IF NOT Sam Bradford, then who?

If not Sam Bradford, then what?

As the start of the NFL free-agency signing period creeps closer, we continue to wonder what is going to happen with the Eagles quarterback. I mean, it's either that or try to guess the names of five players on the Phillies' or Sixers' rosters.

Will they re-sign Bradford? Will they put the franchise tag on him?

Or will they just say goodbye?

If they say goodbye, the Eagles will likely need both a short-term and long-term option, much like they did in 1999 when they drafted Donovan McNabb and brought in Doug Pederson to hold the fort until the kid was ready. Though, this time around, they'd probably need somebody to hold the fort a little longer than nine games.

The short-term option could be Mark Sanchez, who already is on the roster. And doesn't that possibility just make you wish the 2016 season was starting tomorrow?

Or it could be somebody from the pile of free-agent quarterback dreck that will become available at 4 p.m. on March 9.

The long-term option would come somewhere in the April 28-30 draft. The good news is the Eagles have nine picks in the draft. The bad news is five of them are in the last three rounds.

The Eagles have just one of the draft's first 76 selections - the 13th overall. Their second-round pick now is in the possession of the Los Angeles Rams, who obtained it in the Bradford trade last March. They have two selections in the third round.

If the Eagles don't re-sign Bradford, should they take a quarterback with their first-round pick? Or should they use that pick on another position of need, say offensive line, and try to strike quarterback gold on Day 2 (Rounds 2-3) or 3 (Rounds 4-7)?

A couple of things about this quarterback class heading into next week's NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis: most scouts and analysts think four quarterbacks - Cal's Jared Goff, North Dakota State's Carson Wentz, Memphis' Paxton Lynch and Michigan State's Connor Cook - will go somewhere in the first round. Five if you happen to think Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien will ignore the 2014-15 tape of his former Penn State pupil Christian Hackenberg and reach for him in Round 1.

Secondly, unlike many of the previous drafts, the depth of this year's quarterback class is considered very good. There are some intriguing Day 2 and 3 passers, including Hackenberg, Kevin Hogan of Stanford, Cody Kessler of Southern Cal, Jeff Driskel of Louisiana Tech, Brandon Allen of Arkansas and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State.

"I think this is a better class than most quarterback classes,'' said Mike Mayock the longtime draft analyst for NFL Network. "I think the intriguing part of this quarterback class is there are more of the middle-round type guys than usual.

"I hear a lot of scouts and coaches saying, 'OK, who's the next Kirk Cousins?' The guy who will go in the third-fourth round, but can eventually start and help you get to the playoffs. I think there are several of those guys in this draft.''

With the draft still more than two months away, it's way too early to accurately gauge whether any of the top four quarterbacks will be available to the Eagles at No. 13, or whether they will have genuine interest in them.

The Browns, who have the second overall selection, are expected to release Johnny Manziel and seem a good bet to take a quarterback. Same with the Cowboys at No. 4. Their current starter, Tony Romo, missed 12 games last season with collarbone injuries and will turn 36 in April.

But there are a number of other teams in front of the Eagles that also might be in the market for a quarterback. The Chargers, at 3, the Giants at 10 and the Saints at 12 all have thirtysomething quarterbacks whose biological clocks are ticking.

The 49ers have the seventh pick and no one really knows what Chip Kelly thinks about Colin Kaepernick. And what about the Bears (the 11th pick) and Jay Cutler?

"Goff is the most polished,'' Mayock said. "People are concerned about two things with him. He looks fragile. He has a very lean build. But he started 37 consecutive games. The other thing is he throws more interceptions than you'd like to see.

"But he can make every throw. He can move around the pocket. Cleveland has to be looking at him at 2. They're looking at all of them, but (Goff) makes a ton of sense for them there.''

Mayock said Wentz isn't nearly as polished as Goff, but might have a bigger upside.

"With his size, strength, athletic ability, arm strength and intelligence, he's a year or two away form turning into something special if he's brought along the right way,'' he said.

By "brought along the right way,'' Mayock means spending a year or two watching and learning, not being the season-opening starter next September.

"That's why I kind of look at Dallas and say, 'If I'm them and I've got a 36-year-old Romo who hasn't made it through a year (without an injury) the last three years, I would love to bring in my quarterback of the future and not have to play him Day 1. That almost makes too much sense, which is probably why it won't happen.''

Mayock feels Lynch is going to need even more developmental time than Wentz.

"He's very talented, but he's never been under center, he's never called a play,'' he said. "He's a big, strong, Joe Flacco type. But he's got a lot of work ahead of him as far as footwork and the mental side of it. He has a lot to learn about the (pro) passing game.''

Much like Penn State's Hackenberg, Cook is an enigma. Makes wonderful, jaw-dropping throws one minute and much less wonderful, head-scratching passes the next. But he's got all of the physical tools.

"You have to figure him out,'' Mayock said. "He can make all the throws. He's going to go in the first round. But you have to figure the kid out.''

A quarterback whose stock is rising with NFL scouts is Stanford's Hogan. Not as a potential first-rounder, but possibly in the third or fourth rounds.

Hogan has an unorthodox throwing motion that is going to have to be tinkered with once he gets to the next level. But he's a smart kid and good decision-maker who hails from a pro-style offense.

"I don't think he's as pure a passer as some of those other kids,'' Mayock said. "But as far as where he's been with that Stanford offense, he probably knows more about pass protection, checks at the line of scrimmage into the run game, identifying safeties and fronts. He probably knows more of that than anybody coming out this year.''

Which brings us back to the Eagles and that 13th pick. If they don't re-sign Bradford, do they take a quarterback in the first round? Will there be a quarterback left worth taking?

Mayock thinks the Eagles should strongly consider taking one of the top four quarterbacks if any fall to them at 13, and then use later picks to address their offensive line needs.

"Depending on what they think of Wentz and Lynch and Cook, I think they have to be sitting there considering the possibility of taking one of them as their quarterback of the future if any of them fall to them,'' Mayock said.

"I just don't know who gets there (to 13) and I don't know who they're going to fall in love with, if any of them. I'm just saying, they have to do their homework and that has to be a high priority.''

A dose of reality here: The odds of getting a really good quarterback with the 13th pick aren't very good. In the last 20 drafts, 12 quarterbacks have been taken with the 10th through 20th picks. Just five have been keepers - Flacco (18th pick in '08), Cutler (11th, '06), Ben Roethlisberger (11th, '04), Chad Pennington (18th, '00) and Daunte Culpepper (11th, '99).

Five in 20 years.

Just one more reason why hanging on to Bradford sounds like a pretty good idea to me.



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