go. The price of two first rounders, this year’s second rounder, and Shady is a price that is insurmountably steep, however hear me out for a second…

Think about what the Chip Kelly offense has been predicated on for the past two years in Philly. The Birds are a play action pass, big play threat that is predicated first on the success of the run game. Yes, Shady McCoy is the obvious juice in the Philly backfield, but let me ask you this… Is he expendable? For the past two seasons, Shady has eclipsed the 300 carry mark, a milestone that clearly denotes him as a workhorse in Chip’s offense. There are only a select few backs in the NFL that can endure a 300 carry workload and continuously produce at a high level throughout the duration of their careers, with a few anomalies existing in the form of freak of nature Steven Jackson, and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Though the Shady Train looked like a great talent in the Philly backfield this past season, it can’t be denied that he appeared a step slower than his 2013 form that won him the rushing title. It’s always smart to start planning for the future, and the fact of the matter is that Shady isn’t getting any younger. If Philly feels comfortable with the running backs in the middle of this year’s draft, as well as free agency, they could be willing to part ways with McCoy. Trust me, it’s hard for me as an Eagles fan to even begin to comprehend what life without Shady would be like, but Kelly has set a precedent before that he can sort out talent that will fit his scheme.

Remember last off season when Philly decided it was time to part ways with long time deep threat and head case DeSean Jackson? Not only was Jackson counting as 10.5 million against Philly’s cap, but Kelly decided that he wanted to get upgrade by getting bigger at the receiver spot. His vision was to pair 6’1″ speedster Jeremy Maclin out wide with 6’3″ Riley Cooper; that, and he eventually made the move to draft 6’3″ Vanderbilt wideout Jordan Matthews with the 42nd pick to play in the slot. Matthews struggled with some drops throughout his rookie campaign, but his first year marks of 872 yards and 8 touchdowns prove that Kelly does a great job at scouting and selecting talent that meshes seamlessly with his scheme. With Jackson missing from their lineup, Kelly wasn’t only banking on big performance from a rookie, but he had to have also been counting on Maclin to be the Birds deep threat. J-Mac responded, turning in a season full of big plays after returning from a torn ACL. The fifth year Missouri product hauled in 85 catches for not only the first 1,000+ yard season of his career, but a total of 1,318 yards and 10 trips to the end zone. Most of all, Maclin proved that he was the missing deep threat that Kelly needed. With a solid running game in place, Philly has a ton of speed to spread the defense out with play action. Maclin took advantage of that, racking up seven 50+ yard receptions on the year, with two of those being 72 yard catches. The Birds didn’t skip a beat on the receiving end of the spectrum when they had a healthy QB this year. Not only did they keep up their performance down the field as receivers, but in brining in Matthews and ousting Jackson, the Eagles improved their run blocking tremendously on the edge. Maclin and Cooper are willing blockers, and a guy like Matthews fits the mold of what Chip wants an effort and intensity standpoint.

My point in bringing up last year’s off season moves at the receiver resonates when you consider that the Birds could seemingly look to duplicate that effort this offseason with the running back position. Shady is the the third year of a six year deal, and next year he counts as 9.75 million against the Birds’ cap (2.1 million more than he did this past season). In looking at the current crop of potential mid round running backs, its not too farfetched to believe that Chip would feel comfortable with a backfield led by Mariota, Sproles, Polk, and a potential draft prospect like Miami’s Duke Johnson or even a free agent guy with low mileage like Roy Helu Jr.. Signing or drafting a cheaper RB with less wear and tear is the productive trend these days in the NFL, and with Kelly’s eye for talent, who’s to say the Eagles don’t strike mid round gold on a productive back? Hey, crazier things have happened in the NFL offseason, and you’ve got to at least entertain the idea that Philly could ultimately become a better football team by trading Shady at the right time. So while McCoy has verified his worth to Chip Kelly, it’s ultimately going to be up to Kelly to decide which way he wants to roll the dice.

As soon as Philly’s season ended, talks surfaced that there was a power struggle between Kelly and ownership in regards to personnel matters. Ultimately the Birds let go of vice president of player personnel Tom Gamble, a San Fransisco 49ers import from two years prior. Kelly is now in complete control of player personnel matters, which means it’s his call as to which players the Eagles are targeting to fill their roster. The decision to trade up for Mariota and part with multiple picks as well as McCoy would be a franchise shifting decision, and it will be up to Kelly to decide whether or not he needs an “it” factor quarterback to get his squad over the hump. Drafting Mariota would ensure that Kelly got his prototypical signal caller, a necessity in today’s NFL. Take a look at the quarterbacks in this year AFC and NFC championship games: Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Aaron Rodgers. While only two of those four quarterbacks were first round selections, with Luck being the only quarterback on the list that was a number one overall selection, all four quarterbacks possess smarts, measurables, leadership qualities, and above all else — “it” factor. A quarterback’s “it” factor, while immeasurable really, is what separates the Super Bowl winners from the Super Bowl contenders. Brady is the technician, Luck the offensive architect, Wilson the never say die leader, and Rodgers is the gritty mad scientist. All four of them have showcased their brilliance in leading their teams, and all four have proven that if you want to compete at the highest level in the NFL, you need someone who can take steady hold of the reigns when you need to score some points.

Mariota has proven over the course of his collegiate career that he’s a big play threat both through the air and on the ground. 

In trading for Mariota the Eagles would obviously be taking a huge chance to boost their offensive output, but the fact remains that a laundry list of questions need to be answered about their defensive backfield, as well as the linebacker position. Much like Kelly’s first two off seasons with the Eagles, I would not be surprised to see them address the defensive side of the ball via free agency. Adding pieces through the free agent process has proven to pay huge dividends for the Eagles defensive, with the club adding weapons like Conner Barwin in 2013, and then Malcolm Jenkins in the 2014 offseason. Ultimately, should Philly bite the bullet and ride the Mariota train,  they would certainly need to address their other deficits through some other solution.

Why Philly Shouldn’t Make the Move | Ben Rappaport  The Philadelphia Eagles are in a state of flux after a sad end to a once promising season. It all starts and ends with the mastermind currently running the show for the Birds: Chip Kelly. Chip is an offensive genius who runs a high octane read option offense that implements a strong running game in order to free up big plays in the passing game. Ever since he was named the head honcho, Eagles fans have had something to be excited about for the first time since the glory years of Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, and Brian Dawkins. However, even with the unique offensive system, they are still one crucial piece away from being not just a top seven offense in the league, but to being the best. This piece of course is a mobile quarterback who rivals the speed of Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and rookie year version of RG3. I am talking of course about the recent Heisman trophy winner from Oregon, Marcus Mariota. The rumored trade at this time to land the Mariota pick is this years first rounder, next years first rounder, this year’s second rounder, and star running back LeSean “Shady” McCoy. Agreeing to a trade like this would not only cripple the future of the franchise, but it’s in my estimation that they will be falling into the dangerous trap of overlooking what is currently winning Super Bowls. Before we even begin to touch on how this trade would affect Philadelphia’s draft efforts, let’s take a look at the only established talent being included in the potential swap: Shady McCoy.  Shady’s done everything Chip’s asked of him over the course of the past two seasons, and the running back has fully bought in to the mindset and expectations that Kelly holds his players to. Consequently, Shady’s been at the pinnacle of his game over the course of the Chip Kelly era, registering two straight 300+ carry, and 1,300+ rushing yard seasons on the way to a rushing title, and quite frankly, superstardom. Kelly’s offense, while capable of the big play, is founded on the ground and pound run game. Watch an Eagles game and you’ll see a steady dose of inside zone, and power plays, and every now and then the Birds are moving so quickly that those three and four yard runs end up turning into thirty and forty yard runs come the fourth quarter. Shady definitely gets his workload in the Philly backfield, and his performance has benefitted greatly from Chip’s get up and go offensive mindset. Sure, Philly’s got Pro-Bowl mighty mouse Darren Sproles in the backfield, as well as former U. of Washington third year man Chris Polk, but Shady’s been the answer in Philly since before Chip even got there. He’s at the top of the charts in nearly every Philadelphia rushing category, and it’s pretty clear that he’s the guy that defenses are planning for week in and week out when Philly comes up on the schedule. By all accounts LeSean’s been on Chip’s good side ever since the former Oregon head coach arrived, so I can’t find a logical reason as to why you’d include LeSean McCoy in a trade that could not only gut your draft picks, but a trade that’d also be shipping a proven All-Pro talent for an unproven collegiate product in Mariota.

Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 12.07.36 PM
All things considered, there’s no denying that Shady McCoy is the greatest running back in the history of the Philadelphia Eagles franchise.

When has the last time a team traded up for a quarterback and it actually worked out? Think really hard about it, go through every starting QB in the league and you’ll see that barely, if any, successful teams traded up and got a QB that impacted their franchise. The prime example: in 2012 The Washington Racists Redskins traded three first round picks and a second rounder to the St. Louis Rams for the second overall pick in order to select that years version of Mariota: a super mobile, Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor’s Robert Griffin III. This trade seemed to have been a great deal for both sides… at the time. The Redskins had an immaculate turn around, Griffin won rookie of the year, and the Rams had this unprecedented stockpile of assets to build on. Of course we all know what happened next. RG3 got hurt; rushed back and got hurt again and now may actually even be traded. This is the absolute worst case scenario the Eagles are thinking could happen by trading up in order to select Mariota. The best case is that Mariota is healthy and runs the offense to perfection and while McCoy’s talents are missed, they make do with a scrappy running back core lead by Darren Sproles and goalline man Chris Polk. The real problem lies with their traded picks being missed when they continually get burnt on the defensive side of the ball by the ridiculous receivers in their division like Dez Bryant, DeSean Jackson, and perhaps the scariest of them all: newcomer Odell Beckham Jr. Anyone who watched the Eagles knows they have the front four to compete with the best and an adequate linebacker core. It’s their secondary that is the issue.

Corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams quite frankly just aren't getting it done in the defensive secondary for the Philadelphia Eagles
Corners Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams quite frankly just aren’t getting it done in the defensive secondary for the Philadelphia Eagles.

As a Patriots fan, I had to watch multiple Super Bowl contending teams in New England continually get dragged down by a mediocre secondary until they finally bit the bullet and signed Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner this past off season. Now they are back in the Super Bowl, looking to solidify their legacy as one of the best franchises to ever play the game. Not being able to stop the pass in a passing league is the most frustrating thing to watch in football, and right now the Eagles have absolutely no talent on the backside of their defense that can help them compete for a championship. Instead of rolling the dice with their late draft picks on cornerbacks, they should keep them to buff up their secondary in the first two rounds of this years draft, and hope to strike gold with a quarterback in the later rounds… or even riding with Nick Foles another year, developing the young defense and worst case scenario draft a quarterback in the first round of the 2016 draft. Either way, Eagle’s fans shouldn’t shoot for this irrational Mariota trade. Although it isn’t Chip Kelly’s style, building a championship team is a slow process, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

This year’s draft doesn’t actually begin until April 30, but the draft process is already in full swing. The annual Reese’s Senior Bowl was held in Mobile, Alabama just yesterday, and a number of the nation’s notable senior football players participated in front of every NFL organization in the league. The next checkpoint on the draft horizon is the NFL Scouting Combine, which will be held in Indianapolis in a little less than a month. At that time teams will be able to get an even closer look at this year’s prospect crop, and the crystal ball will subsequently become a little clearer as the evaluation process will continue through college pro day events, with the process culminating with the four day draft process at the end of April. The Birds have a little bit of time to rest on their laurels and evaluate their options, but time should pass quickly as Chip, Howie Roseman, and Jeffrey Lurie have quite the decision sitting in front of them.

2 thoughts on “Arm Chair General Manager | Philly’s Draft Dilemma

  1. Although I have gone back and forth on this issue in the past, I am firmly planted in the Mariota camp currently. For the sake of this conversation, I’ll operate with the price of two first rounders, a second rounder, and LeSean McCoy (don’t sleep on Foles being involved, though) that you two proposed, and acknowledge that much more than this would make the deal unworkable. My position is most influenced by three key lines of thinking:

    First, let’s consider Mariota as the key piece needed by Chip in order to run his offense. With all his positive qualities, Chip also has his flaws, and in my opinion the most significant is his stubbornness. Chip believes that his way will work, and that his vision for an elite, high-paced offense will lead to the ultimate prize. I honestly don’t see that changing during his tenure as the Eagles coach, and I fear the possibility of Chip departing without everyone getting to see the true potential of his offensive vision. While we can debate whether this offense can actually succeed at the highest level, as well as whether Mariota is truly an elite talent at QB or just an incredibly athletic system QB, its clear to me that Mariota is tailor-made for THIS offense, and thus gives this team the best chance to win it all.

    I believe that in this system, Mariota has the potential to truly become the Eagles franchise quarterback, locking the Eagles in as playoff contenders for the next ten years. I’ll talk about this more when I get to McCoy, but I believe this move is fundamentally aimed at winning the marathon, not just the sprint. Looking back at recent Superbowl champions, you’d have to go all the way back to 2003 to find a winner who isn’t considered a franchise quarterback–someone who consistently equips his team to win and has demonstrated the ability to elevate their game in the playoffs (I think we’d also be deluding ourselves to believe in the possibility of Chip winning it all by building a defense elite enough to carry a team–that isn’t him). If you have a chance to get a player like that, what’s a short-term loss compared with stability for a decade or more?

    Second, I believe the time is right to sell on McCoy, even though I’d hate to see him go. As you outlined, McCoy has carried a large workload thus far, has appeared to lose a step in the past campaign, and is a mere year away from the dreaded RB cliff.
    It may be true that McCoy has another elite year or two left in him, but I believe it is way more likely for McCoy to be not nearly worth his salary before he enters free agency. McCoy’s heart is in the sideline to sideline game, and if he loses a step or two, those breakout runs will be harder to come by. McCoy has also suffered from a decreased efficiency and decreased usage in the red zone, which has haunted the Birds in the recent past.

    Additionally, McCoy’s loss would not be missed as much if his successor relieved pressure on the running game like Mariota should. Considering the alternative of Foles for the foreseeable future, we know that even McCoy will have a tough task dealing with a stacked box and a gameplan engineered around stifling him. Given a healthy offensive line and a quarterback who threatens defenses with his arms and his legs, I believe the Eagles can acquire a dependable alternative in the early-middle draft rounds or in free agency. Also, let’s not forget the cap flexibility the Eagles would gain in unloading McCoy without eating any salary.

    Finally, I believe the loss of an additional 1st and 2nd round pick would not cripple the Eagles in the short term and long term, as some fear. Looking back at every Eagles draft since I began following them in the late 90’s, there is only one franchise player to be found, in my opinion. Other than 5 (who will always love you), the Eagles have no players who have contributed to the franchise at an elite level for a decade or longer. Oh, and they also have plenty of flat-out busts mixed in there (totally not Marcus Smith, though, hes just a, a, uh, late bloomer). The Eagles will still have a 2nd and two 3rd round picks this year and next to bolster our secondary, and as the Patriots and Broncos have recently demonstrated, free agency is always a viable option. Take our current cap situation, subtract McCoy’s salary and consider the fact that the Birds will catch a break the new few years with Mariota operating under a rookie contract, and we should have some cheddar to play with.

    I’ll conclude by saying something that I will convince myself is not true come August: The Eagles will not win the Superbowl next year. I find it hard to picture them winning it in two years, either. Eagles diehards were lulled into belief by the unusual amount of success in years one and two, and we need to recognize that we are still in the building stages. If we believe that Chip is the man to lead us to the promised land, then it follows that we need to see what his team can do once optimized according to his vision.

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