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Chip Kelly on Bradford, Mariota and Foles

PHOENIX - Chip Kelly said Wednesday that he wanted both Sam Bradford and Nick Foles on the Eagles, but that he could not acquire Bradford with only draft picks. He needed to surrender Foles to acquire the Rams quarterback in the March 10 trade.

(Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
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PHOENIX - Chip Kelly said Wednesday that he wanted both Sam Bradford and Nick Foles on the Eagles, but that he could not acquire Bradford with only draft picks. He needed to surrender Foles to acquire the Rams quarterback in the March 10 trade.

Whatever praise Kelly offers about Foles, he ultimately chose Bradford over his former Pro Bowl quarterback. Despite Foles' superior statistical production, it was Bradford's skill set that swayed Kelly.

"I think when you look at Sam, it's his overall accuracy that I think impresses everybody when you watch him play," Kelly said Wednesday during a one-hour roundtable interview at the NFL meeting. "Just looking at where we are and what we need to do, we've got guys open and we didn't put the ball on them in certain situations."

That offered a glimpse into why the Eagles coveted Bradford as a potential upgrade at quarterback - a move that owner Jeffrey Lurie called an "upside gamble." But Bradford first must prove he's healthy, and the Eagles also must get through the draft if Kelly wants to finally stop speculation about Marcus Mariota.

Bradford had knee surgery in September and has been in Philadelphia since March 15 rehabbing with the team's training staff each day. He can start working with the coaches April 20. Kelly said Bradford was "on target to be fully recovered," but there is no definite date for him to be cleared to play.

Bradford is already running, which Kelly is not allowed to observe. Kelly did not know if Bradford would be ready to participate in organized team activities in May and June.

The idea of a depth chart that includes Foles and Bradford - and Mark Sanchez, for that matter - might not make much sense, but Kelly had already been unpredictable about his plans at quarterback. And until Oregon's Mariota holds up another team's jersey, the possibility of a reunion with Kelly will remain a topic of conversation.

"It's what makes sports great," Kelly said. "You've got nothing to talk about on sports radio, let's talk about trades."

Of course, the Mariota speculation goes beyond sports radio fodder. Kelly's connection to Mariota helps alleviate some of the concerns about the prospect, although the coach continued emphasizing that a trade to the top of the draft would be too costly. He does not know if Mariota will be a top-five pick, but he's high on both Mariota and Jameis Winston and does not think quarterbacks will slip on draft day.

"The history of the league, look at the quarterbacks that have been drafted in the top - Mark Sanchez was a top-five pick, Jake Locker was a top 10 pick," Kelly said. "[Blaine] Gabbert went at 10. [Christian] Ponder went at 12. Quarterbacks go really fast in this league."

When Kelly was presented with a hypothetical trade that would bring the Eagles to the No. 6 spot while giving the Jets two first-round picks, he said "it will never get you there." Kelly has said that he would not mortgage the team's future for one player, and he considers that to mean "giving up your draft, like for Ricky Williams."

Even if concerns about how Mariota translates to the NFL created speculation that he might not be a top pick, Kelly's admiration for his former quarterback has not waned. He said that "everybody gets overanalyzed" and called the pre-draft hoopla "silly season."

"You judge quarterbacks on what their won-loss record is. You judge quarterbacks on touchdown-to-interception ratio," Kelly said. "He's off the charts. And he's off the charts off the field."

Those statistics do not leave a favorable impression of Bradford - at least on the pro level. In his 49 starts with the Rams, Bradford went 18-30-1 and threw 59 touchdowns to 38 interceptions. Foles has a 15-9 record with 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.

Bradford also played for three offensive coordinators in four seasons and had only one Pro Bowler on his offense during that time, factors that could help the argument that the Eagles are acquiring a better player than statistics indicate. When Kelly watched Bradford's film, he paid attention to the skill set, rattling off a series of questions that go into his evaluation:

"How does he set his feet, how does he avoid the rush, are his eyes up, how does he take a hit, how does he deliver a short ball, how does he deliver a deep ball, what's he like on intermediate throws, what's he like when he sets his feet and throws, what's he like when he's flushed and can't get his back foot down and has to throw off balance?"

The answers to those questions attracted Kelly to Bradford and were the impetus for the team's willingness to give up Foles in the deal.

Kelly's philosophy is to build through the draft. He cited the Herschel Walker trade in 1989 as the move that set the Cowboys forward. Based on that thinking and the team's optimism about Bradford, it looks as if he will be the quarterback. But Kelly left himself wiggle room.

"There are exceptions to every philosophy," Kelly said. "People used to think the world was flat, philosophically. Till that guy took the boat and just kept going and didn't fall off the edge."