NFL Nation: NFC East

PHILADELPHIA – Unless the NFL suddenly decides to hold its 2015 draft next Tuesday (which is pretty unlikely), we’re going to have to live through a couple more months of speculation about Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota.

That is discouraging, but let’s look at the first major mock drafts (that is, mock drafts by relatively heavy hitters in the business, not your cousin Chuck) that project trades to reunite Oregon compadres Kelly and Mariota.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Images/Ross D. FranklinWhat kind of a trade would it take to reunite these two?
Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com was first. Earlier this week, Kirwan posted a mock draft that has the Eagles trading for the Oakland Raiders’ No. 4 pick. In Kirwan’s projection, the Eagles send the 20th pick in this draft, their first-round pick in 2016 and running back LeSean McCoy to the Raiders for the fourth pick this year.

Kirwan has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Tennessee, which is at No. 2 and could draft a quarterback, then takes USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams. Jacksonville, which has Blake Bortles at quarterback, selects Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory at No. 3. That makes a deal for the fourth pick good enough to bring Mariota to Philadelphia.

On Wednesday, Peter King of MMQB.si.com posted his first mock draft. King went only as far as the 15th pick in the first round, but that was far enough to project an Eagles trade with Washington. Considering the history – the trade of Donovan McNabb to Washington in 2010, plus the swap of Sonny Jurgensen and Norm Snead in 1964 – there’s a certain elegance in having those two franchises make a quarterback-centered trade.

In King’s mock, Winston goes first overall to Tampa Bay. He has Tennessee taking Dante Fowler, an outside linebacker from Florida. Jacksonville then takes Williams, the defensive tackle from USC. Oakland, in need of weapons around quarterback Derek Carr, selects West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White.

That brings up Washington’s spot. King’s deal: The Eagles send their first- and second-round picks this year, plus their first- and fourth-round picks in 2016, to Washington for the No. 5 pick. They select Mariota.

Now it must be made clear that neither Kirwan nor King presents his idea as a deal being discussed by the teams. They are simply taking the assumption that Kelly would like to coach Mariota again and figuring out ways to make that possible.

Do the deals make sense? Sort of. The inclusion of McCoy is interesting but hard to figure. The trend has been toward devaluing running backs in the draft. McCoy will be 27 in July and has carried the ball almost 1,500 times (plus 300 receptions) for almost 7,000 yards in his six seasons. He is still a very good player, but a drop-off in the near future seems inevitable.

McCoy plus two first-round picks seems a little light to move all the way from 20 to 4. Maybe if the Eagles added a pick, that deal would be more likely. On the other hand, the exact terms of the deal aren’t really the main point. Kirwan is mainly suggesting that the Raiders would be a possible trading partner for the Eagles.

Same with King. His proposed deal seems more practical. Washington would be dropping from No. 5 to No. 20. In exchange, they get another first-round pick, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick. That’s four players for one.

Considering Washington has a new general manager, Scot McCloughan, and is just a few years removed from the asset-depleting deal to get Robert Griffin III, such a trade might be appealing. On the other hand, getting back less than the bounty paid to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 might be a problem. Washington gave up three first-round picks and a second-round pick in that 2012 deal.

The only certainty is that there will be plenty more speculation between now and the draft. Might as well enjoy it.

Eagles may be open for business

February, 24, 2015
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PHILADELPHIA -- This could be a big week for several Philadelphia Eagles. Then again, it could be a quiet week under the team’s new management structure.

Last year, during this part of February, the Eagles agreed to new contracts with left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and wide receivers Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin.

But that business was all conducted under general manager Howie Roseman. While Roseman is still in charge of contract negotiations and the salary cap, head coach Chip Kelly now has control over personnel matters. Kelly may do business the way Roseman did in the past, or he may choose to wait and see how free agency develops before finalizing new contracts with current players.

Maclin
 Maclin is the most pressing issue for the Eagles. Last year, Maclin was coming off a missed season due to a torn ACL in his knee. Maclin agreed to a one-year contract last February in order to prove himself worth a more lucrative, long-term deal.

“Here’s the thing,” Maclin said last year. “I don’t think it’s a one-year deal. … I believe the two sides can come together and, with all we’re going to go through this season, we can get something [long-term] done.”

Maclin excelled in his first season in Kelly’s offense. He caught 85 passes for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns. Now that he has proven himself, Maclin may want to wait and see how the market develops.

Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant is the top wide receiver due to reach free agency. But the Cowboys have indicated they will use the franchise tag on Bryant. That would effectively keep him off the market. It would also make Maclin that much more valuable to teams desperate for wide receiver help.

On the other hand, this year’s draft is expected to be rich in wide receiver talent. That could depress the market a bit.

The Eagles could use their franchise tag on Maclin. That would mean paying him close to $13 million for the 2015 season. It is believed they would prefer to do a long-term deal that would pay Maclin fairly but keep his salary cap number lower than the franchise tag number would.

The Eagles have a few other players in similar positions. Outside linebacker Brandon Graham, like Maclin a former first-round draft pick, could be looking to return to defensive end in a 4-3 defense. This would be his chance.

On the other hand, Graham excelled in a limited role as an outside linebacker in the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme last season. He played in just 43 percent of defensive snaps, but sacked opposing quarterbacks 5.5 times and forced four fumbles.

Graham may be looking for some assurance that he’ll be a starting outside linebacker in 2015, along with a competitive contract. But his abilities as a pass rusher will also make him a valuable commodity in the open market.

Mark Sanchez is another interesting case for the Eagles. Sanchez is arguably the best option for teams looking for a veteran backup quarterback in free agency. Sanchez, who is just 28, may want to take his time and hope that an opportunity to start presents itself.

Safety Nate Allen and cornerback Bradley Fletcher are likely to move on through free agency.

As for players the Eagles could sign to contract extensions -- as they did with Kelce and Peters last year at this time -- there are several candidates. Defensive ends Fletcher Cox, Vinny Curry and Cedric Thornton and inside linebacker Mychal Kendricks are all eligible for contract extensions this offseason.

So is quarterback Nick Foles. The Eagles could look to do a short extension for Foles, paying him more as their starting quarterback while leaving themselves wiggle room in case he fails to reach his 2013 performance levels. If they decide to draft a quarterback this year, then they may choose to let Foles play out the final year of his rookie contract.
PHILADELPHIA -- The sense you got from the Seattle Seahawks' public comments is that they expect to lose cornerback Byron Maxwell in free agency.

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Maxwell
That could make Philadelphia a likely landing spot. That's what Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net reported from Indianapolis. Pauline reported Friday he heard the Eagles were front-runners for Maxwell, who starts opposite Richard Sherman. On Monday, Pauline wrote to reinforce his original report.

"Since my posting Friday on the belief the Philadelphia Eagles are the front-runners for Byron Maxwell, additional sources have told me they agree with the assessment and feel Maxwell ends up with the team," Pauline wrote.

Williams
Reports that Maxwell is looking for about $10 million per year should not scare the Eagles off. They should have over $20 million in salary-cap space. Right now, they have cornerback Cary Williams on the books at $6.5 million, with a cap number of $8.1 million.

The Eagles could add Maxwell at a similar salary-cap number to Williams' number. If they cut ties with Williams, which might be their plan anyway, that would almost offset Maxwell. In effect, the Eagles would be trading Williams for Maxwell as far as their salary cap goes.

Or the Eagles could simply retain Williams. He was solid for the most part last season. He would likely look better with a more stable cornerback than Bradley Fletcher on the opposite side.

Maxwell has benefited from playing opposite Sherman and alongside safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. Then again, that made Maxwell more likely to be targeted by teams that were actively avoiding Sherman's side of the field. In Philadelphia, Maxwell would be the cornerback that teams would hesitate to challenge.

Seattle's salary cap will have to accommodate Sherman ($12.2 million), Thomas ($7.4 million) and Chancellor ($5.65 million) next season. Maxwell, who made just $673,000 in 2014, just turned 27. He will be looking for his first really big payday in the NFL.

That's why a player who has been in the last two Super Bowls would consider leaving his current team. Some veterans find themselves chasing a ring at the end of their careers. Maxwell has already checked that box. He has every right to look to get paid at this point.

With the Eagles, he would have a chance to do both. The Eagles have won 10 games in each of the past two seasons despite one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL. Creating a solid secondary would put Philadelphia right into the conversation with other contending teams.
PHILADELPHIA -- Monday was a big day on the Philadelphia Eagles' journey from mock drafts to the real NFL draft.

On the last day of the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, defensive backs hit the field for workouts. Cornerback is the position most connected to the Eagles in mock drafts. It remains to be seen whether that comes to fruition in the actual draft.

One thing seems likely from the workouts. Michigan State’s Trae Waynes -- rated the top cornerback by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay -- ran the fastest time in the 40-yard dash. Waynes cemented his status as the top corner by running the 40 in 4.32 seconds.

That kind of measurable speed could bump Waynes into the top 10 in the first round. And that could, in turn, cause the next several cornerbacks to move up as well.

One of the players most often projected to the Eagles is University of Washington cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters was kicked off the team after several altercations with assistant coaches. He told reporters in Indianapolis that he didn’t react well to the coaching change at Washington. But it will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly responds to a player with off-the-field issues like that.

Kelly could take Peters off the Eagles’ draft board, or he could meet Peters and decide his problems resulted from the circumstances he found himself in.
Peters’ 40 times were not exactly eye-popping. His first try was 4.57 seconds. His second attempt was almost precisely the same -- 4.53 seconds. Peters measured a shade under 6-foot. He is described as a first-round talent whose off-field issues could drop him into the second round.

Quinten Rollins, the Miami (Ohio) defensive back who played just one year of football after starting off as a basketball player, ran 4.67 and 4.58 seconds in his two 40-yard dashes. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said on the broadcast that Rollins could play nickelback or even safety, which could interest the Eagles if they agree.

Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams, also projected as a late first-round prospect, ran the 40 in 4.62 and 4.57 seconds.
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PHILADELPHIA -- Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston went into the NFL scouting combine as the consensus top quarterback prospects in this year’s draft.

After several days of being measured, weighed, interviewed, timed and put through their paces, nothing has changed. Mariota and Winston still look exactly the same as they did based on their college careers.

Winston
Mariota
“[Mariota] and Jameis are the best in this class,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett told NFL Network Saturday, “and they will be franchise guys for a particular team in this league."

Mariota and Winston worked out together to prepare for the combine. By Saturday, they had developed a kind of rapport with each other. Mariota was the quieter of the two, while Winston had the ready smile and rapid wit. At one point, Winston laughingly told the NFL Network panel not to show the camera shot that superimposes their 40-yard dashes on the same screen.

Winston ran a 4.97 in the 40. Mariota ran it in 4.52 seconds, best among all the quarterbacks in Indianapolis. When they did show the superimposed images, Mariota was five yards ahead of Winston by the end of the 40 yards.

Both quarterbacks threw the ball very well. Mariota was especially impressive in showing he is comfortable making five- and seven-step drops, something he seldom had to do in Oregon’s spread offense.

“I think I did all right,” Mariota said on NFL Network. “I missed a couple throws. I’m a professional. I always want to try to complete every ball. It’s something I’ve been able to work on for the past month.”

Mariota said he was able to chat with Eagles coach Chip Kelly, for whom he played at Oregon. But he did not have a formal interview with Kelly. Given a limited amount of such meetings, Kelly likely wanted to use his on players he didn’t already know so well.

“I did not have the opportunity to sit down in a formal meeting with them,” Mariota said. “But I was able to see him and the rest of the coaching staff. It was good to see him. I haven’t seen him in a while. He’s the same old guy. He’s cracking jokes and being witty with me. I had fun. Through this entire process, I can talk to him whenever I need to. He’s one of those guys I can look up to and be a mentor for me.”

Asked if Kelly said anything about trading up to get Mariota in the draft, Mariota replied, “He did not.”

 
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PHILADELPHIA – Jameis Winston met the media Friday in Indianapolis. While he did himself a huge favor by projecting confidence and addressing issues, Winston also helped the Eagles and any other teams that might be interested in Marcus Mariota.

Consider the opposite outcome. If Winston had appeared nervous or as if he had a great deal to hide, that would have presented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a problem. Coach Lovie Smith made clear earlier in the week that he has a good feeling about Winston. If Winston had bombed his nationally televised (on the NFL Network) press briefing, it would have cast Smith’s judgment into doubt while nudging the Bucs toward Mariota.

If you’re the Eagles or another team with Mariota in your sights, you need Winston to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. That is the first step in making any kind of trade possible.

Winston shrugged off the competition with Mariota to be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He said he wants to compete with Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to be the best quarterback in the NFL. It had to sound pretty good to Smith and the Buccaneers when Winston said his goal was to win the Super Bowl next year.

For teams trying to get a handle on Winston, his performance at the news conference was telling. He was under a certain amount of pressure to handle that stressful situation well, and he did. If a person can handle that kind of pressure, that’s a sign he can handle pressure on the field, in the huddle or in the locker room.

Winston also handled questions about his shoulder, which was found to be a bit weak when it was examined by an MRI this week. Winston said it was the same shoulder he’s had the last two years on the football field. He also mentioned that his career as a baseball pitcher might have been the reason for the shoulder weakness. That career is over, and Winston said he was looking forward to focusing on football.

Mariota did just fine in media session Thursday afternoon, but he wasn’t as engaging as Winston. Then again, he didn’t need to be. Mariota doesn’t have the “past” that Winston admitted to having. He doesn’t have the questions about his shoulder or his character.

Winston had to face those questions. He did. And he helped himself as much as he helped any team with designs on trading up for Mariota.
PHILADELPHIA -- Marcus Mariota found himself in an awkward position Thursday in Indianapolis.

The Oregon quarterback was standing at a podium, answering questions from a bunch of reporters. But his only real audience was the NFL, the coaches and general managers who represent his possible employers after the draft.

That explains Mariota’s approach. When asked if he would embrace a reunion with Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, Mariota had to walk a fine line. He might be thinking, "I just won the Heisman Trophy playing in the offense Chip created. You bet your sweet bippy I’d like to play in the NFL version of it." But there are 31 other teams that might not find that answer particularly charming.

"Yeah, why not?" Mariota replied, betraying little passion either way. "That would be a fun opportunity. But again, this process is out of our control and we'll see what happens."

That last point is the important one. Mariota has no control over what teams do. All he has control over at the combine is presenting the best possible picture of himself for all 32 teams. His mission was to convince every team that he is the best candidate, with the right attitude, for them.

That starts with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who hold the No. 1 pick in the draft. It continues through the Tennessee Titans and New York Jets, who are also likely to be considering quarterbacks. And it includes every team that Mariota is specifically asked about.

"I would love to play for Cleveland," Mariota said at one point.

The truth is probably a little less rosy on that front. The Browns just drafted Johnny Manziel 10 months ago. He is going to be in the meeting room and on the practice field every day. That is not the ideal scenario for a young quarterback trying to assert himself as the leader of a new team.

It’s a safe bet that Mariota would rather play for Kelly, the coach he once chose to play for at the college level, than to deal with all new coaches and unfamiliar offensive approaches. But the only way to have that choice is to go undrafted and become a free agent. And that would mean giving up millions of dollars.

Mariota did say that he has met with Ryan Day, the Eagles’ new quarterbacks coach, in Indianapolis. He had not met with Kelly, but Kelly is probably using his limited meeting opportunities to get a bead on players he doesn’t know as well as he does Mariota. Everyone is going about their business, pursuing their own interests.

So Mariota is playing the game perfectly. He sounds confident and perfectly content with every possible outcome of the draft process. He is being careful not to say anything controversial. He’s preparing to huddle, which he never did at Oregon, and to make throws that weren’t part of Oregon’s offense.

The irony, of course, is that the more successful Mariota is at winning teams over at the combine, the harder it will be for Kelly to get into position to draft him.
PHILADELPHIA -- Many of the mock drafts you see have the Philadelphia Eagles taking a cornerback with the 20th pick in 2015.

[+] EnlargeDez Bryant
Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesCornerback Bradley Fletcher, who epitomized the Eagles' secondary struggles down the stretch, is about to become a free agent.
And for good reason. The Eagles' secondary was a disaster area by the end of the season. Cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who struggled terribly in matchups against Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson, is about to become a free agent. So is safety Nate Allen, whose play was erratic during the season.

Adding talent in the secondary would be wise. But Zach Berman of the Philadelphia Inquirer made a good point Thursday. While the Eagles should be adding the best players they can find in the secondary and elsewhere, their pressing needs at corner and safety can be better addressed in free agency.

Look at last year's draft. At the spot the Eagles are picking this year -- No. 20 overall -- there was a cluster of defensive backs available. Six DBs were selected between No. 21 and the end of the first round. Three were cornerbacks, two were safeties and one was a college safety moved to nickel cornerback.

The safeties fared well. The Green Bay Packers' Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (No. 21) played in all 18 games, including the playoffs. He started 12, including both playoff games. Deone Bucannon (No. 27) also played all 16 games for the Arizona Cardinals, starting nine. Both Clinton-Dix and Bucannon appear to be starters for their teams going forward.

It is safe to say the Eagles would have been better off with either of them instead of Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith. Clinton-Dix was drafted one spot ahead of the Eagles' original pick. They took Smith at No. 26, one pick ahead of Bucannon. While Bucannon would have made rookie mistakes, it is doubtful he would have been any more of a liability than Allen or Fletcher. And at least he would have gotten valuable experience.

None of the four cornerbacks made as much of an impact as the two safeties. Two -- the Cincinnati Bengals' Darqueze Dennard, the No. 24 pick, and the Denver Broncos' Bradley Roby at No. 30 -- played the whole season. Dennard did not start any games. Roby, also a nickel corner, started two games and had two interceptions.

The San Diego Chargers' Jason Verrett played in six games, making one start, before injuring his shoulder and going on injured reserve. He was drafted 25th overall. The San Francisco 49ers took safety Jimmie Ward with the 30th pick and planned to move him to nickel cornerback. Ward played in eight games before injuring his foot and being placed on IR.

None of those four cornerbacks would have immediately solved the Eagles' problems in the secondary. That doesn't mean they won't be good players, or that they weren't worth drafting where they were selected, merely that the Eagles need immediate upgrades at two spots and maybe three.

That points to free agency.

Seattle general manager John Schneider, speaking at the scouting combine Thursday, said the Seahawks would like to re-sign cornerback Byron Maxwell. But Schneider also said he knows there will be a strong market for the soon-to-be free agent.

The Eagles should be in that market. But there are several other interesting players who are due to be free agents: the Houston Texans' Kareem Jackson, San Diego's Brandon Flowers, and San Francisco's Chris Cook and Perrish Cox are all young enough and experienced enough to attract the Eagles' interest.

Safety -- the position that has frustrated the Eagles since the departure of Brian Dawkins six years ago -- is tougher. New England's Devin McCourty is probably the top safety available. Others include the Cleveland Browns' Tashaun Gipson, the Baltimore Ravens' Will Hill and the Buffalo Bills' Da'Norris Searcy.

The Eagles can still certainly look to add long-term help through the draft. Cornerbacks such as Marcus Peters of Washington, Trae Waynes of Michigan State and LSU's Jalen Collins could be there when the Eagles' pick comes up. So could Alabama safety Landon Collins. All of them are worth considering.

But recent history shows that it might be expecting too much for a rookie defensive back to play at a high level right away. Because coach Chip Kelly is all about winning right away, that might make free agency his better option.
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A closer look at the areas the Eagles could address in the draft. We looked at quarterbacks and linebackers already. On Wednesday, we cover defensive backs, who are scheduled to work out Monday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: Oh, my goodness. The Eagles have dire needs at cornerback and safety both because of performance -- their defense allowed the second most passing yards in the NFL – and because of real-world concerns. Starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher and safety Nate Allen are about to become free agents. The other starting cornerback, Cary Williams, could be a salary cap casualty. A compete retooling of the secondary is the Eagles’ most pressing need during this offseason.

 Three players the Eagles could target in the draft:

Marcus Peters (CB), Washington: Considered the most talented corner in the draft by some analysts, Peters presents an interesting test of Chip Kelly’s philosophy. Kelly kicked DeSean Jackson off his team last year. Would he draft a player who was kicked off his college team? Peters was dismissed from the Huskies after several incidents that angered coach Chris Petersen. Kelly will have to spend some time with Peters and see if he can overlook those concerns. Peters is athletic and excels at playing the ball in the air, which seemed to be a lost art in Philadelphia.

Jalen Collins (CB), LSU: The Eagles like big corners and Collins, at 6-foot-1, fits the bill. He has good speed and agility, although he had just three interceptions during his college career. Still, you have to be able to stay with receivers before you can make plays on the ball, and Collins is good at that.

Landon Collins (S), Alabama: There are some other cornerbacks who could catch the Eagles’ eyes at pick No. 20: Michigan State’s Trae Waynes and Florida State’s P.J. Williams, if they’re on the board. But the Eagles could just as easily go for the best safety available in this draft. ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. has Collins going to Pittsburgh as a potential replacement for Troy Polamalu in his current mock draft. That would make the versatile Collins a strong candidate to replace Brian Dawkins (six years after he departed).
PHILADELPHIA -- There are some who think it’s a waste of time to speculate about how the Philadelphia Eagles could go about acquiring Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. The truth is, all speculation would stop immediately if Tampa Bay or Tennessee would declare their intention to draft the Oregon quarterback.

Mariota
But that’s not happening, at least not this early. Tampa Bay’s silence has fostered assumptions that the Buccaneers are leaning toward Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.

As for the Titans, they are not playing coy at all. As NFL Nation colleague Paul Kuharsky writes, Titans general manager Ruston Webster is not interested in playing games with his plans for the No. 2 pick. Webster has recently cast a strong vote of confidence for Tennessee quarterback Zach Mettenberger.

There's also some other players involved, too," Webster told the Nashville Tennessean. "There's going to be good defensive players, good receivers, and where do those other guys fit in? Really, the (second pick) is not all about the quarterbacks. A lot of other positions are involved, too."

After the Titans, the next three teams in the draft appear to be set at quarterback. Jacksonville is building around Blake Bortles. Oakland saw very good signs from Derek Carr. Washington is still paying off the mortgage it took out to acquire Robert Griffin III. That brings you to the New York Jets at No. 6.

Are the Jets ready to move on from Geno Smith? With a new general manager and coaching staff, there is no one left with any investment in Smith.

A team hoping to land Mariota might be able to get him by doing a deal with the Jets for the sixth pick. But that team could be a lot more certain of its chances by making a trade with Tennessee.

Yes, there is a chance that would mean overpaying. Mariota could slide down in the first round, just as Teddy Bridgewater did last year. The Vikings ended up getting Bridgewater with the 32d pick in the 2014 draft.

If that were to happen with Mariota, the Eagles could select him at No. 20 without taking any chances on a trade. But that smacks of wishful thinking. Instead of trying to guess the lowest possible spot that Mariota might be available, the Eagles would do well to get as close to the top of the draft as they can and eliminate the uncertainty.

The signals coming from Tennessee suggest that the No. 2 pick could be had for the right price. For the Eagles, it’s a matter of deciding just what that price is.
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PHILADELPHIA -- There has been no shortage of speculation about how the Philadelphia Eagles could move up in the NFL draft for a shot at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The logic is obvious. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to run his up-tempo offense at Oregon. Mariota has thrived doing just that, even though Kelly left for Philadelphia two years ago. Now that Mariota is coming to the NFL, Kelly has a team that could really use a difference-making talent at quarterback.

So it’s reasonable to assume Kelly would love to draft the player he calls the most talented he ever coached at the college level. But it’s also reasonable to wonder why any other team would give up the chance to draft Mariota in order to fulfill Kelly’s wish.

Enter the New York Jets. In Tuesday’s New York Daily News, columnist Manish Mehta makes the case for the Jets to cut a deal with the Eagles. If Mariota is still available with the Jets’ No. 6 overall pick -- and several mock drafts suggest he could be -- then New York could add a windfall of draft picks in a trade.

What’s the windfall? Mehta proposes the Eagles swap their first- and second-round picks in the 2015 and 2016 drafts, plus quarterback Nick Foles. That is not out of line with what Washington traded to move up from No. 6 to No. 2 in the 2012 draft to get Robert Griffin III. The Eagles would be looking to move from No. 20 to No. 6.

You could make the case that including Foles should lower the cost in draft choices, maybe take that 2016 second-round pick off the table. That is all negotiable, of course.

But what exactly are we talking about here? It’s tricky to find a comparable situation. If you look at the Eagles’ haul from the past two drafts, for example, you’re assuming they would have a bad enough record to select fourth overall, as they did in 2013. Add Mariota to Kelly’s offense and there is every reason to expect the Eagles’ picks to be in the 20s.

But if you go back a couple drafts, you get to 2011, when the Eagles took Baylor guard Danny Watkins with the 23rd pick. Would the Eagles trade the rights to Watkins for Mariota? They would do so in a heartbeat. But using the Eagles’ poor past drafts as a gauge isn’t really helpful, either. Or maybe it is: They did take Marcus Smith with the 26th pick last year.

Would you trade Smith, Jordan Matthews and this year’s 20th and 52nd picks for Mariota? Matthews is a good player, and there will be talent available in this year’s draft as well. But if you can get an elite quarterback, the most important single piece in building a championship-caliber team? You’d have to do it.

How about taking the 2010 and 2011 drafts? Would you trade Brandon Graham, Nate Allen, Watkins and Jaiquawn Jarrett for Mariota? The guess is you probably would.

The Eagles can certainly do a better job of drafting, starting with 2015, to change those equations a bit. But those are real-life, recent examples of what the cost would be. And really, it is more risky to squander four high picks -- as the Eagles have done many times -- than to put all your chips in the middle of the table for a franchise quarterback.
A closer look at the areas the Philadelphia Eagles could address in the draft. We'll continue today with a look at linebackers, who are scheduled to work out Sunday in Indianapolis.

Position of need: There are two distinct positions here, and the circumstances are different for each one. The Eagles’ outside linebackers last season were Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, and Brandon Graham. Only Barwin is certain to be back in 2015. Graham is about to become an unrestricted free agent, and Cole could be a victim of the salary cap. As for inside linebackers, the Eagles are hoping that DeMeco Ryans can return from his Achilles tendon injury. But they need to be prepared in case Ryans struggles to get back to full speed. The Eagles might be able to address one or the other spot in free agency, but they also need to keep their eyes open during the draft process.

Three players the Eagles could target in the draft:

Eric Kendricks (ILB), UCLA: It would be a nice story, pairing Kendricks with his older brother Mychal in the Eagles' defense. Eric is a similar player, who has benefited from UCLA’s defensive scheme and personnel to make a lot of tackles and big hits. Enough to be named the Butkus Award winner as the nation’s best linebacker. In the Eagles’ 3-4 scheme, Eric would find similar freedom to move. Being reunited with his brother couldn’t hurt.

video Shaq Thompson (LB), Washington: Thompson is more of an outside linebacker who could wind up playing safety in the NFL. The Eagles have needs at both positions. Mostly, though, the Eagles' defense needs playmakers, and Thompson is one of those. He is agile and has good instincts, the kind of player you turn loose and see what he does. Thompson has also played some running back. That kind of versatility is bound to intrigue Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

Vic Beasley (OLB), Clemson: If the Eagles are looking to replace Cole, Beasley could be their guy. He also projects as a pass rushing defensive end, but the Eagles would use him as an edge defender in their 3-4 scheme. Beasley brings the kind of energy and high motor that translates into pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Beasley finished as Clemson’s all-time leader with 29 sacks.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles turned down a trade that would have brought them Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon at the start of the 2013 NFL season.

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The price for Gordon, according to a source familiar with the discussions: quarterback Nick Foles.

A little context helps here. Gordon was facing a two-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy. Foles had just been named the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback after losing a competition with Michael Vick during the preseason.

The Browns, who had Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden as their top two quarterbacks, wanted Foles as their starter. At that point, former Eagles president Joe Banner was running the Browns. Banner had been with the Eagles in 2012 when they drafted Foles.

The Eagles, in their first year with head coach Chip Kelly, were concerned about Gordon’s impending suspension. They were also high on Foles.

During the 2013 season, both players made strong cases for themselves. Gordon served his suspension. In 14 games, Gordon caught 87 passes for 1,646 yards and nine touchdowns. He was named to the Pro Bowl after the season.

So was Foles. After Vick pulled a hamstring, Foles took over the Eagles’ starting quarterback spot. He completed 203 of 317 passes for 2,891 yards and 27 touchdowns. Foles threw just two interceptions, finishing with a league-high passer rating of 119.2.

Both Gordon and Foles had comedown seasons in 2014.

Foles completed 186 of 311 passes for 2,163 yards and 13 touchdowns. He threw 10 interceptions. In the eighth game of the season, Foles broke his collarbone and did not play again. His passer rating for the season was 81.4.

Gordon was arrested for driving while impaired in July of 2014 and was suspended for the entire season. That suspension was later reduced when the NFL announced a new discipline policy. Gordon wound up playing in five games. He caught 24 passes for 303 yards and no touchdowns.

In January, Gordon tested positive for alcohol, a violation of the conditions for his return to the field. He faces a suspension for the entire 2015 season.

Foles, meanwhile, could be the Eagles’ starting quarterback in 2015. He could also become part of a package if the Eagles decide to trade up in the draft for a quarterback.

Either way, the Eagles have to be very glad they declined the trade offer for Gordon. While Gordon is immensely talented and only 23 years old, his repeat offender status would make him very difficult to trade to another team. It is possible he would have avoided further trouble with a change of scenery in Philadelphia, but that’s pure speculation.

Foles has much more value at this point than Gordon, whether he’s the Eagles’ starting quarterback or a trade chip.
PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles can use their franchise tag on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin beginning Monday. If the Eagles are reluctant to do so, it would be for good reason.

Maclin
Their history with franchise tags is not very pleasant.

Twice, the Eagles used the franchise tag on defensive players. The use of the tag led directly to those players becoming ex-Eagles.

In 2003, the Eagles placed the tag on middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter. While he was tagged, Trotter continually lobbied to be paid as much as Baltimore Ravens MLB Ray Lewis. At one point, Trotter visited Eagles president Joe Banner in his office, trying to get Banner to acknowledge he was as good as Lewis.

After that, the Eagles rescinded the franchise tag. That accomplished a couple of things. First, it turned Trotter into an unrestricted free agent. Second, it left the Eagles without a middle linebacker. Because they had tagged Trotter, they had whiffed on the free-agency period to sign a possible replacement.

That's how the Eagles wound up with Levon Kirkland and Barry Gardner playing a kind of platoon that left them vulnerable to either the run (when Gardner was on the field) or the pass (when Kirkland was out there). That weakness was exploited by opponents, notably by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game.

Trotter signed with Washington. He suffered a major knee injury and wound up back in Philadelphia by 2004.

Two years after the mistake with Trotter, the Eagles repeated it with defensive tackle Corey Simon. They placed the franchise tag on Simon in 2005. Simon held out of training camp. In August, the Eagles finally blinked. They rescinded the tag and Simon became an unrestricted free agent. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts right before the season started.

Simon played for the Colts in 2005. He injured his knee in 2006 and was placed on the reserved/non-football injury list. The Colts released Simon with a settlement. He signed with the Tennessee Titans, but was out of football by 2007.

The Eagles used the franchise tag on Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson more recently. With Vick, the tag was placed just before the 2011 NFL lockout. Vick and the Eagles worked out a contract after the lockout and Vick never played under the tag.

With Jackson, the tag was also used as a bargaining tool. Jackson and the Eagles worked out his five-year, $51-million dollar deal in March of 2012. Jackson, like Vick, never played under the franchise tag.

Presumably, the Eagles would prefer to work out a long-term deal with Maclin. The franchise tag has caused more harm than good in their history. It has led to the departure of good players, and has not resulted in the team keeping quality players off the market.

The franchise tag for wide receivers will be about $12.8 million this year, depending on the final salary-cap numbers. The Eagles should have the cap room to pay Maclin that much, if necessary, but they would be better off doing a more cap-friendly deal that provides Maclin more security over the long term.

Essentially, the franchise tag should be viewed as an admission of failure in the team's attempts to work out an equitable contract. That's how it has played out for the Eagles in the past.
A closer look at the areas the Philadelphia Eagles could address in the draft. We'll get started today with a look at the quarterbacks, who are scheduled to work out Saturday in Indianapolis.

Mariota
Position of need: There are two parallel schools of thought at work here. The first is based on the idea that Marcus Mariota and Chip Kelly are simply fated to work together in the NFL. Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon, then headed to the NFL to install his offense in preparation for Mariota’s inevitable arrival. The problem, of course, is that there are 19 picks before the Eagles get a chance to grab Mariota. That brings us to the second school of thought, which is that Kelly really needs a different sort of quarterback than Nick Foles to run his offense at its optimal level. Kelly was happy to work with Foles and Michael Vick and Mark Sanchez for two years, but at some point, he has to commit to a quarterback. To his quarterback. And that makes this draft the best opportunity.

Three players the Eagles could target in the draft:

Marcus Mariota (QB), Oregon: All the dissent among draft analysts on Mariota is actually not all that relevant for the Eagles. Those who say he is a product of the Oregon system have to concede that Kelly is the man who designed the Oregon system. Kelly compared Mariota’s football smarts to Peyton Manning's. Combine that with an NFL arm, Colin Kaepernick's running ability and exceptional character, and you can see why Kelly might mortgage a chunk of the future for a shot at Mariota.

Brett Hundley (QB), UCLA: If Kelly can’t move the mountain far enough to get Mariota, he could let Hundley fall to the Eagles at No. 20. The scouting reports on Hundley make him sound like a poor man’s Mariota. Like many agile quarterbacks, he is prone to taking off instead of moving within the pocket and keeping the play alive. That can be coached, though, and Hundley might really thrive in a quarterback-friendly offense like Kelly’s. Kelly tailors his system to suit his quarterback’s skills, and Hundley has the arm and the legs necessary to make it all work.

Bryce Petty (QB), Baylor: Petty was hampered by a back injury during his senior year. He is another quarterback considered to be a product of the offense he was in. So was Joe Montana. Petty is not the running threat that Mariota or Hundley are, but he’s not quite the statue that Foles is. Petty might be a little bit more of a project, which would give the Eagles the chance to see where Foles goes from 2014 while developing a possible alternative.

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