Eagles' best play: Don't pass on picking a QB

Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. The Eagles recognize the intrinsic value of finding and developing good quarterbacks.
Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville. The Eagles recognize the intrinsic value of finding and developing good quarterbacks. (Getty Images)
Posted: March 05, 2014

If the spate of signings that the Eagles made last week is any indication, general manager Howie Roseman has learned the hardest and most instructive lessons from the franchise's last 15 years of flawed attempts to win a championship.

In extending the contracts of Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Riley Cooper, Roseman has used the Joe Banner/Andy Reid era as a model of what and what not to do.

Banner may have been ahead of his time in keeping promising young players by signing them to long-term, cost-effective deals, but he failed to recognize the value of two veterans whom he allowed to depart just when the Eagles needed them most: Jeremiah Trotter and Brian Dawkins.

In 2011 Reid, Banner, and Roseman finally went on the free-agent spending spree that fans had longed for, but the trio sacrificed the culture and cohesion that had been essential to the Eagles' most accomplished teams of the previous decade.

So Roseman has repeated the good and reversed the bad. He's recommitted the Eagles to rewarding homegrown talents such as Kelce and Cooper, and he's acknowledged that certain older players are special cases. Peters is 32 and a year and a half removed from having ruptured his right Achilles tendon for the second time, yet the Eagles were willing to bet that he would remain a dominant left tackle for at least a few more years.

These were astute football and business decisions, similar to the ones Reid and Banner made when they were at their best, and Roseman and Chip Kelly would be smart to continue employing another player-personnel strategy of which Reid, in particular, was fond.

If possible, they should draft a quarterback this year.

This isn't about finding a better fit for Kelly's offense than Nick Foles or challenging Nick Foles or even creating competition for Nick Foles. At the combine last month, Roseman did everything short of brandishing pompons and high-kicking to show his and the organization's support for Foles, and from a practical standpoint, the notion that the Eagles are or ought to be thinking about replacing him, at least for the next year, is silly.

Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 2013; compiled the third-highest passer rating in NFL history; led the Eagles to their first division title and playoff appearance since 2010; was named the most valuable player of the Pro Bowl; won over a locker room that had been admiring of and loyal to Michael Vick; and is just 25 years old. As an overlooked but important upshot of his status as a third-round draft pick, he will cost the franchise a mere $615,000 in base salary in 2014, making him the second-most inexpensive starter on the Eagles' offense (ahead of tackle Lane Johnson) and affording Roseman the salary-cap room to improve the entire roster.

No, this is about the intrinsic value of the position and the benefits that a franchise can reap from finding and developing good quarterbacks. The Eagles recognize as much. It's why they moved up in last year's draft to select Matt Barkley in the fourth round, and Roseman has been adamant that come May the Eagles will use each of their draft picks (they have seven, for now) on the best player available, even if that player is a quarterback.

"You'll have the flexibility to possibly move him because there aren't enough quarterbacks going around in the league," Roseman said. "So if there was a part of the draft where we thought we were getting a guy who was a future starter and could thrive, then we'd certainly look at that."

This approach - draft or sign a quarterback, develop him, then either keep him or trade him for players and/or draft picks - is not new. Over the 29 drafts he oversaw for the Dallas Cowboys as their director of player personnel from 1960 to 1989, Gil Brandt selected at least one quarterback 19 times and drafted a total of 25, including Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. Even with Tom Brady ensconced as their starter, the New England Patriots have drafted seven quarterbacks over a 12-year span, one of whom, Matt Cassel, played well enough for them to go 11-5 after Brady suffered a knee injury and missed the entire 2008 season. The Patriots subsequently traded Cassel for a second-round pick.

During Reid's and Kelly's tenures, the Eagles have taken seven quarterbacks over the last 15 drafts, and remember: They fleeced the Miami Dolphins for a second-round pick by making the most of A.J. Feeley's five weeks of glory in 2003 and trading him the following year.

"It's not just drafting quarterbacks to draft them and stockpile them," said Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Jason Licht, who spent 10 years in the Eagles' and Patriots' player-personnel departments. "You're not just going out and picking five quarterbacks to be on your roster. But if you believe in them, then you should never pass."

By all indications, the Eagles won't, and they shouldn't.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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