Eagles pass on Johnny Football after all

Posted: May 10, 2014

It is the perfect story, and we should have seen it coming. Johnny Manziel, the talented, troubled quarterback whom Chip Kelly tried to recruit as a college player, fell through the first round of the NFL draft on Thursday night, and fell, and fell, and fell.

He fell past teams that needed quarterbacks, teams that needed some buzz for their fan base, and even past the Dallas Cowboys, who never seem to pass up the chance to add drama to the mix.

And it happened. He fell all the way to the 22d pick held by the Eagles.

And . . . and . . . and . . . they traded it.

As draft-day moves go, this wasn't very exciting and it wasn't franchise-defining, but it was in keeping with what Kelly has said for a while now. He likes his current quarterback, at least so far.

The Eagles traded down four spots in the first round, swapping picks with the Browns - who selected Manziel to be their next disaster - and picked up an additional third-round pick for their trouble.

When they finally got around to making that 26th pick, the Eagles took Marcus Smith from Louisville, who was mostly a defensive lineman in college but is projected to play outside linebacker for Bill Davis' 3-4 defense. Smith is fast and likes to rush the passer, and if he can do that for the Eagles, he will be a welcome addition to a defense that needs to generate more pressure.

Maybe it wasn't a good night for drama, but it was a pretty good night for Nick Foles. Kelly has been consistent in his praise for the incumbent, saying he doesn't need a certain "type" of quarterback to run his system. The coach says that Foles, who isn't terribly mobile but is an accurate, reliable passer, will do just fine.

Coaches say a lot of things. Kelly also said he liked DeSean Jackson before the Eagles released the receiver.

This was the first test of Kelly's words regarding Foles. Manziel passed for nearly 8,000 yards and rushed for more than 2,000 yards in his two seasons at Texas A&M. He completed nearly 70 percent of his passes. He also got into some scrapes with the law and couldn't seem to park his car in College Station without getting a ticket.

But Manziel can play football, and he appeared to be a fit for what everyone assumes Kelly intends to craft in the league someday. Not yet, however. Maybe he has his sights set on a quarterback later in this draft, or one who will come out next season. Maybe he really does believe in Foles and the offense that can be constructed around those skills.

Foles threw 27 touchdowns and had just two interceptions after taking over for Michael Vick in 2013. He finished the season with a quarterback rating of 119.2, the highest in the NFL, ahead of even Denver's Peyton Manning. Apparently, that has bought him some more time.

"I love him," Kelly said of Manziel. "I think he's a dynamic quarterback. But I think we've got a good quarterback situation. I think quarterback is a position of strength for us right now."

On the surface, the Eagles did have a screaming need for an outside linebacker who can rush the quarterback, and Smith should serve that purpose. The defense was 31st in the league in sacks per pass play in the 2013 season.

"We thought getting a pash rusher was a big thing for us," Kelly said. "His ceiling is very high. He's a tough, hard-nosed football player."

Kelly admitted that while Smith was highly rated on the Eagles' draft board, they thought they could still move down the four spots and not risk losing him. The coach also said that six players the Eagles hoped would be available at 22 were all gone when that spot came along, including two who fell just before their turn on the clock. He didn't name them, but New Orleans traded up to take wide receiver Brandin Cooks at 20 before Green Bay selected safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at 21.

The Eagles had offers to move up in the first round, but Kelly said the asking price was "too rich for us." Instead, they moved back, picked up the extra third-rounder, and hoped their appraisal of Smith was correct.

"Our board is our board. You don't turn around and say, 'Uh, I like him,' " Kelly said after the Eagles passed on wide receiver Marqise Lee, among others, with the 26th pick.

"We have to be comfortable that we may have to go into August or September with a spot that we're continuing to look for," general manager Howie Roseman said before the draft. "We have to stick to our board because the draft is a long-term decision for us."

Most interesting of all, though, on this night when there is still a lot to learn about the Eagles, was that Foles survived the first test of the team's allegiance to him. Johnny Football fell and fell, all the way to them, but the Eagles just stepped out of the way and let someone else catch him.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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