Kelly tried to cut a deal with the Titans for the No. 2 pick in the draft. He called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to see if they were any more willing to part with the No. 1 overall pick. He found what he expected, that the price for making either move would mean “mortgaging the future” – something Kelly said he would not do for any player.
He said that immediately after trading Nick Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford. So when you view the landscape as Kelly saw it going into this offseason, it seems pretty clear. The Eagles did not have, in Foles, what Kelly considered to be a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback. The odds against moving up for Mariota were long and the cost would likely offset the acquisition of a franchise quarterback.
So Kelly made the deal for Bradford, obtaining the player drafted with the first overall pick in 2010 from a team that had run out of patience with him. Bradford’s twice-torn ACL had put his career, and the Rams’ development, on hold for two years. The Rams needed a fresh start and so did Bradford.
Kelly made the Bradford deal when he could. He took a shot at getting Mariota when he could. When all was said and done, he was never going to be able to get Mariota – not for lack of interest or effort, but because teams just don’t move down 18 spots in the draft and pass on a potential franchise quarterback. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the other 31 teams in the NFL aren’t just waiting around to see how they can help the Eagles.
So now what? The pessimistic view would be that Kelly simply took on the burden that the Rams were eager to shed. By most measures, Bradford would be added to the list of first-round busts at the quarterback position, along with Ryan Leaf, Vince Young and David Carr.
But here’s the thing that gets overlooked when reciting that list of busts: It never happens in a vacuum. In 1999, when Andy Reid avoided busts Tim Couch and Akili Smith by taking Donovan McNabb, it wasn’t purely chance. Reid had a proven, successful offensive system. He had job security. And he had a plan – the one used in Green Bay with Brett Favre – for developing a young quarterback.
If Reid had taken Smith, the strong-armed quarterback from Oregon, and if McNabb had wound up in Cincinnati with Bruce Coslet and Ken Anderson (and with Dick LeBeau, by his second season) running the offense? Who knows which quarterback would have succeeded and which would have been the bust?
As a rookie in 2010, Bradford played for offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who was on Reid’s staff when McNabb was being developed. Bradford completed 60 percent of his passes and was named the AP offensive rookie of the year. Shurmur was hired to become head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Josh McDaniels became the Rams’ offensive coordinator for 2011.
By 2012, McDaniels was gone and so was head coach Steve Spagnuolo. New coach Jeff Fisher hired Brian Schottenheimer as his offensive coordinator. By the time Bradford blew out his knee for the first time, he’d had two head coaches and three offensive coordinators in St. Louis. Considering each change in offense means learning a new language and different fundamentals, that is not an ideal situation.
In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers has played in the same basic offense for his entire career. Tom Brady has had different coordinators with different systems, but those changes were made by the masterful Bill Belichick, with an eye toward Brady’s evolution as a quarterback.
In Philadelphia, the offensive-oriented Kelly is the head coach and figures to be for some time. The offensive coordinator, who happens to be Shurmur, is going into his third season with the team. There is a run-oriented offensive system, a veteran and competent offensive line and plenty of talented skill players to work with.
It is the opposite of the situation Bradford had in St. Louis. Everything is in place for a quarterback to succeed. The only question was, who would be the quarterback? Now we know.