What the Heck Are the Eagles Up To at Quarterback?
Boy, was I wrong. I thought/assumed/guessed that the Eagles, with their well-publicized visits with Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, complete with owner Jeffrey Lurie in tow, were creating an elaborate smokescreen, the perception that they were a major player in the market for moving up toward the top of the draft. The Eagles’ front office, which I know well, never shied away from selling that notion; I was simply not buying it, not for a minute. I own it; they proved me completely wrong.
Beyond being draft-eligible quarterback observers this offseason, the Eagles were highly active veteran quarterback buyers. They invested near the top of the starter market—nearly $18 million per year to Sam Bradford—and at the top of the backup market—$7 million per year to Chase Daniel. Bradford is now a top 10-paid player at the position, and Daniel is making what the Jets and Broncos plan to pay their starters. To put it in further perspective, Daniel will make over three years—$21 million—roughly the same as Goff and Wentz will make over four. With $34 million of fully guaranteed investment in the position ($22 million to Bradford, $12 million to Daniel) and $57 million overall, I rejected the notion that the Eagles would use their only pick in the first two rounds—along with other valuable property in future drafts—on a quarterback (unless that quarterback can play other positions as well). Again, I was wrong.
As for the money, I always get the same reaction from some fans, even media members: But can’t the Eagles get out of these contracts after one year with little guarantee remaining? Yes, as noted here often, almost every NFL contract contains little security past the first year, but Lurie and the Eagles are not frivolous spenders. No one invests heavily in players—especially at the game’s most important position—with an eye toward replacing them for at least a couple of years. Further, it would be one thing if Bradford and Daniel were late into contracts that were signed years ago; these deals were done in March! Or, if the Eagles had only signed either Bradford or Daniel; they signed both! Finally, this is not like a team drafting a quarterback high when the established starter is nearing the end of his career; Bradford (age 28) and Daniel (29) have many years ahead of them.
Neither rostered QB is going anywhere
Also, people: The Eagles are not trading Bradford or Daniel this year; stop with that suggestion. The Eagles are responsible for $20 million in bonus money whether the players are traded or not. Lurie is not paying an $11 million signing bonus to Bradford— with half of it already spent, the other half due September 1—for him to play for someone else. Similarly, Lurie is not paying $9 million in bonuses to Daniel for him to play elsewhere. These players are here for the short term, although both appear to be signed to be eventually replaced the by the second pick in the 2016 draft—who will be getting a $16 million signing bonus.
Lawyer that I am, I try to see both sides and understand the Eagles’ position, even if I disagree with it. With a weak division and a fan base with, shall we say, high expectations, Philadelphia did not want to sacrifice this season and felt that Bradford can carry them to a solid level of success. As for his price tag, they paid $2 million more than the franchise tag number if he’s around for one year, and $2 million per year less than the tag number is he’s around two years. Regarding Daniel, his signing has always appeared a nod to new coach Doug Pederson, as big a Daniel fan as there is in the league. (Pederson and Daniel were together in Kansas City from 2013 to ’15, as offensive coordinator and backup QB, respectively.) And speaking of Pederson, the Eagles have a lot of coaches schooled in quarterback development. They will provide a strong opportunity for Goff/Wentz to—eventually—be successful.
The Titans and Browns picked a good year to be at the top of the draft, netting a treasure trove of picks. But could they have gotten more if they’d waited?
Could the Eagles have negotiated better deals? Perhaps, but they weren’t willing to risk losing any of the three quarterbacks they will have this year. Now they see an opportunity to secure their future long beyond the tenures of Bradford and Daniel. The problem, of course, is that they have no margin for error on this player. Sure, if that player—Carson Wentz or Jared Goff—becomes a franchise quarterback and the face of the franchise, it will be worth it. But what are the odds of that? Thirty percent? Forty percent? The Eagles better be right about the player for whom they have mortgaged some treasured real estate; a swing and miss here would resonate far more than missing on a “normal” top draft pick.
Titans and Browns bounties
As should come as no surprise with my background in Green Bay, I favor a net result of more draft picks than fewer picks. Even with the rights to the top pick (Rams) or second pick (Eagles) overall, trades such as these force inefficient replacement costs—usually more expensive veteran players with limited development windows—to supplant cost-effective infrastructure, in the form of drafted players, that would have been under contract at fixed and reasonable rates for four years. Remember when the Rams faced the Redskins and, for the opening coin flip, sent out players who were a by-product of the Robert Griffin III trade? Now that shoe is on the Rams’ and Eagles’ feet. Draft choices, especially those in the second and third rounds, are the best value going in the NFL right now, and the Eagles and Rams just gave away a disproportionate share of them.
The Titans and Browns picked a good year to be at the top of the draft, netting a treasure trove of draft picks. Having said that, I do find it hard to believe they could not have secured even more, with an ability to go back to these deal, by waiting until closer to the draft. Any good negotiator knows he won’t see the absolutely, positively best offer from his counterpart until the clock runs out. This is not to say that the Titans and Browns did not score impressive gift bags from the Rams and Eagles, but it feels as if they could have leveraged more. As eager as they obviously were to move up, L.A. and Philly—no matter what they say—were not going away. They would have been back before the draft, perhaps with more in the gift bag. I do understand, however, that leverage can be fleeting.
A week from now the Rams and Eagles will each get their guy (to eventually replace the guys they now have). And I am sure they both think that player will become the successful and signature face of the franchise’s future. For their sakes, I hope they are right.
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