There is a growing speculation that the Eagles are lining up a quarterback to take early in April's draft, and that feeling is sure to grow after it came out Thursday that they have visits planned with Texas A&M's Ryan Tannehill and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins.
The team's financial obligation to Mike Vick largely expires after 2012, the thinking goes, so they must be looking for a QB of the future. That, and the fact that Andy Reid loves quarterbacks, all the quarterbacks he can get, and would probably play one at linebacker if Jeffrey Lurie let him. Some pretty smart people see the Eagles going after another passer. They may be right.
But I don't see the sense in spending an early pick on a quarterback who won't help now and probably won't ever be the franchise-type player you need to win a Super Bowl. The Eagles aren't getting Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin, III, which leaves them to either trade multiple picks to move up for Tannehill, take a second-tier talent in the second or third round, or go for Brandon Weeden, who is already 28.
In any scenario, , the Eagles would be spending valuable resources on a player who won't help a veteran team win in 2012 and, if history is any guide, probably won't be a long-term answer, either.
Start with Tannehill, the one quarterback after Luck and Griffin who some project as a potential franchise starter. From here, he sounds like a classic reach. Limited resume? Check. He's all of 12-7 as a starter. Clearly a notch below the top of the class? Check. Inflated stock because of teams desperate for QB help? Check. He sounds very much like 2012's Christian Ponder, and the Eagles would have to pay a premium to move up and get him. Even if he pans out in the future, he'll be costly now.
This isn't the year to give up picks for the future. With a veteran lineup that includes many key starters already in their primes, the Eagles should focus on maximizing their chances in 2012. Want to package second round picks to move up and get a big receiver or an outside linebacker? Add a stud defensive tackle? Get another safety option or an explosive kick returner? That makes sense. Talented players at any of those spots could help immediately. Tannehill won't.
The Eagles have the pieces of an explosive offense, including several skill players in their prime (many remain unconvinced about Vick; fair enough, but he's not going anywhere this season). Jason Peters is at the top of his game but just turned 30. Trent Cole is 29. Before the season starts Jason Babin will turn 32 and Nnamdi Asomugha 31. The Eagles should take advantage of these talents while they can. I can't see how they could justify using an early pick on another Kevin Kolb.
I know, the idea would be that this pick would work out better. But when you go quarterback in the second round, you get Kolb quality far, far more often than you get Drew Brees. (And there are only so many times you can fleece the Cardinals to make up for a mistake. That's a new rule.)
So what about using a later round pick on a guy like Weeden or Cousins? Weeden sounds great, but he would spend this year at least behind Vick, making him 30 by the time he starts his first NFL game. With the Eagles needing a rebound year, a first or second round pick could be better used elsewhere, and it seems unlikely that he'll be around when the Eagles choose in the third.
After Weeden we're talking about second-tier talents, and history says second and third round quarterbacks almost never become the kind of QBs you need to win big. There are exceptions, but they are exceedingly rare: since 2000, 119 QBs have been drafted after the first round, including 37 in rounds two, three or four. Only 14 total -- 9 in rounds two to four -- became regular starters, and that's using a very generous definition of regular starter. Only three – Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Schaub – are the type of quarterbacks you would depend on for a serious playoff run. (Maybe you can throw in Andy Dalton from 2011).
Most often your best-case late round result is a Marc Bulger or Kyle Orton or David Garrard. And those are some of the better names in those rounds. It's not pretty. You can find top-flight players at other spots late in the draft, but rarely at quarterback. The passers that can become centerpieces of championship teams almost always emerge from round one. (I've got more analysis below of later round QBs versus first rounders, if you want the details).
If the Eagles used a two or a three on a quarterback, they'd most likely get a developmental backup. Which is exactly what they already have in Mike Kafka. Maybe Cousins, after a year or two to learn, would become a better fill-in than Kafka. Is that future upgrade around the margins of the team really worth an early pick? No, not unless you're getting a franchise guy.
But what about Vick's successor? It's a legitimate issue, but I don't think the answer lies in drafting a the third round stopgap for the future. Those kind of QBs are available each year in free agency and the draft.
If you're going for a long-term replacement, a player to build around for a decade, you're better off going big and betting on an elite talent. It's why I think the Redskins made the right move in going all in on RGIII.
Yes, going big carries risk. If you don't own a top-10 pick, you have to pay a ransom to get there. But if you move wisely – like the Giants did with Eli Manning – it's worth it, and far more likely to work than relying on your own wizardry to turn a lesser talent into gold.
Nearly as bad as missing on a first round pick is being stuck in mid-tier purgatory, with a Chad Henne or Kyle Boller who shows just enough potential to make you stick with him, but never makes the leap to being great, wasting your time. In all likelihood, those are the kind of quarterbacks the Eagles would be looking at after round one (maybe Tannehill is better, but again, you'd be waiting for him to develop).
One last point: if Reid is really under scrutiny this year, it doesn't make sense to let him spend an early pick on the quarterback of the next five years, not if change is a real possibility, because then you might be starting over with a new coach who would want his own guy.
Reid should be focused on now. The Eagles have the 15th, 46th and 51st picks in the draft and can add players who could help this year and for many to come. That would be a far better investment than a rainy-day quarterback who is unlikely to be elite.
Quarterbacks by Round
Second Round and Later
Before writing this post, I looked back at every quarterback drafted since 2000, a nice round year that happened to be the season after the Eagles took Donovan McNabb second overall.
The result? Of the 119 QBs taken after round one, only 14 have become regular NFL starters – and that's being very generous with the assessment. I generally counted anyone who started a significant number of games for one team over multiple seasons. That means the team got an extended look at the player and saw enough to stick with him for at least one more year. It hopefully eliminated the cases of QBs who started a bunch of games only because of injury and were so unimpressive that they were never heard from again, but it includes a number of players who were never close to Pro Bowl level.
Only three of those later round QBs are guys you would count on for a serious playoff run: Tom Brady (sixth round in 2000), Drew Brees (second, 2001) and Matt Schaub (third, 2004). Maybe you can add Andy Dalton (second, 2011). Brady and Brees are big names, two of the best of this generation, but they are two out of 119. And Brady is an anomaly we may never see again.
Here are the 14 successful QB picks taken in the second round or later: Brady; Marc Bulger (6th, 2000); Brees; David Garrard (fourth, 2002); Schaub; Ryan Fitzpatrick (seventh, 2005); Matt Cassel (seventh, 2005); Kyle Orton (fourth, 2005); Trent Edwards (third, 2007); Kolb (second round, 2007); Matt Flynn (seventh, 2008); Chad Henne (second, 2008); Colt McCoy (third, 2010); Dalton.
How many of those would you be excited to have?
The odds are a bit better if you limit it to rounds two through four, but even there it's not great. There have been 37 QBs taken in those rounds since 2000, nine on the list of regular starters. But as you can see above, that includes borderline guys like Henne, Kolb and Orton.
As I said, I was generous with counting guys who worked out because I didn't want to twist the numbers in my own favor. Brady, Brees and Schaub are obvious successes. Bulger was a long-time starter. Garrard, Fitzpatrick, Cassel and Orton have all been entrusted to start over multiple seasons, although none have been great or come close to being championship caliber. Henne, Kolb, McCoy and Flynn haven't had much sustained success, but I counted them because each has shown enough that at least someone wanted each of them as their starters. Edwards is now a backup, but he did enough to get seven or more starts in three different seasons in Buffalo. He's a very borderline player to call a late-round success.
I didn't count Tarvaris Jackson as a hit even though he has had a regular starting role in two seasons. Each time, his team made a change the next year.
The rest of the picks taken after round 1 are hugely uninspiring. There's Chris Simms and Seneca Wallace, Quincy Carter and Chris Weinke, Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson. And those are the names we might recognize. There are nearly 100 others who are simply anonymous.
By contrast, when you take a swing in the first round, there is obviously the potential for a huge, huge miss, but nearly all of the big hits come from picking early. Since 2000, 32 quarterbacks have gone in the first round. Fourteen have worked out well, by my estimation. (There were also 14 from the later rounds, but that's out of a much larger pool, and aside from Brady and Brees, the early hits have been far superior).
Here's the list of first round QBs since 2000: Chad Pennington, Mike Vick, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Carson Palmer, Byron Leftwich, Kyle Boller, Rex Grossman, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, J.P. Losman, Alex Smith, Aaron Rodgers, Jason Campbell, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Jay Cutler, JaMarcus Russell, Brady Quinn, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, Josh Freeman, Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
I'd count Pennington, Vick, Palmer, Manning, Rivers, Roethlisberger, Smith, Rodgers, Cutler, Ryan, Flacco, Stafford, Bradford and Newton as successes, with room for some of the recent picks to still move into that category. All except Ryan, Stafford and Newton have won playoff games.
The only close call there is Smith, and he's been a starter over multiple seasons in San Francisco, and nearly got his team into the Super Bowl last year.
You might argue with some of the specifics – maybe you think Tarvaris Jackson was a good second round pick, for example, and that Alex Smith is a first round bust. Fair enough. But changing the numbers by one or two players doesn't alter the overall point: the top of the draft is where you find elite quarterbacks. Later, and your best case scenario is almost always landing a career backup - which the Eagles already have.