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Sielski: Eagles' QB theory is phony

The Eagles' strategy to manage their quarterback situation for 2016 sounds wonderful in theory, as long as you ignore the phony promise at its core.

The Eagles' strategy to manage their quarterback situation for 2016 sounds wonderful in theory, as long as you ignore the phony promise at its core.

Their theory is this: Once Sam Bradford wises up and realizes that the franchise will not trade him and that he has no leverage to force it to, he will have no choice but to report for training camp. At that time, the Eagles will, as head coach Doug Pederson told reporters after last week's NFL draft, "welcome [him] with open arms. . . . He's the leader of this football team." Then, the real work can begin. Bradford will be the starter. Carson Wentz will be the eager apprentice/franchise quarterback-in-waiting. And Chase Daniel will be the savvy, unselfish backup who understands Pederson's offense so well that he can tutor the other two guys.

Not surprisingly, Bradford (as you may have heard) hasn't been accepting of this seashells-and-balloons scenario, probably because he can recognize the false premises underpinning it. After signing Bradford to a two-year contract worth $22 million in guaranteed money, after paying him not like a placeholder but a quality quarterback who might turn out to be their long-term starter, the Eagles gave up two starting players and three draft picks over two trades so they could draft Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick. They have since maintained that they will take their time developing Wentz, that the 1999 season - when Pederson was their stopgap starter and fulltime mentor to Donovan McNabb - will be their model, and that it's still possible for Bradford to fend off Wentz and retain the starting job for years to come.

"It's going to be a dynamic [quarterbacks] room," Pederson said. "There's going to be some competition in there, which is great."

As far as Bradford's concerned, though, the room's atmosphere will be great only if he has a genuine opportunity to be the Eagles' No. 1 quarterback for a while. And he doesn't, not really. Not only does the stockpile of resources that the Eagles relinquished for Wentz increase the pressure on the team to play him (and on him to play well), but giving Bradford a full season as the starter would be an anomaly in the modern NFL. It would require a measure of patience that the Eagles could afford in 1999 but that most teams don't display anymore.

Let's start with that 17-year-old template. The Eagles had gone 3-13 in 1998, earning the No. 2 pick in the '99 draft on merit, and the quarterback position was the greatest weakness of a bad football team. So they signed Pederson and drafted McNabb, and new coach Andy Reid eased in McNabb, giving him snaps in five games before finally starting him in Week 10. Reid could take that tack largely because, unlike Bradford, Pederson had not signed with the expectation that he himself might emerge as the Eagles' definitive answer at quarterback. He would play until Reid decided it was time for McNabb to play, and even a 10-week wait was too long for much of the team's fan base. Ask Reid sometime about his daily walk from his car to his office at Veterans Stadium and what people would scream at him about Pederson along the way.

If anything, the team's fans will be less patient with Bradford now than they were with Pederson then; fairly or unfairly, many of them perceive Bradford as a malcontented wuss who doesn't want to fight for his job. (That perception is unfair, actually, but that's a separate column.) But there's another key factor at work here: the trend against keeping a highly drafted quarterback on the sideline.

Over the last 10 NFL drafts (excluding this year's, of course), 25 quarterbacks were selected in the first round. Of those 25, 15 started for their teams in Week 1, and 21 started before their rookie seasons were half finished. Of the 14 who were top 10 picks, 11 started in Week 1, and 13 started by Week 5.

Of the 11 quarterbacks who were drafted first, second, or third overall - the category into which Wentz would fall - nine started in Week 1. Nine. The Eagles can pay lip service to letting Wentz learn by watching, but the conventional wisdom these days is that real live NFL action is the great winnower, the most reliable and rigorous training ground for young quarterbacks, and the earlier a player is exposed to it, the better. And remember: The Eagles just fired a head coach who liked to thumb his nose at conventional wisdom.

Even some of the trend's exceptions are instructive. In 2007, for instance, the Cleveland Browns drafted Brady Quinn with the No. 22 overall pick, but since Derek Anderson threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns and led the Browns to a 10-6 record, Quinn didn't attempt a pass until the team's season finale. That situation would seem to parallel the Eagles' best-case expectation for 2016. Bradford excels. Wentz sits. The Eagles win a bunch of games. Yards Brawlers all around.

Here's the glitch: The Browns also had the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft, and they used it on offensive tackle Joe Thomas. They could have taken Quinn then and didn't, which means they hadn't invested nearly as much in him as the Eagles have in Wentz, which means the urgency to play him wasn't nearly as high, which means Sam Bradford has to know what's coming if he stays here. He'll be leading this football team from the bench, and right soon.