Over the past few weeks the Marcus Mariota-to-Philadelphia rumours have intensified, with a number of high-profile NFL writers coming out and saying the Eagles trading up to draft the ex-Oregon quarterback is possible.
The reasons to believe a trade will happen are largely circumstantial: Chip Kelly recruited and coached Mariota in college, Mariota looks like the perfect fit for Kelly’s offence, Kelly has blown up the Eagles since gaining full control over personnel in January in a series of unpredictable moves, etc.
Combine all of that with guys like Adam Schefter characterising a trade as “possible,” and no one would be surprised if this trade went down on draft night.
But the more you look at the Eagles-Mariota situation, the more you realise how many obstacles stand in the way of Kelly getting his man. Even if you assume the Eagles want Mariota, there may not be a trade to be made, and any deal would cost them a ton of draft picks.
1. The Titans might actually want Mariota at No. 2.
First thing’s first, a trade might not even be possible. The Tampa Bay Bucs are widely expected to take Jameis Winston at No. 1. The Titans at No. 2 have long held the keys to the draft, with many assuming they’d be more than happy to field offers from teams trading up to get Mariota. But Peter King of Sports Illustrated reports that the Titans might actually, after all of this, just really like Mariota.
“The Titans were all over Mariota all through the college season, and beyond,” King wrote on Monday. “One Oregon source told me the Tennessee scouts were the most fervent of all teams during and after the season investigating Mariota.”
King added that if he had to guess he’d say the Titans keep their pick and draft Mariota.
2. If the Titans are willing to make a trade, there could be a bidding war.
There’s three big environmental factors working against the Eagles.
1. There are only two quarterbacks in this draft that everyone likes, Winston and Mariota.
2. There are maybe eight or nine NFL teams that desperately need a quarterback.
3. Some of those teams can make better offers than Philly can.
That is to say: it’s going to cost Chip Kelly a boatload of assets to get from No. 20 to No. 2 simply because there are so many other teams in play.
The Cleveland Browns, for example, have two first-round picks (No. 12 and No. 19), both of which are higher than Philly’s lone 2015 first-rounder (No. 20). There’s also the San Diego Chargers, who could put together a trade package around franchise quarterback Phillip Rivers — something Philly can’t compete with.
When the Washington Redskins moved up from No. 6 to No. 2 to draft RGIII in 2012, they had to give up three first-round picks (No. 6 in 2012, No. 22 in 2013, No. 2 in 2014) and a second-round pick. Considering that they’d be moving up from much deeper in the first round, and it stand to reason that the Eagles would have to give up at least that much.
Some have speculated that a three-team trade could be a way for Kelly to get around giving up all these picks. The most popular hypothetical trade has been a Eagles-Browns-Titans three-teamer. In that trade the Browns — who reportedly offered a first-round pick for Sam Bradford earlier this winter — would send one of their first-rounders to Philly for Bradford, which the Eagles would use in part of a package for Mariota.
It’s plausible, but even in that scenario the Eagles would have to give up two first rounders and a second rounder of their own (based on the RGIII trade). That’s still a ton, which brings us to perhaps the biggest obstacle of all…
3. Smart teams don’t make trades like these.
The biggest reason to be pessimistic about this trade is Kelly himself. We know he loves Mariota, but we also know that Kelly is a progressive figure who seems to be philosophically opposed to packaging assets in order to trade up in the draft.
Kelly’s top personnel man Ed Marynowitz gave a great explanation of his philosophy on trading up at a press conference last week:
“I share the same philosophy as Chip does in that. Philosophically, we are opposed to ‘mortgaging the future’ was Chip’s term. Really the way we look at it is draft picks — every draft pick you have is an opportunity to improve your football team. So the more opportunities we have to improve our team, we’re excited about that. So I’d rather have more picks than less picks. I think Chip shares the same philosophy. That doesn’t preclude us from moving up and doing something. I think you never say never. But philosophically, we have eight picks and we’d like to pick eight players or more, not less.”
“Let’s dispel that right now. I think that stuff’s crazy. You guys have been going with that stuff all along. I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft. We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to go get someone like that because we have too many other holes that we’re going to take care of.”
This is now the conventional thinking among most progressive NFL people. If you assume the NFL Draft is a crapshoot where you can never know if a prospect will pan out (as the research suggests), then the only way to “beat” the draft is to play the odds by acquiring more picks. You can’t draft better than other teams, but you can draft more than other teams, giving yourself more chances to find good players.
It’s not an accident that Bill Belichick trades back in the draft every year.
The RGIII trade is a good example of this. While the Rams haven’t exactly torn the league up since the trade, they’re in a better position long-term than Washington because of the volume of players they acquired.
The Rams turned that one pick into eight players, four of whom are now starters:
When the Eagles talk about mortgaging the future, this is what they mean.
Kelly has gone against progressive thinking before. He invested heavily in the running back position this offseason, for example, at a time when other smart NFL teams have stopped paying running backs. After what he’s done this offseason, it’d be crazy to role anything when it comes to Kelly.
But when you look at all the various factors, Mariota landing in Philly seems like a long shot.
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