A combination of bad scouting and attempting to band-aid the QB position forced the Eagles to trade up to number two.
Patrick Causey, on Twitter @pcausey3
I was going to provide my thoughts on the Eagles trade, but was buried in work and couldn’t get to it in time while the topic was still relevant. There are some really good articles out there analyzing both sides of the debate, including Bill Barnwell’s skeptical view of the move, and James Keane of BGN.com explaining why the Eagles did not mortgage the future in this trade. (For the record, I am against the trade up for this QB prospect, which I explain more fully here).
Instead, I want to address the root cause for the Eagles having to make this trade. But first, analogy time.
Imagine for a moment that the Philadelphia Eagles are a house.
They invested big in a brand new roof back in 1999. It was top of the line and came with all the bells and whistles. And for about 10 years, that roof was incredible. It did almost everything the homeowners could ask for.
But then the roof started to show signs of wear and tear. Instead of fixing the problem, the homeowners just ignored it.
And ignored it.
And ignored it.
Years went by. They put a bandaid here and a did patch job there.
But they never invested the necessary money to fix the actual problem.
Then one day the homeowners came home after a big storm, and the roof had caved in. Now they not only needed a new roof, but they needed to buy new appliances and furniture. So they went all out again, spending huge money to fix the problem. The only problem is, they ended up spending twice as much as they would have needed to spend had they just fixed the problem when the signs first emerged.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, that bad analogy was my attempt at illustrating the Eagles approach to solving the most important position in football: the quarterback.
The Eagles invested a high first round pick in Donovan McNabb back in 1999. He lasted 10 years with the team, leading the Eagles to five NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl. It was the longest period of sustained success in franchise history, and McNabb will go down as the best quarterback in franchise history.
But since the Eagles traded McNabb to the Washington Redskins in the 2010 offseason, they’ve wholly neglected the quarterback position. Instead of investing a high draft pick when the opportunity presented itself (which history tells us is the smart thing to do), the Eagles opted to go with retread veterans and mid-round picks, and the results were predictably mediocre.
Here is a chart breaking down the number of draft picks the Eagles have had since 2010 and the amount of those picks they have used on quarterbacks:
|Year||# of Draft Picks||QBs drafted|
|2010||13||Mike Kafka (4th)|
|2012||9||Nick Foles (3rd)|
|2013||8||Matt Barkley (4th)|
Two things stand out from this list. First, despite the commonly accepted view that more picks > less picks, the Eagles have steadily declined in the number of draft picks they’ve had over the last six years (they have only 7 this year). That’s not good.
But more pertinent to this article, they have taken only three quarterbacks in the last six drafts: Mike Kafka (2010), Nick Foles (2012), and Matt Barkley (2013). They’ve had 54 draft picks during that time. That’s 5% of their picks put towards solving the most important position in football.
And this was all while the Eagles projected starters were Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, and Sam Bradford. Not one quarterback on that list is considered an above replacement level quarterback in the NFL (and Kolb and Foles aren’t even close to being replacement level).
For comparisons sake, the New England Patriots also took three quarterbacks in the draft during the same time period (on 55 picks). The only difference, of course, is that they had Tom Brady as their quarterback.
But this is not even really about the quantity of picks they spent. My primary concern is about the lack of quality picks that the Eagles have invested in the position. The three quarterbacks they drafted since 2010 were in the third, fourth and fourth rounds respectively.
One way to better contextualize value is to use the draft value chart for the picks the Eagles used on quarterbacks since 2010:
Assume for a moment that the Eagles have had 7 picks in each of the last six drafts, and they picked 15th each time. They would have 1,811.50 “points” each draft, or 10,869 total points worth of draft capital over the last six drafts. The 308 points the Eagles invested in the quarterback position is just 2% of their total draft stock during that time.
Now, this comparison isn’t perfect. The Eagles didn’t pick 15th every year and they didn’t have just seven picks (they usually picked in the 20s, but also frequently had more than 7 picks, so I think the value evens out). But it still provides a good illustration to the problem: they’ve invested so little in the quarterback position that we shouldn’t be surprised the position has been mired in mediocrity for the last six seasons.
Again, for comparisons sake, the Patriots used a second rounder on Jimmy Garoppolo after the Patriots went 12-4 the previous year. After they went 14-2 in 2010, they used a third rounder on Ryan Mallett. They also used a 7th round pick on Zac Robinson in 2010. Using that same math, the Patriots spent 506 points worth of draft capital compared to the Eagles 308.
AND THIS WAS WITH TOM BRADY ON THE ROSTER!
Good franchises plan ahead and invest in the position as their quarterback is starting to age. Drafting Garoppolo while Brady is setting the world on fire is a good example of this. Ditto the Pittsburgh Steelers drafting Big Ben 11th overall in 2004 while Tommy Maddox, who led the Steelers to the Super Bowl, was still on the roster. The Green Bay Packers were riding high with Brett Favre when they took Aaron Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft.
The Eagles were presented with, but failed to take advantage of, similar opportunities to draft a quarterback at a much more reasonable cost than the one paid to acquire Carson Wentz:
2011: The Eagles were coming off 10-6 season with Michael Vick as the starter. But Vick was never as good as people made him about to be: he had an inconsistent season that year, starting off very good but crashing down to earth once defenses started to bring pressure more consistently and take away his first read. In the first round, the Eagles took Danny Watkins (yikes). Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick were still on the board.
2012: The Eagles reportedly built his entire draft class around acquiring Russell Wilson. They had a first round grade on him and three picks in the first two rounds. Instead of grabbing Wilson with, say, the second 2nd round pick, the Eagles drafted Vinny Curry, hoping to grab Wilson in the third. We know the history: Seattle took Wilson one pick before the Eagles, who ended up trading back in the 3rd and drafting Nick Foles instead.
2014: Coming off Nick Foles’ 27/2 season, the Eagles were content to go with Foles and former starter Michael Vick as their quarterback. When they drafted first round bust Marcus Smith with the 26th overall pick, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr were still on the board.
Some might claim this is hindsight 20/20 talking here. Perhaps to an extent. But I also think it underscores two issues that have plagued the Eagles during the last six seasons: they have neglected the quarterback position in the draft and have been poor at scouting quarterbacks when they tried to address the position. So this isn’t just to say that picking Foles was a bad move (in fairness, he likely has outperformed most third round quarterbacks). It also extends to their inability to recognize that Vick was not a viable solution in 2011, Foles in 2014, and so on and so forth.
So while we can — and should — debate the merits and demerits of the Eagles decision to trade up to two, we cannot dispute that the Eagles forced themselves into this position by neglecting the most important position in football for the last six years. And for that, they have only themselves to blame.