Eagles Analysis: The Quarterback Quandary

Jan 3, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford (7) throws the ball during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O
Jan 3, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford (7) throws the ball during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim O /

The Philadelphia Eagles enter the heart of the offseason in an incredibly precarious position: Sign Sam Bradford to an extension (possibly a very lucrative one), or roll the dice on one of the incoming quarterback prospects. The merits to each side of the argument have been made ardent points of contention among the fanbase and media. Given the absence of a clear-cut option, the raging debate should only gain momentum over the proceeding months, until the search ultimately culminates in free agency and/or the draft. In this space, we’ll parse out both the value and viability of the candidates and the implications of their acquisition.

Before any of these options can be realistically explored, the Eagles will have to make a decision on Sam Bradford. I’ve written about Bradford at length numerous times over the past 8-10 months, so my views on him should be fairly clear at this point (I’d like for him to return, for those who’re unfamiliar). As for the Eagles organization, the intent is a lot less clear, though it’s apparent that there’s at least some level of interest in bringing Bradford back. When pressed, Doug Pederson claimed that Bradford was a “perfect fit” for the offense that he looks to install, and that he “looks forward to working with [Bradford] in the spring.” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and de facto GM Howie Roseman were both ambiguous in discussing Bradford’s prospects –more than likely intentionally so, for negotiating purposes– so it’s hard to believe that there is no interest in an extension. Although, it is noteworthy that several Eagles players, particularly ones recently signed to lucrative extensions, have endorsed Bradford, so perhaps feigning interest might be a form of appeasement. We can’t and won’t be sure for at least a couple of months either way.

If the Eagles do decide to re-up Bradford, then the roster is somewhat more stable and the draft-board becomes a lot more flexible (depending of course on the length of Bradford’s contract). That being said, I don’t think that a Bradford extension –especially if it’s a short-term prove-it deal, as has been proposed by some– should in any way preclude the Eagles from drafting a quarterback at any juncture. Yes, shelling out a lucrative contract and then spending a top-15 selection on a player of the same position seems like an egregious misallocation of valuable resources, however, the quarterback position operates independently under its own set of rules, and shouldn’t be treated conventionally. Though admittedly lacking any semblance of nuance or tactic, this approach greatly increases the odds of solving the quarterback issues; an issue that belies the function of an otherwise effective program, should it continue to persist. There is risk in this philosophy, however, the quarterback search poses an inherently risky proposition in and of itself. Worst case scenario is Bradford gets hurt, you cut bait and eat the cap, but in the mean time have a cheap option under center who helps to offset the cap hit.

The consensus top-3 quarterback prospects of the incoming class are, in no particular order, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch, and Jared Goff (the latter 2 I’ve already profiled, though Goff’s was done under the pretense that Chip would remain head coach). None of the 3 are what you would consider a slam-dunk prospect ala Andrew Luck or Jameis Winston, so it’s likely that the Eagles have a shot at at least 2 of the 3.

The pertinent question then is, which of the 3 quarterbacks best fits the west coast offense? Well, the answer is most likely the best quarterback. When Bill Walsh famously ran his adaptation of the WCO, he employed Joe Montana at QB, and utilized his repetitive accuracy and athleticism to create opportunities and bolster the system. In this instance, the most comparable QB of the class, skill-set-wise, is Cal’s Jared Goff. For a frame of reference, Eagles coach Doug Pederson helped run a similar short-horizontal passing attack with Alex Smith at the helm, another QB who resembles Goff, stylistically speaking.

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In stark contrast, however, Andy Reid hand-picked Donovan McNabb to run his adaptation of the WCO, in which Pederson both played and coached. McNabb didn’t come close to resembling an Alex Smith or Jared Goff, though all 3 were athletic passers (to varying degrees). McNabb was of course an excellent drive-thrower and could hurl the ball into orbit if he wanted. The aforementioned 3’s collective arm-strength isn’t in the same stratosphere as McNabb’s. If Pederson wishes to ere towards the side of Reid’s Philadelphia offense, then Paxton Lynch or Carson Wentz, big athletic passers with ++ arm strength, are the obvious choice. As previously mentioned, the best answer is that, if it comes down to drafting the next Eagles QB, that Pederson and the FO should select the player they have the most faith in as a prospect, and tailor the system to their skills (though personnel will undoubtedly have an influence).

After personally evaluating the QB crop, I can say that I’d prefer Lynch and Wentz to Goff for a few reasons (another post for a later date), though it’ll be interesting to see how Wentz, and especially Lynch, do in the interviews and on the chalk board. That being said, I’m not sure that I prefer Wentz or Lynch to Bradford either, though their theoretical ceilings are likely higher, and neither come with the injury concerns (at least not to the degree of Bradford’s). It’s a conundrum to be sure, and one that hasn’t come close to playing itself out at that.