It pays to draft quarterbacks in the third round

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles will count $770, 880 against the Eagles' salary cap.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Nick Foles will count $770, 880 against the Eagles' salary cap.
Posted: March 28, 2014

ORLANDO, Fla. - Russell Wilson and Nick Foles are the two biggest bargains in pro football right now.

Wilson, who helped the Seahawks win a Super Bowl last season, will count just $817,302 against his team's salary cap in 2014.

Foles, who led the NFL in passing and had a plus-25 touchdowns-to-interceptions differential, will count just $770,880 against the Eagles' cap.

Such is the beauty of having a young quarterback you found in the third round of the draft.

"For a team like Seattle, it's a great situation," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They've got a young quarterback who's already taken them to a Super Bowl championship and they still have a year, maybe 2, left on his [rookie] contract. That's a nice window [of opportunity] for them. A structural window.

"They're a very young team. But like everybody else, those guys are going to come up [for renewal], and they're going to have to pay them."

Harbaugh and the Ravens understand that as well as anyone. They won the Super Bowl 2 years ago thanks in large part to their quarterback, Joe Flacco, who threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in their four postseason victories.

Flacco parlayed that Super Bowl title into a 6-year, $120.6 million contract with $52 million in guarantees.

The Ravens had to re-sign Flacco because quarterback is the single most important position in the game and they couldn't afford to let an elite quarterback walk.

But paying Flacco has meant having to make hard decisions elsewhere on the roster. Last year, they lost the likes of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, cornerback Cary Williams and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed because there was only so much cap room to go around.

Same thing this year with the departures of defensive end Arthur Jones, safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Corey Graham, offensive tackle Michael Oher and most recently, linebacker Jameel McClain.

Flacco has a $14.8 million cap cost this year and $14.55 million next year. That's pretty much in line with the cap numbers for a top quarterback.

"It boils down to math and bookkeeping," Harbaugh said. "[The quarterback] is a big chunk out of your bookkeeping. It's really going to hit us this year and next year and going forward.

"You've got to factor that into the books and make tough decisions. Like [not re-signing] Jameel McClain. You've got to determine where you're going to be able to spend your money. It's a decision-by-decision process.

"It's like golf. You've got to play the shot you're presented with. Sometimes you go for the pin, and sometimes you've got to knock it out from the woods.

"When a quarterback is making that much money, you've got more tough shots that you have to make."

It remains to be seen what's going to happen with Foles. If he has another outstanding season, if he takes the Eagles deep into the playoffs, his agent is going to come knocking for a new contract with lots of zeroes, and Nick won't be such a bargain anymore and the salary-cap decisions will start to get a little more difficult for the Eagles.

Keep that in mind the next time you wonder why general manager Howie Roseman isn't overspending for free agents or giving DeSean Jackson and Evan Mathis new deals just 2 years into their old deals.

"We don't look at it as just [about] 2014, even though there's obviously a priority on this year," Roseman said earlier this week. "But also 2015 and 2016. That's our goal. Our goal is to have a team that's competitive over a certain period of time.

"Because when we look back at the teams that are winning world championships, it's not just Super Bowl or bust years. It's teams that keep knocking on the door, keep getting the opportunity to get in the playoffs and get hot. That's where we want to go as an organization."

Mr. Inside

In his first two seasons with the Eagles, Brandon Boykin has established himself as one of the better inside corners in the league. He had six interceptions last season, which was second only to Seahawk Richard Sherman's eight, even though he played just 53 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.

Boykin hasn't made it a secret that he would like an opportunity to compete for one of the starting outside corner jobs currently held by Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. But unless he wakes up one morning and discovers that he's grown 3 inches, that's not going to happen.

At both the NFL and college levels, the wide receivers are getting bigger and so are the corners who have to cover them. Boykin is just 5-9 1/2. He feels his speed and 40-inch vertical leap offset his lack of height. But with the back-shoulder fade becoming an increasingly important part of the passing game, and all of the man-press coverage the Eagles use, it's beneficial to have corners with size and long arms.

"I think our two outside corners are very good football players," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "It's a matchup game. The bigger receivers are on the outside, the smaller receivers are in the inside. You have two longer guys in Fletch and Cary that really fit in terms of getting matched up.

"If the other team is going to be in 21 personnel [two running backs, one tight end, two wide receivers], they're not small outside. They're big outside. So when they're big, we're big.

"When you bring in the Wes Welkers and the great slot receivers in this league, you need to have someone who has the ability to cover them. That's where Brandon's strength really is."

Kelly said he likes the fact that Boykin wants to be on the field more.

"He wants to play every snap of defense," he said. "That's the type of player he is. But we have to make decisions as coaches in terms of what are our players' strengths and what they're great at."

Eagles stuff * 

If the Eagles can't find an edge-rusher in free agency or the draft, one option would be to move inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks to the outside. Kendricks had 8 1/2 sacks his junior year at Cal as an outside 'backer in a 3-4. But Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said that isn't likely to happen. "When you watched him in college, you saw the explosion off the edge and his ability to do that," he said. "But we think he has the chance to be a really good inside linebacker. His ability to play in space and also play downhill and blitz inside . . . I think maybe you can get the best of both worlds by keeping him inside."

* Kelly has been a regular on the March-April Pro Day circuit. He was down in College Station, Texas, yesterday for Texas A&M's Pro Day. "It's another tool in the tool box," he said. "Another evalution [tool]. If the opportunity is there to watch them work out one more time in front of people, why wouldn't you go see them do that? It can't hurt you to have too much information on somebody. It's tough for me to weigh in and say, 'We've got to draft this guy' and jump up on the table for him based on what? I watched six games and somebody in a [scouting] report said he was a good kid? I'd rather be a little more hands-on where I can weigh in when we're having those discussions about how we feel about a player. But it's hard for me to weigh in if I've never seen him or had a chance to talk to him." Kelly said one of the advantages of the Pro Day workout over the combine is the opportunity to talk to the school's coaches and trainers about the players.

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