By Annie Ross
The Eagles’ move to acquire the second overall choice in the 2016 NFL draft — to select a quarterback, as general manager Howie Roseman said they would — was one quite a few NFL insiders doubted would happen.
“I just don’t see how you can draft a quarterback that high because you immediately make Sam Bradford obsolete in the process,” an executive from another team told ESPN before the trade went down.
That same executive joked that the Eagles might as well put up a billboard declaring one of their quarterbacks — Bradford, presumably — to be available on the cheap. Because now that the Birds are all-in for a quarterback, Chase Daniel looks like the ideal bridge starter to whichever QB the Eagles draft. Daniels knows coach Doug Pederson’s offense and has a deal with $5 million guaranteed in 2017. The second overall choice will be starting by 2017 or earlier. That leaves Bradford marginalized even if the Eagles say for now that Bradford is their projected starter.
“There is a commitment level when you take a quarterback that high that he becomes your starter as soon as he is ready,” the executive said, “and I don’t know how you can get a guy like that ready when you are clear that you are playing Bradford at least for this year, or Bradford is competing with Daniel.”
The Eagles gave up the eighth overall choice in addition to picks in the third and fourth round this season, plus a 2017 first-rounder and 2018 second-rounder. They got the second overall choice and a 2017 fourth-rounder in return. No team makes that kind of move for any position other than a quarterback who will be playing sooner rather than later.
General managers, salary-cap managers, analytics specialists and other league insiders who were consulted earlier this week questioned the Eagles’ outward interest in drafting a quarterback early. Two said they thought the Eagles hoped to drive up interest in quarterbacks so they could improve their chances of landing the player they really want, which could have been Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. After all, the Eagles had given an $11 million signing bonus to Bradford and $5 million in 2017 guarantees to Daniel. But Philadelphia’s sudden move into the second spot showed the Eagles were not bluffing when they crisscrossed the country evaluating college quarterbacks this spring.
“It helps if there are multiple teams that want the second quarterback,” a salary-cap manager said. “If the Browns can portray that there is a second team and then the 49ers or Eagles like whoever will be available at No. 2, there is the potential for that pick to be very valuable.”
That appears to be exactly what happened. It’s less clear to what extent the 49ers might be in the market for a quarterback early in this draft.
If new coach Chip Kelly loved the thought of working with Colin Kaepernick, the 49ers never would have given the quarterback permission to seek a trade. The team’s stance was a clear signal that San Francisco planned to set a new course at the position. Some insiders felt — incorrectly, it turns out — as though the 49ers were more serious than the Eagles about trading for the first overall choice, although none thought San Francisco would have given up such a haul.
There are reasons to think San Francisco might have been willing all along to stand pat. Kelly seemed content in Philly plugging in Nick Foles or Mark Sanchez while never using anything higher than a fourth-round pick for a quarterback. Trent Baalke, the 49ers’ general manager, has cited the 2011 draft when cautioning against reaching at the position. The 49ers held the seventh pick that year as well. They selected Aldon Smith instead of quarterbacks Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert or Christian Ponder. Kaepernick became second-round choice that year, taken 36th overall.
If the 49ers saw little drop from the top quarterbacks to the second tier in this draft, they could use the 37th overall choice to select one of them, or they could use some of their league-high 12 selections to move up from that spot.
“If they do not take a quarterback with their first pick, I think they take one with their second pick,” one of the insiders said. “I do not think the 49ers are prepared to go into the season without a new quarterback. Blaine Gabbert is the perfect bridge guy to play until the other guy is ready, whether that is in Week 1 or Week 12. Kaepernick doesn’t fit at this point.”
The same can be said for Bradford in Philly. All that’s left to find out is how the Eagles plan to deal with him.