ESPN.com Grantland NFL writer Bill Barnwell made ripples this past week when he proposed a hypothetical trade involving the Eagles, Bengals, and Oakland Raiders via Twitter.
My dream deal: Nick Foles and a 4th to the Bengals, Andy Dalton, #22, and #24 to the Raiders, Johnny Manziel’s draft rights at #5 to Philly.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 7, 2014
Eagles sell high on Foles & get ideal Chip QB, Bengals get big-numbers QB who might be system passer, Raiders get a look at Dalton + picks.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 7, 2014
After two of the three teams involved in the fantastical trade were eliminated from the playoffs, fanbases immediately shifted their focus toward the offseason and how to make the necessary improvements on how to get over the hump. Andy Dalton had turned in yet another clunker in the Bengals home-playoff loss to the Chargers. After three years as a starter, despite admirable regular season success, Dalton’s postseason struggles are starting to have many question whether the former second round pick out of TCU has what it takes to lead a very talented Cincinnati team to a playoff win, let alone a Super Bowl.
Then, there’s Nick Foles. After turning in the most efficient season in terms of touchdowns-to-interceptions of any quarterback in NFL season and walking off the field with a lead in his first playoff game, there are still those in Philadelphia and around the league that feel he cannot continue to excel in Chip Kelly’s offense.
The criticisms of Foles are far-reaching. There are those that point to his late-season tendency of taking sacks despite time in the pocket. Others still pine for an option that provides a legitimate running threat to an offense that keeps the opposition off their heels so much. Finally, there are even some that still feel Foles does not have the ‘it’ factor that some of the marquee signal-callers around the NFL have become notable for.
As for Manziel, from a sports fan point of view, one could argue he has been the most entertaining athlete on any level for the last two years. His combination of creativity, athleticism, football acumen, and an improved ability as a passer have made Manziel the most intriguing prospect in the upcoming NFL Draft. His confidence, sometimes bordering on arrogance, and ability to perform at the highest stage against some of the most talented teams in the NCAA have made the 2012 Heisman trophy winner one of the most marketable prospects to declare in an age where the ‘celebrity-athlete’ is a more prevalent than ever.
The link between Manziel and the Eagles has been building to a fever pitch since the team hired Chip Kelly. The former Oregon coach recruited the Texas native before ultimately losing out to Texas A&M. After Kelly’s Oregon teams put up record numbers on the collegiate level, often times with athletic quarterbacks running his scheme, pairing the scintillating Manziel with Kelly was a natural connection. So why wouldn’t the Eagles ship off the former 3rd round pick that just led them to a division title AND a 1st round pick to take a chance that Manziel could bring his electric game to the NFL and lead the Eagles to a Super Bowl? Oh yeah…because NFL franchises that take things seriously realize a good situation when they have it.
The Eagles are in a PERFECT situation with Foles entering the 2014 season. As a 3rd round pick the team’s investment in Nick Foles, from both a financial and attachment standpoint, are minimal compared to what most teams have with their quarterback. Consider teams like the Vikings or Jaguars, organizations that reached on marginal prospects because they needed a franchise quarterback. Now, three seasons into the careers of Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert, Minnesota and Jacksonville have wasted almost half a decade trying to convince themselves that their respective quarterback was going to ‘figure it out’. The Vikings were unable to provide arguably the best running back of our generation with an adequate signal-caller to advance them beyond the first round of the playoffs. The Jaguars, now taking things more seriously with Gus Bradley as coach, are once again toward the top of the draft and are rumored to be interested in selecting a quarterback with their first round pick. Foles, a third round pick, threw 29 touchdown passes in 13 games during the 2013 season, exceeding Gabbert’s career total of 22 and fell just nine shy of Ponder’s 38 in 36 games over his forgettable career.
From an organizational standpoint, the Eagles still hold all the power when it comes to their soon-to-be third year quarterback. Chip Kelly proclaimed him to be his starter entering the head coach’s second season with the Eagles, but until the team signs Foles to any sort of contract extension he is still technically playing for his job. Should Foles regress in 2014 and the Eagles are unable to replicate their 2013 success, they can shift their focus toward a quarterback in a draft year that could include names such as: Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, and any other name that distinguishes himself over another college football season. They would have had another year to use a first round pick on something that was not a quarterback and, much like the current San Francisco 49ers team, provide a much more talent-rich roster for a young signal-caller to develop around.
Foles is very smart both on and off the field. He knows that the organization is not as tied to him as a team like the Redskins or the Colts are with their young quarterbacks. Much like he has had to do his entire career, starting when he had to transfer from Michigan State to Arizona only to have Rich Rodriguez implement a read-option attack his senior season, Foles will have to work for every opportunity to succeed in the NFL. Days after a solid, albeit unspectacular performance in the Eagles loss to the Saints in the 1st round of the playoffs, Foles flushed all the accolades and accomplishments of 2013 out of his head and began working toward improving in 2014. He realizes what people say about him and knows that, despite putting his team in a position to win their first playoff game since 2008, there were points left on the board and plays that he was unable to make to improve the Eagles chances at advancing. Foles has gone to great lengths to express his desire to succeed in Philadelphia. He took the team’s loss as hard as any player on the field. The following quote from this post-game press conference should tell doubters all they need to know about whether Foles has the ‘it’ factor to play quarterback in the NFL.
“I don’t look at this season as, I did good. I got a lot of stuff to work on. I got to do a lot better. We didn’t win the last game, and a lot of that goes onto the quarterback.”
There were no clichés, no quotes that looked like they belong on a marketing campaign, there was honesty and forthcomingness. There were at least a dozen starters on the field who had worse games than Foles vs. the Saints, yet he puts the onus of the failure on his shoulders. If someone defines leadership as saying something like, “I’ve fallen six times, but I’ll get up seven.” they can take that. I’ll take the guy who puts a season behind him and starts working the second he steps off the podium.
I want Johnny Manziel to be good in the NFL. Much like Kevin Durant’s one season playing college basketball, I looked forward to every Texas A&M game because Manziel managed to outdo himself week-in and week-out. I will root for him as long as he does not end up on a team that I openly root against. If the Eagles did not have an acceptable option under center, making a move to get him toward the top of the draft would be something that a fan could support. With Manziel, perhaps more than most first round quarterbacks, a team will not just be drafting a player. They are drafting everything that comes along with him.
‘Johnny Football’ and his off the field exploits paired with his brashness on the field makes him one of the most mercurial players in college football since Tim Tebow. There is no doubt that, no matter where Manziel is drafted, opponents are going to want to knock the rookie down a peg. Even if he dials back some of the antics that put a bull’s eye on his chest from the day he stepped on the field, he is a fierce competitor and plays with the sort of abandonment that leaves himself susceptible to injuries almost every play. This style is what provided endless highlights on the college level and would most likely do the same in the NFL. However, and perhaps no player knows better than Washington’s Robert Griffin III, sometimes the ‘live to play another day’ approach can pay higher dividends in the long run. If you asked the 2012 offensive rookie of the year if he would run out-of-bounds instead of cutting back to the middle of the field on the play he was injured against the Baltimore Ravens, he would be lying if he told you gaining the extra few yards was worth potentially altering his career and the future of the Redskins organization. Griffin is talented enough that he still might be able to have a successful career as a starting quarterback. After the knee injuries that ended his 2012 season, he will never be the same player that dazzled the league for the weeks leading into the game against Baltimore.
Looking at the results of this weekend’s NFL divisional playoffs, there was a common trend within the teams that won. They did not put their quarterbacks in a position where they HAD to win the game. A few clutch throws by Peyton Manning squashed the Chargers comeback attempt after Denver’s defense quit playing midway through the 4th quarter, but their offensive line and running game (133 yards) was what allowed them to have an opportunity to run out the clock against their division rival. Meanwhile; the 49ers, Seahawks, and Patriots all also had over 100 yards rushing and the Saints (108 yards) were the only loser to break the century mark on the ground. Further more, the winners of the divisional games allowed a total of six sacks while the losing teams more than doubled that total (13). The team’s that are successful on a consistent basis in the NFL are able to run the ball and protect their quarterback. It is the job of the quarterback to make the throws that keep defenses accounting for them, and mixing in a few spectacular plays when their backs are against the wall.
Foles, as he well knows, has to make improvements in his game if he wants to continue to start for a competitive team in the NFL. He needs to work on his pocket presence as well as his ability to make plays when things break down. The added responsibility given to him by Chip Kelly paired with an offseason working with his receivers as the unquestioned starter should allow him to develop more trust with his targets and hopefully allow Foles to make the types of throws that separate the good from the great. Due to the restrictions and emphasis on keeping possession of the ball that Chip Kelly preached in 2013, one cannot say with 100% confidence that Foles will develop into that type of player. That being said, anyone who watched Texas A&M for the last two seasons knew that the Aggies were dependent to a fault on Manziel making the sort of jaw-dropping plays that made him the most exciting athlete in sports. More and more, the NFL reminds us that those types of players cannot last in a league where every athlete on defense has the capability of ending a career with one hit. Foles is a big, strong passer who makes excellent decisions and has the accuracy and arm-strength to make every throw he has to. Continuing to provide adequate talent around him, or any quarterback, is the only way the Eagles can hope to reach the level of a team like the 49ers or Patriots. Trading away a first round pick and a quarterback that has proven he can succeed, even for just a season, for a prospect as risky as Manziel is a recipe for disaster. I rooted for Manziel with no ties to Texas A&M for the last two seasons. Unless he ends up on a team like the Cowboys or the Saints, I will continue to do so. My only hope is that I can continue to do so from a far, because if the Eagles make that sort of blunder, it will be difficult to support a potentially franchise-crippling decision.