FOR MAYBE 30 minutes there, Eagles fans were elated. An NFL Network graphic said that in addition to exchanging Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, their team was swapping first-round picks with the St. Louis Rams, moving up from 20th overall to 10th. This happy news was tweeted forth across the land, over hill and over dale, sometimes accompanied by a screen-grab.
It had to be the first step in a double move to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, right? Suddenly, the possible trade Philadelphia had been obsessing over for months seemed very tangible. Chip Kelly was a genius!
And then he wasn't. The graphic was a mistake. The actual terms of the trade didn't get the Birds any closer to Mariota; if anything, they moved the team further from that presumed goal. The trade had nothing to do with the first round. The Eagles were sending their fourth-round pick this year to St. Louis, getting the Rams' fifth-rounder in return, and they were throwing in next year's second-rounder. The only concession to the fact that Bradford, 2010's first overall pick, hasn't played since Game 7 of 2013 because of two left ACL tears was that should he not play this season, the Eagles would get a third-round pick in 2016, and should he play fewer than half the snaps, they'd get a fourth-rounder.
Two unpleasant facts immediately smacked no-longer-elated fans square in the face: 1) Their coach might really think Bradford, who hasn't really looked that much like a first overall pick since a promising rookie season, is the QB he wants to stake his tenure upon; and 2) Kelly must have really wanted Foles out of here.
Bradford, fragile ACLs aside, has a 79.3 career passer rating, with 59 touchdown passes and 38 interceptions, and a .586 completion percentage. Foles' passer rating is 94.2, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, a .616 completion percentage. Granted, except for seven games in 2012, Foles has played on a better team. And Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was Bradford's OC in 2010, when Bradford was offensive rookie of the year.
"Just got told, 'Chip came hard after Bradford. That's why this happened.' So there's that," Sports Illustrated's Peter King tweeted.
A team source told the Daily News that the Eagles like Bradford's "accuracy, smarts and athletic ability."
To fans, Bradford might seem like Mark Sanchez, Part II - somebody else's failed franchise quarterback. The idea of starting over with Mariota, or even of Foles bouncing back to 2013 form, might seem much more appealing than another reclamation project.
Mariota lust aside, a sizable chunk of the fan base is still attached to Foles. Yesterday's trade was a stinging rebuke to all those who insisted it didn't matter that Kelly kept refusing to declare himself hitched to Andy's Reid's 2012 third-round pick from Arizona.
All of Reid's offensive weapons are gone now. Presumably, Foles will get a chance to start for the Rams.
"I'm extremely excited about adding Nick to our team," Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. "Nick is a talented young quarterback and will be a great addition to our offense."
Foles tweeted a thank-you "for the opportunity to start my career in Philly." There was a photo attached, inscribed with "Thank You Philly." Foles added: "Going to miss my teammates & Eagles fans who supported me."
Didn't say anything about missing Chip, did he?
Larry Foles, Nick's father, told the Daily News he didn't know yet what the Rams might have in store for the QB who threw 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 13 games in 2013, one of the greatest passing performances in Eagles franchise history. The seven touchdown passes at Oakland, the magical game in the snow at Lincoln Financial Field against Detroit that ended up framing a Foles Sports Illustrated cover, the Pro Bowl MVP award - all of it came to nothing, in terms of Foles' future with the Eagles.
"I think so, but you really don't know in this league. Who knows? We'll see," Larry Foles said, when asked whether this would be a good move for his son. "He loved the Eagles, thought it was going to be really good there. Things happen. He's a big boy, he can handle it.
"He's always been kind of the underdog, but he always rises to the occasion. Whatever happens, he'll continue to make the most of it.
"You always want to go where you're wanted . . . Life goes on."
Some NFL people don't think Foles will ever be quick enough setting and resetting his feet, looking through options, and firing the ball into a tight window; they think Kelly's offensive innovations gave him lots of wide-open targets in 2013 that were less open once defensive coordinators had an offseason to adjust. Foles had 13 touchdowns and 10 picks when he broke his collarbone at the end of the first quarter at Houston Nov. 2. Nobody knew when he trotted off the field following a Whitney Mercilus sack that Foles would never take another snap as an Eagle.
When the Eagles brought back Sanchez this week, it seemed to be the latest in a string of signs that they weren't wed to Foles. The NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported last night that the Foles-Bradford swap had been on and off a couple of times over the past few weeks, and was off as recently as Monday night.
As is his custom, Kelly was not available to explain the trade or anything else. He has not spoken to reporters since the season ended.
At his season wrapup news conference, Kelly was asked about Foles' injury history. He indicated that wasn't something he worried about, noting that "Peyton Manning missed a year, Tom Brady missed a year, Drew Brees missed a year, Aaron Rodgers missed almost all of last season," and that "Tony Romo's been hurt."
"You can count on one hand the guys that don't get hurt at the quarterback position," Kelly said. "That is just the nature of that position . . . Very rarely do guys make it through unscathed at that position. It just doesn't happen."
Bradford presumably would agree.