In an interview with Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic, Ron Jaworski was asked if he thought the Eagles would take West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith with the fourth overall pick in the draft. Jaworski answered honestly, “it’s 50-50.” Given how many prospects the Eagles could potentially take at the fourth position, Jaworski’s comment infers that Smith is the early-line favorite. However, others have suggested that the Eagles have put on too much of a show, talked too much, and maybe displayed a little too much public interest in the quarterback for it to be anything but a smokescreen (for example, was it really necessary for Jeffrey Lurie to pay Smith a visit?). It’s a sentiment most notably, and quite effectively, shared by NFL.com analyst Gil Brandt. However, despite the strong arguments to the contrary, I believe there are indeed reasons that Howie Roseman, Tom Gamble, and Chip Kelly will most likely draft Geno Smith in the first round. It comes down to opportunity and risk.
One of the arguments against the Eagles drafting Geno Smith (or any other quarterback) so early in the 2013 draft is that the 2014 QB draft class appears to be so strong. In other words, it’s tempting to forgo Geno Smith for other first round talent this year when it’s possible to draft Alabama’s A.J. McCarron, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas, or Georgia’s Aaron Murray next year. However, there are inherent dangers with this expectation. After all, the 1999 quarterback draft class (Tim Couch, McNabb, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown, Akili Smith) was also highly touted but did not quite live up to billing. So a warning: when an opportunity presents itself in the NFL, it’s an opportunity that must be taken, else it is squandered. In this regard, it would be more prudent for the Eagles to take advantage of the opportunity to draft Smith (if he’s available) rather than anticipate an unknown future one.
Opportunity, however, does not come without some inherent level of risk. So how much risk does Geno Smith command? Not much, given the potential impact. Chip Kelly is a new coach eager to bring in his guys, and he is clearly in need of a quarterback that is capable of doing the things that will be required in his offense. But Kelly is smart. He also recognizes the competition within his own division. Take a look at these end of season stat lines:
The first line represents Geno Smith’s 2012 season at West Virginia. The second represents Robert Griffin III’s 2011 campaign at Baylor. There is not much difference other than the fact that RGIII had the opportunity to run the ball more often, and perhaps slightly more effectively. Geno Smith is clearly talented; arguably as talented as RGIII. But with the intense workouts to which Kelly subjected Smith, one can assume that Kelly is practicing due diligence, trying to gauge just how mobile, or effectively mobile, and how impactful a decision-maker Smith can really be. Regardless, it is fair to think that Kelly understands that Washington and Griffin III are going to pose some serious threats to his Eagles team in the years to come, and Kelly wants to provide them, the rest of the division, and the rest of the league, with a weapon of similar magnitude.
The serendipitous thing is, unlike many years past, this is as good a time to take a first round risk, especially on a quarterback, as any time in NFL history. Under the terms of the new CBA, teams are much less likely to be financially burned by expensive rookie contracts. For example, in 1999 Tim Couch signed a seven year, $48 Million contract with a $12.25 Million guaranteed signing bonus. In subsequent years, rookie salaries quickly grew, reaching an apex in 2010, the last year of the old CBA when Sam Bradford signed a six year, $76 Million contract with $50 Million guaranteed. Conversely, a year later with the newly installed rookie wage scale, number one overall pick Cam Newton signed a four year deal worth a measly, but fully guaranteed, $22 Million (likewise, RGIII’s contract is for four years, $21 Million). If the Eagles do draft Geno Smith, expect a similar agreement. And assuming Michael Vick will not be on the Eagles final roster (which I do assume), the Eagles will not have a lot of financial resource spent on the quarterback position.
The Eagles’ financial risk becomes even less of an issue because of the moves they have made during free agency. Roseman, Gamble, and Kelly have smartly addressed positions of need (smartly because of who they got and how much they spent), giving them the ability, and flexibility, to draft the best player available. But let’s assume for a moment that the Eagles do draft Smith and he doesn’t work out. Then it’s a good thing there is relatively low financial risk and a reportedly better QB draft class on the 2014 horizon. On the other hand, if Smith is drafted by the Eagles and displays all of the QB qualities Kelly could hope for, then that’s a minimum risk, higher reward gamble that paid off at a position of maximum impact. For these reasons I would place the odds that the Eagles will draft Geno Smith at better than 50-50. With the way in which the Eagles have conducted themselves this offseason, there seems to be little reason not to.
Note: Thanks to Dan Klausner (@dklausner) and Brian Solomon (@Brian_Solomon) for the inception.