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April 28, 2015

So are the Eagles getting Marcus Mariota or nah?

Eagles NFL
042815MarcusMariota David J. Phillip/AP

This will all be over in two days. Or not.

It is going to be very difficult for the Eagles to land Marcus Mariota. No team has ever moved up from as far down as the 20th overall pick to as far up as the 2nd pick to draft a quarterback. Additionally, there are no shortage of teams in need of a quarterback, including the team (the Tennessee Titans) that would likely be trading out of the No. 2 spot where most envision Mariota being drafted. There are certainly obstacles galore, and personally, I'm not quite sure if "Mariota to the Eagles" is more likely to happen than not.

However, at a minimum, the possibility of it has legs. Here's why:

The Eagles are going to try

This may seem like the obvious by now, but according to many reliable sources I've spoken with over the last few months, the Eagles are going to try to trade up to draft Marcus Mariota. The only way in which those sources differ is on how far they'll go to get him. If their "try" is robust, maybe a deal gets done. If their "try" is weak, then obviously it takes two (or three) to tango, and the Eagles will simply go into the season with Sam Bradford as their QB. But every indication I've been given is that they are going to try.

Chip Kelly has said that Mariota is the most talented player he ever coached in college. He compared Mariota to Peyton Manning, and reportedly said that he is going to win multiple Super Bowls in the NFL. He's a seemingly perfect fit both for the Eagles' offense and for Chip Kelly from almost every angle imaginable. 

It just fits.

Trading for Mariota would theoretically end the Eagles' recent instability at QB

Barring the miraculous returns of Donovan McNabb or Kevin Kolb, the Eagles will have their fifth different Week 1 starter in the last seven years. That is unacceptable instability at the QB position.

By my count, there will be 11 teams who will likely be starting at least their fourth QB in the last seven years. They are the Rams, Bills, Buccaneers, Redskins, Jaguars, Titans, Vikings, Browns, Raiders, Cardinals, and Eagles. The combined number of playoff wins those teams have since 2010?

Zero. Point. Zero.


In the NFL, you either have a franchise quarterback, or you don't. And if you don't, you have no chance unless you have some kind of historic defense like the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Buccaneers. The Eagles don't have a historic defense. Well, it's not historic in a good way, anyway. And obviously, they certainly don't have a surefire "franchise QB."

While there are certainly no guarantees that Mariota will be among the top quarterbacks in the NFL, if the Eagles believe he is, I'm sure they are acutely aware that it is the most important position in sports. The Eagles could very well end up putting together a big package of players and picks to draft Mariota, who could become a bust, in which case the Eagles would become the Redskins.

Then again, the Eagles can also wallow away in the wasteland of teams without a franchise QB and continue to never win the Super Bowl.

Marcus Mariota will cost far less than Sam Bradford

Sam Bradford will count for $12,985,000 against the salary cap in 2015. Bradford was the last high pick to cash in big-time before the new CBA put a limit on rookie salaries. After Bradford was drafted first overall in the 2010 draft, he signed a six-year contract worth $78,045,000, with $50,000,000 in guarantees. 

Mariota will count for far less. Last year, the No. 2 overall pick, Greg Robinson of the Rams, signed a four-year deal worth $21,284,000, or an average of $5,321,000 per year. Using Robinson's contract structure as a loose guide to what the the #2 overall pick will look like, Mariota's "year one" salary cap cost should be somewhere in the ballpark of about $4 million.

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Assuming Bradford would be included in any deal that lands the Eagles Mariota, that would be an instant savings of roughly $9 million dollars off their 2015 cap. The Eagles were reportedly willing to release 2013 rushing champion LeSean McCoy outright to get achieve a similar savings.

The Eagles have better trade-up ammo than is perceived

The Eagles employ Fletcher Cox, who has developed into arguably an elite-level NFL defensive lineman. After the Eagles picked up his "fifth-year option," Cox remains under the control of the Eagles (or any team he is traded to) for the next two years.

A player who has been linked to the Titans during the pre-draft process is USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who is widely regarded as a top-five type of prospect. If you were to ask NFL scouts who they would rather have between Fletcher Cox and Leonard Williams without any regard to age or money, I'd bet that almost all of them would choose Fletcher Cox. He is a scheme-versatile disruptive force both in the run game and in the passing game, and is what any team would hope Leonard Williams can be.

Cox is going to count for $3,258,563 against the salary cap in 2015, and $7,799,000 against the cap in 2016, for an average of $5,528,781 over the next two seasons. That is roughly what Williams will average in the first four years of his rookie contract if the Titans were to draft him second overall. The major difference is that any team that drafts Williams will control him for five years (if you include the fifth year option), as opposed to two for Cox, who will eventually require a large contract extension if he continues to perform at his elite level.

So what would you rather have if you're Tennessee?

• A 24 year old known stud NFL player who can assimilate into your scheme from day one and produce at a high level, but you'll have to pay him mega-dollars in two years.

• A 20 year old stud prospect who may or may not pan out the way you hope in the NFL, but you control him for five years at around $6 million per season, depending on what his fifth year option amount is in 2019.

I'd bet a lot of people, especially those who may fear for their immediate job security, would choose the former. Therefore, logically speaking, shouldn't it stand to reason that Fletcher Cox's trade value is quite high?

Meanwhile, Chip Kelly has not been afraid to wheel and deal in his first season with "The Juice." Clearly. To take that a step further, Kelly has not been shy about ridding his team of former Andy Reid players. The Eagles ended their 2014 season with 22 former Andy Reid guys on the roster. Eight of them are gone already:

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There will be more.

Brandon Boykin and Evan Mathis have already been rumored to be available in a trade, and the tea leaves say that ascending inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks could be on his way out after the Eagles traded for Kiko Alonso and extended DeMeco Ryans' contract. Boykin, Kendricks, Vinny Curry, and Cox are all legitimate trade assets that Kelly might not have as much use for as other teams around the league.

And oh yeah, there's Bradford too, the guy who the Browns already reportedly tried to acquire for the 19th overall pick.

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MENU

• Cox

• Bradford (or as some refer to him... the 19th overall pick)

• Kendricks

• Curry

• Boykin

• Mathis

• The 20th overall pick

• Next year's #1

Some combination of those players and picks has to be appealing to the Titans. The question is... How much do they absolutely have to have to trade out, and what are the Eagles willing to give up?

What about ESPN's Chris Mortensen saying that Sam Bradford won't sign anywhere else?

Yesterday, Mortensen tweeted the following about Sam Bradford and the potential of him being traded by the Eagles to some other team: 

That reads a lot like it's coming from Bradford's camp.

Mortensen has been an outstanding reporter for a long time, and disagreeing with him feels dangerous. I certainly don't disagree with the second part of the above tweet. Of course Sam Bradford doesn't want to be traded. Bradford undoubtedly knows what an average QB can do in the Eagles offense (cough, 27 TDs and 2 INTs, cough). Assuming he can stay healthy, he'd get to run an offense similar to the one he ran when he was at his best at Oklahoma, with the opportunity to pump up his stats in the final year of his contract, thus setting himself up for another huge payday.

So if you're Bradford or Tom Condon (Bradford's agent), you put out the word that you're not signing anywhere else in an effort to mess up any deal that's going to send you to a football purgatory like Cleveland.

Ultimately, Bradford has little control of where he ends up, the same way LeSean McCoy did before the Eagles shipped him off to Buffalo. McCoy initially didn't want to go to the Bills, but he eventually signed a new deal with them. Bradford may not want to go to the Browns (who would?), but it is perhaps noteworthy that Cleveland has the second most cap space in the NFL.

If and when the Eagles agree to a contract extension with Bradford that includes some sort of "no trade clause," or guaranteed money that effectively serves as a "no trade clause," you can forget about the Eagles moving up to draft Marcus Mariota. But is that extension coming by 8 p.m. Thursday night?

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It doesn't feel like the Titans love Marcus Mariota, and are willing to trade out

As noted here a week ago, since Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt rose to the level of an offensive coordinator in the NFL in 2004 with the Steelers, he has worked almost exclusively with pocket passers. Here are the QBs his teams went into the season with at QB every year since 2004:

Ken Whisenhunt's job Years Whisenhunt's QB 
 Steelers offensive coordinator2004-2006 Ben Roethlisberger (drafted in 2004) 
 Cardinals head coach2007-2009 Kurt Warner (Whisenhunt inherited Warner) 
 Cardinals head coach2010 Derek Anderson (free agent signing, 2010, after Warner's retirement) 
 Cardinals head coach2011-2012 Kevin Kolb (acquired via trade, 2011) 
 Chargers offensive coordinator2013 Philip Rivers (inherited) 
 Titans head coach2014 Jake Locker (inherited) 


The only quarterback above who is not considered a traditional pocket passer is Locker (unless you count "backpedaling away from the pocket" as a style of QB, in which case Kevin Kolb applies). Whisenhunt inherited Locker as his QB when he took over the Titans. He had previously passed on Locker when the Cardinals were picking 5th in the 2011 draft, and it only took him five games to bench him in 2014, eventually landing on a rookie pocket passer he drafted in 2014 in Zach Mettenberger.

The point of noting Whisenhunt's QB history? Mariota's body of work at Oregon doesn't offer many glimpses into what he might look like as a traditional pocket passer, which is all Whisenhunt has ever really known. His projection to the NFL in that regard is very difficult. Mariota isn't exactly a great fit in Tennessee, if Jameis Winston goes #1 to the Buccaneers as most people suspect.

It's interesting that everyone and their mother is "interested" in Mariota, from the Jets to the Bears, to the Rams, to the Browns, to the Chargers, and obviously the Eagles. It reeks of the Titans trying to create false interest in a player they aren't in love with, to try to maximize the value of the #2 overall pick.

Of course, if the Titans don't love Mariota, couldn't they just draft someone else? Yes, but who? Williams seems to make the most sense, unless of course the Eagles were willing to part with Cox and additional assets, which would probably make more sense to the Titans than drafting Williams.

Could the Titans just draft Mariota because he's the most valuable player on the board?

Yep, in which case Mariota trade speculation may never die. I apologize in advance for all media everywhere.

And what if the Buccaneers simply take him with the #1 pick?

Then we'll all look like idiots.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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