At the center of the Eagles quarterback debate lies a question that has been asked countless times on the radio and in pubs alike since the uncertainty set in: If not Sam Bradford, who?
While not quite as popular, there’s another important question for all parties to consider as they choose their respective stances heading into negotiations and the new league year: If not Philly, where?
It is widely assumed that Bradford will have suitors if allowed to hit free agency given the lack of quality quarterback options on planet Earth and the the number of teams that are in need. Perhaps that proves true. But after heading out in search of some clarity on where that demand lies, we came back with the conclusion that the market for Bradford is a bit murky at the moment and may take time to develop — assuming it develops at all.
The three teams most frequently mentioned as possible options for Bradford seem to be the Browns, Texans and 49ers — the first two because of their obvious need for an upgrade, and the last because of the Chip Kelly connection. To try and get a feel for how real the interest might be, we spoke with three of the best covering those respective teams — Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle and former Eagles scout John Middlekauff (whose time in Philly overlapped with Kelly’s), now covering the Niners and Bay Area sports for 95.7 The Game. Here’s what they had to say:
The Texans seem like an ideal destination: the team has some pieces in place but is in desperate need of a QB to turn into legitimate contenders; and while it’s not quite Oklahoma City, Houston’s a market that Bradford might feel really comfortable playing in.
McClain, though, doesn’t see the Texans going down that road.
“They want to draft [a quarterback] in the first round. They’re tired of using retreads. They played five this year, started four. Last year they played four and started three. So they need a quarterback, and they want one that they can develop,” he said.
“Nobody is saying anything publicly except [owner] Bob McNair. Three times he’s talked about, ‘We need a quarterback. We need to draft a quarterback.’…They have not ruled out anybody but I don’t think they’re going to be signing or trading for a veteran unless they determine the quarterbacks that they would have a shot at [in the draft] are going to be too pricey to get.”
The Texans hold the No. 22 overall pick. While they would likely need to trade up to get one of the consensus top three (Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Paxton Lynch), they’d be in fine position theoretically to grab another potential target.
“I think Christian Hackenberg is going to end up being reunited with [former Penn State coach] Bill O’Brien. I think that’s going to be their quarterback,” said McClain. “I think O’Brien loves the guy. I don’t know that, but I just think he does based on what I’ve heard.
“People that think Bradford is coming here, chances are they’re going to be mistaken.”
The Browns are a bit of a wild card.
They had interest in trading for Bradford last season, but that’s when former general manager Ray Farmer was calling the shots. Now it’s executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown. While Brown has the control, new head coach Hue Jackson‘s opinion is expected to hold significant weight.
Jackson was aggressive when it came to the QB position while head coach of the Raiders, dealing a first-rounder and a conditional second for Carson Palmer after Jason Campbell went down with an injury.
Here, the organization is in a position where it can potentially pair Jackson with a veteran like Bradford, or use the No. 2 overall pick on the quarterback of their choice.
“I think they are going to be open to anything,” said Cabot. “They’ll look at all their options, they’ll explore everything. I ultimately do think they’ll use that No. 2 pick on a quarterback but they’ll explore all their options and it looks like there may be some decent ones, including Sam.
“I think they will do their due diligence on all the available free-agent quarterbacks and if they think one of them can be their guy, they will seriously weigh that against using the number 2 pick on a guy.”
A whole lot of balls in the air here. The first thing San Fran needs to do is decide how to proceed with Colin Kaepernick. Many assume that he’ll remain on the roster given the potential scheme fit with Kelly, but Middlekauff is not so sure.
“The consensus from everything I’ve heard and people in the loop and most reporters around here, is that it would be an upset if [Kaepernick] would come back,” said Middlekauff, explaining that there is already some pre-existing tension between the front office and Kaepernick that might be hard to overcome. Even if Kelly wants him, general manager Trent Baalke might feel differently and he’s believed to be the one with the control.
Still, Kelly’s opinion as head coach will obviously carry some sway. Would he want to make a reunion happen with Bradford?
“The major unknown in San Francisco right now is the dynamic between Baalke and Chip. Clearly they’ve got to placate a little to [Kelly] but Baalke still has the power over the roster. I would say it would be a 50-50 chance [of the Niners pursuing Bradford] but I had heard towards the end of the season that Chip wasn’t that high on him,” said Middlekauff.
“In theory because he’s accurate he fits Chip’s offense but you’ve gotta have a guy with some athletic ability that’s a threat to run to truly run that offense. It’s clear that [Bradford’s] a sitting duck back there and is not going to run. So does it really even make that much sense? Or are you better off just trying to draft a guy at No. 7 and keeping Blaine Gabbert, who is a much better athlete than Sam?”
Kaepernick’s departure from San Francisco would only be a good thing for Bradford if it opened up a spot for him with the Niners. Otherwise it puts a high-profile player into the mix for some of the available jobs across the league.
Are there other potential landing spots for Bradford? Maybe. The Jets could have an opening, but many believe they’ll end up bringing Ryan Fitzpatrick back (and could have interest in Kaepernick).Would the Rams really go down that road again? Buffalo could be a possibility, though Rex Ryan said Tyrod Taylor will be the starter to open 2016. Washington? Despite talks cooling with Kirk Cousins for the moment, he’s expected back in D.C. one way or the other. Denver is at least a little interesting. The Broncos might use their franchise tag on Von Miller, which means they can’t apply it to Brock Osweiler. In theory, Osweiler could shake loose and Denver might find a veteran like Bradford appealing to pair with its lights-out defense. But the cards need to come out the right way.
And that’s really the theme here. Houston might have to strike out in the draft before setting its sights on Bradford. Cleveland would have to determine that he is a more desirable option than Goff or Wentz. Kelly and Baalke would need to decide to part with Kaepernick and agree that Bradford was the man to replace him with. The list goes on.
It could break Bradford’s way, but it also seems possible that he’ll look around and find no team willing to dig deep into its pockets for his services — at least initially. Instead, he might be looking at short-term deals at a lower price point for teams trying to hedge their bets.
If that’s the case, the Eagles could seem like a pretty appealing option all of a sudden, and leverage would swing in their favor.
This is a risky play for the Eagles nevertheless if Bradford is the preferred quarterback. While you can do your best to predict what other teams are thinking, you can never be 100 percent sure. And it only takes one. Allow a competent QB to get to free agency, and it’s altogether possible that someone scoops him up.
But there’s a case to be made that Bradford’s market will not be all that robust, which could be factoring into the Eagles’ apparent decision to keep the franchise tag in their pocket.
Elsewhere on the quarterback front:
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) February 18, 2016
Bethel-Thompson has a strong arm, good size. Pushed for #3 QB job with a few teams over his career.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) February 18, 2016
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 18, 2016