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February 17, 2021

The case against the Eagles drafting a QB with the sixth overall pick

Imagine a scenario in which the Eagles are on the clock with the sixth pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. A trio of quarterbacks are already off the board, but both Ja'Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith are sitting there available to the Birds. Heck, they could even go with Micah Parsons, Kyle Pitts or Patrick Surtain. There are plenty of issues for Howie Roseman to address, and with these options, it doesn't seem like he can go wrong.

Roger Goodell steps up to the microphone and announces that, with the sixth-overall pick, the Philadelphia Eagles select ... a quarterback?

It doesn't really matter which one — for our purposes here, it can be any of the quarterbacks in the draft not named Trevor Lawrence, who will almost certainly be the first pick — all that matters is that the Eagles used their top pick on a quarterback. In fact, it matters so little that we're not even going to create a hypothetical in which the Eagles land Zach Wilson or Justin Fields or Trey Lance or anyone else. Feel free to pick whichever QB you prefer, it doesn't make a difference. 

The point here is that the Eagles shouldn't be drafting a QB in the first place, not with their top pick, not this year, not when they have so many other areas of need up and down the roster. 

But that apparently won't stop Roseman and Co. from going after one in April. Tacked on to the bottom of a tweet about the latest twists and turns in the Carson Wentz trade drama was a very interesting nugget from the Daily News' Les Bowen:

There was also further clarification from Les that this hardly means the Eagles will target a QB with the sixth pick, as it is just the opinion of a member of another team. And, duh, we're still more than two months out from the draft and a lot can change between now and then. 

Either way, given their current situation, there's always been at least a chance that the Eagles go after a QB in the first round. 

While there's something to be said about doing due diligence and studying up on all available options — and I'd hope that's what Roseman is doing this offseason — there are also several issues why drafting a quarterback this year doesn't make a ton of sense for the Eagles. Unless, of course, the Eagles are 100% certain they have a slam-dunk, can't-miss, generational talent available to them. And even then, there's no guarantee they're correct, especially when they'll likely be getting the third or even fourth pick of a QB. 

So, aside from possibly missing out on the next Patrick Mahomes, what are some of the issues that would come with drafting a QB with a sixth pick? Let's examine... 

What it means for Hurts

Sure, the Eagles are on the cusp of trading away last year's starting quarterback in Carson Wentz, leaving them without an established veteran on the roster, but they also have Jalen Hurts, a guy they spent a second-round pick on a year earlier.

What would drafting a new quarterback mean for Hurts? Likely the end of his brief run as the team's starting quarterback. It would also be terrible optics for the Eagles, who by replacing Hurts would essentially be admitting that drafting him with the 53rd pick last year was a mistake, one that may have had franchise-altering implications. 

For example, if the Eagles never draft Hurts, does Wentz have such a drastic regression last season? We'll never know the answer to that, but if the Birds give up on Hurts after just four starts, we'll never get to know the answer of whether or not it was worth it. There are plenty of critics out there who don't believe that the Alabama and Oklahoma product is the long-term solution the Eagles need, but it would be criminal not to at least give him a chance after using a high pick on him.

What's the worst that happens? He's terrible and the Eagles find themselves right back in the same situation next season, with another top 10 draft pick? Only this time, they'd know a bit more about what they do (or do not) have at the QB position. And if he succeeds? Then the Eagles have found their quarterback and will have used a valuable draft pick to address another area of need. (Naturally, the problem would be in the middle, where Hurts isn't good enough to earn a firm commitment going forward, but also isn't bad enough to get into QB drafting territory with a Top 10 pick). 

Don't they at least owe Hurts a chance?

Trust this process?

Not only that, but do we really trust the guy making the pick to find the right quarterback? The Eagles have only selected a handful of quarterbacks in the first round in the entire history of their franchise, and just two since 1987 — Donovan McNabb and Carson Wentz, both second overall. The latter was taken by current GM Howie Roseman, and we all know how that worked out, with the pick going from looking genius after the first two seasons to looking like a massive mistake after Year 5. 

(To be fair, it was more the decision to give Wentz the massive contract extension in 2019 than the decision to draft him in the first place that ultimately doomed the Eagles.)

If it was simply the Eagles' struggles at drafting a quarterback, that would be one thing. Almost all teams struggle identifying and landing the right guy. Look at the other team who took a QB at the top of the 2016 NFL Draft, the Rams, who took Jared Goff with the first pick. Goff, like Wentz will be shortly, was traded, sent to the Lions this offseason along with a slew of picks for Matthew Stafford. 

Any guesses on who the other QBs were in that draft? You probably know about Dak Prescott, the best of the bunch from that class, who went late in the fourth round, a full 133 picks after Wentz and Goff. What you might not remember are the others who went between Wentz and Prescott: Paxton Lynch (26th), Christian Hackenberg (51st), Jacoby Brissett (91st), Cody Kessler (93rd) and Connor Cook (100th).

Prescott was the eighth quarterback selected, and every team in the NFL passed on him at least three times, seven of them opting to take other quarterbacks instead. So for those worried that if they don't take one now, they'll never be in a position to take a QB again, remember this: drafting the right QB isn't so much impacted by where you're picking in the draft as it is by your scouting department's ability to identify the best option on the board. 

In other words, the consensus top picks are not always the guys who wind up panning out, and that may be good for the Eagles, as they'll likely be taking the third or even fourth quarterback in this draft, should they go that route. Add to that the fact that scouting and evaluating quarterbacks was made even more difficult this season by COVID-19, whether that's travel restrictions for scouts or a lack of games played due to postponements, it's hard to feel confident about any team taking a quarterback, aside from maybe Trevor Lawrence.

Unfortunately for Philly fans, their team hasn't just struggled at drafting QBs. They've struggled drafting across the board in recent years. In fact, they've only selected one Pro Bowl player in the last seven drafts, and it's the QB they're about to trade away. 

Do you really trust this regime to suddenly get it right?

No quick fixes

Eventually the Eagles are going to need to address the QB position, whether it's Roseman making the pick or someone else. But right now, they'd be doing him no favors in joining a team that is in in utter disrepair. The Eagles, whether they want to admit it or not, are in need of a major roster overhaul. Jeffrey Lurie said as much last month when he said they were a team "in transition" now that their Super Bowl window has closed.

The offensive line that would be protecting this rookie QB is aging. The skill positions, for the most part, are either too old or unproven. And the defense isn't good enough to beat teams on its own, and could lead to a lot of games in which the Eagles are playing catch-up. On top of that, there's an entire new staff full of young coaches that still needs to find its footing. 

Right now, Lurie's team is at its lowest point, and bringing a new QB in here might be a recipe for confidence-busting disaster. Furthermore, it doesn't seem like fixing this team is going to be a quick fix, meaning it could be years before its built back up into a contender. Sure, drafting a talented quarterback could expedite that process, but it could mess up not only his confidence but could also throw off the entire rebuilding timeline if, after a couple of years, it turns out they missed on the pick. 

And that timing is important. 

One other note on timing... Do you really want another QB and head coach coming in at the same time, like Wentz and Doug Pederson? Isn't there a chance that their simultaneous arrival led Wentz to feel like he held as much power as Pederson (or more)? With another first-time head coach, perhaps the Eagles could give Nick Sirianni a year to get his feet wet with a transitional quarterback (if that's truly how they view Hurts) before bringing in the guy they'd clearly be identifying as their QB of the future? 

Either way, if the guy you want is there, and you think he's the answer, take him. But don't simply use the sixth pick on a QB just because you feel pressure to find Wentz's replacement immediately.

Cost-benefit absence 

As we've written about before, one of the biggest benefits of drafting a top quarterback, assuming he pans out, is the salary relief during his first few years. Did you wonder why the Eagles were able to be so successful in Wentz's second year, especially after he went down with an injury? Sure, Nick Foles played a big role in that, but that team was as deep a team as you'll see in large part due to the fact that they weren't saddled with a massive QB contract. It's why they were able to overcome not just a season-ending injury to the quarterback, but injuries up and down the roster. 

This Eagles team is in a very different situation. Not only are they in salary cap hell, projected to be $70 million over the cap at the moment, but going from a veteran to a rookie quarterback isn't going to get them any relief because of the massive cap hit on Wentz, whether he's on the team or not. Because of that, the QB section of the Eagles balance sheet is still going to read north of $35 million no matter how they slice it, and that's going to prevent Roseman and Co. from filling out the rest of the roster with players that would help make the QB better. 

If the Eagles wait a year to draft a quarterback, after Wentz is completely off the books, they'll get the full benefit of that rookie contract situation, while drafting one this year will essentially waste the first year of the QBs team-friendly deal. 

As Jimmy Kempski pointed out when I mentioned this theory to him, rookie quarterbacks don't typically do much, so it might not be a bad idea to get that year of development out of the way before Wentz comes off the books, allowing them to fully build around their draft pick in Year 2. But that doesn't really solve the issue, as it trims a year of the cheap deal off the back-end of the contract. 

If you want to do that, why not just roll with Hurts this year, draft a QB next year and develop him then — the team will likely still be in rebuilding mode — and then try to get back to contending in 2023. 

That might not be what some impatient Eagles fans want to hear, but trying to rush this would be a mistake and could lead to Philly being one of those teams that is looking to draft a QB every offseason. And how often do those teams win?

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