The season that we just witnessed in Denver is an excellent microcosm of the false equivalency one invokes when attempting to frame the Bradford debate as a choice between a rookie with upside and an injury-plagued starter with mediocre career numbers who has yet to play on a team that finishes a season above .500. In 2012, the Broncos Drafted A Guy in the second round (No. 57 overall). That same offseason, they Signed A Guy who was coming off career-threatening neck surgery. Four years later, it became clear that the Broncos needed to find a better option than Peyton Manning, who could no longer throw a football well enough to be the kind of Franchise Guy a team needs for long-term stability like the Eagles enjoyed for a decade with Donovan McNabb. But it also wasn't clear that Brock Osweiler was that guy, or even if he represented anything more than a marginal upgrade over a 40-year-old screen actor/product pitchman who lacked the physical strength to make the ball travel through the air in a sprial.
Point is, the guy you envision the Eagles drafting could turn out to be Brock Osweiler, whose numbers in 21 career games have been every bit as mediocre as Sam Bradford's. If you were holding a draft today, the only reason you'd pick Osweiler over Bradford is that you know less about Osweiler, and so you can talk yourself into believing that he can be something he probably is not. Again, this is four years after the Broncos drafted him, four years after they committed to Manning, the same length of time any Bradford contract would lock the Eagles into sticking with him as their starter.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, if the Eagles let Bradford walk, and the guy they draft is a complete bust, then what?
And history suggests he is more likely to be a bust than anything else.
Since Manning's rookie season, 32 quarterbacks have been drafted in the top 12. Of those 32, only 13 ended up as the kind of starter who might have warranted the jettisoning of a player like Bradford. And we are being very, very kind with some of the names we include among those 13 (Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford and Michael Vick, for example).
Even when affording every benefit of the doubt in our categorization of the quarterbacks in question, the success rate is still below 50 percent.
Busts (11): Cade McNown, Christian Ponder, Matt Leinart, Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Vince Young, Tim Couch, David Carr, JaMarcus Russell
Successes (8): Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Donovan McNabb, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck
Others (10): Ryan Tannehill, Jay Cutler, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Michael Vick, Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Daunte Culpepper, Byron Leftwich, Robert Griffin.
Too soon: Blake Bortles, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota
Of those aforementioned 13, eight were the first quarterback selected in their class. In other words, eight were taken at a spot the Eagles will find it impossible to trade up to this year.
The Titans will not select a quarterback at No. 1, but the Browns will be in the market for one at No. 2, and the Chargers (No. 3), Cowboys (No. 4), 49ers (No. 7) and Saints (No. 12) all have varying degrees of need at the position before the Eagles pick. And with the Nos. 15, 43 and 45 overall picks, the QB-needy Rams would appear to have far more maneuverability than the Eagles, whose first three picks are Nos. 13, 77 and 79.
No matter what way you look at it, the Eagles have no better than a 50/50 chance at landing a quarterback who isn't worse than Bradford.
Quarterbacks selected in the first round since the Rams drafted Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010: Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin, Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden, E.J. Manuel, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota.
I count eight unequivocal busts out of 15 players selected.
The second-rounders: Derek Carr, Jimmy Garoppolo, Geno Smith, Brock Osweiler, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Jimmy Clausen.
The third-rounders: Garrett Grayson, Sean Mannion, Mike Glennon, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, Ryan Mallet, Colt McCoy.
The whole "Draft A Guy" argument sounds especially absurd when it comes from the same mouths that agree with the near-unanimous consensus that the Eagles have not exactly been oracles in their talent evaluation since the messy and obtuse transfer of roster construction from Andy Reid to Howie Roseman.
The last four "guys" the Eagles drafted: Matt Barkley, Nick Foles, Mike Kafka, Kevin Kolb.
The problem with drafting a guy is you usually end up with that: just a guy.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy