When I wrote about the Rams-Titans trade last week, I suggested that the deal to get Los Angeles into the top spot would make it harder for the Eagles to do something foolish. Well, six days later, the Eagles did something that would charitably qualify as aggressive and could very well go down as foolish: They sent five picks on Wednesday to the Cleveland Browns, with the Eagles giving up a whopping haul to move up six spots and grab their starting quarterback of the future.
I wrote in that piece that Cleveland's leverage would be diminished by the fact that any possible trade partner wouldn't get its pick of the quarterbacks at No. 2. I was wrong about that.
This is an extensive haul for the Browns. It is roughly equivalent to what the Titans received for the first overall selection, after accounting for the difference in value between the first and second picks. Philadelphia gets the a 2017 fourth-round pick back with the second overall pick this year and sends Cleveland the eighth, 77th and 100th picks in this year's draft, plus a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 second-rounder.
If we value those selections as the middle pick in each round, which seems fair, given that the Eagles don't seem to be a particularly dominant or particularly troubled franchise, Cleveland has picked up an enormous return for its pick. By the traditional draft value chart, the Browns picked up 3,125 points of draft capital and sent back 2,666 points, a return of roughly 17 percent. Given that the Browns will have to wait until 2018 to actually use all the picks Philadelphia's sending, it doesn't appear to be as big of a return.
The Browns are reportedly becoming one of the more analytically-inclined organizations in the NFL, though, and chances are they're using a board more in line with the empirically-derived numbers generated by Chase Stuart's draft value chart. (The Eagles under Howie Roseman are also one of the league's more numbers-friendly teams and are likely using a modified chart, but teams have a way of getting away from their principles when the possibility of acquiring a franchise quarterback is at hand.) If we use Stuart's model, the Browns are getting a lot more than 17 extra cents on the dollar for their pick:
The Browns are getting just under $1.75 on the dollar for their picks in this deal, which is actually a slightly better haul than what the Titans received from Los Angeles. However, with much of the value coming in future years, it's fair to discount this deal a bit and suggest that the returns are roughly similar in terms of proportion.
That's a victory for Cleveland in just about any scenario.
Even if Robert Griffin III doesn't work out at QB, the Browns have a ridiculous amount of draft capital set up for 2017. They'll likely be drafting in the top three with their own first-rounder, and they'll have Philly's first-round pick to go with four compensatory picks, including three fourth-rounders.
If the Browns didn't think they saw their quarterback in this year's draft, they're now incredibly well-positioned to come away with that guy in 2017, and they will still be able to grab a meaningful contributor at No. 8. They also might covet somebody such as Paxton Lynch, whom they could trade around to grab in the second half of the first round. They could still trade down further from No. 8 or shop the few remaining veterans on their roster (looking at you, Joe Thomas) to acquire additional picks too. If the smartest draft strategy is to load up on lottery tickets, the Browns just armed themselves with a bushel of picks.
On the other hand, if they would have had a shot at the quarterback they wanted at No. 2 and he turns out to be a superstar, the Browns will look back and regret this. The chances of that happening, though, are far less certain than the sureness the Eagles seem to have had in sending this sort of package to Cleveland.
The past few times teams have traded into the top five, they've come away with Sammy Watkins (in a draft with Odell Beckham), Dion Jordan, Robert Griffin and Mark Sanchez. The Julio Jones deal worked out for the Falcons when they moved up to the No. 6 spot in 2011, but these sorts of deals are incredibly risky.
It's even riskier when you consider the biggest difference between this deal and those I mentioned earlier. When those teams traded up for the likes of Watkins and RG III, they knew the identity of the player they were drafting. The Eagles made this deal not knowing whom they're going to draft at No. 2, given that the Rams haven't revealed whom they're taking first.
Howie Roseman suggested Wednesday that he knows whom the Eagles are taking, regardless of whom the Rams select, which is either a flat-out lie or a hint that they're not taking a quarterback -- which would be another incredible can of worms altogether. It's possible Philly could have traded up to draft Jalen Ramsey or Ezekiel Elliott, but given the amount the Eagles invested in this deal, let's assume they're drafting a quarterback.
To make this sort of move not knowing whether the Rams will draft Jared Goff or Carson Wentz is virtually unprecedented. Most of the rumors have linked the Rams to Goff and the Eagles to Wentz, and it wouldn't surprise me if that's how it goes down on draft day, but what happens if Los Angeles pulls an upset and goes for the higher-ceiling quarterback in Wentz? Do the Eagles take Goff and pretend that's who they wanted all along? Do they trade the pick away?
I suppose it's possible the Eagles love both quarterbacks and think both Goff and Wentz represent significant value, versus the $50 million or so they will earn over their first five cost-controlled years in the league, but this is an enormously risky move under normal circumstances, let alone this set. Let's assume the Eagles are taking Wentz, but if the Rams change their mind, it could be a fascinating night on April 28.
Something else Roseman said Wednesday was interesting too. "Let me be clear," he told NFL Network, "Sam Bradford is our starting quarterback." That's an even more bizarre decision for the Eagles to make.
Philadelphia re-signed Bradford to a two-year, $35 million deal this offseason and gave him an $11 million signing bonus. By drafting a quarterback second, the Eagles made it very clear Bradford won't be their quarterback of the future, and with Bradford priced out of the market as a backup (and Chase Daniel locked up for the foreseeable future), he's not going to stick around as Philly's backup QB.
That leaves Bradford as a lame-duck quarterback, a one-year option despite the fact that he hasn't had even an average healthy season as a pro. The Eagles can dump Bradford after this year, but they would owe either $5.5 million (in the case of a 2017 trade) or $9.5 million (if they released him) in dead money on their cap. That's difficult to stomach, given that they will have a minimum of $146 million or so assigned to their 2017 cap, even after cutting or trading Bradford, which would be the second-highest figure in football. They wouldn't save any money by trading Bradford this year, but a move this year would clear that further $5.5 million in cap space for 2017. Philly would also pick up a draft pick by trading Bradford to a team in need of a quarterback, such as the Broncos or Jets, which would come in handy right about now.
The logical thing would be to offload Bradford to the Broncos for a 2017 second-rounder, use Daniel as the short-term starter this year and transition to Wentz when he's ready, likely sometime in 2017. Then again, the logical move wouldn't have been to blow up your next two drafts to get a quarterback in a year when, until last week, nobody seemed to think quarterbacks would go 1-2.
Eagles fans who sat through the steady, seemingly underwhelming competence of the Andy Reid era and the desperate attempts to overcome bad quarterback play that marked the Chip Kelly era will appreciate this move. It's a bold, aggressive play to try to find the most valuable asset in football: a franchise quarterback on a rookie contract. It's a shot across the bow of the past six years of post-Donovan McNabb Eagles football. It's also a shot that misses more often than it hits.