Trade-up talk: What was Howie Roseman's game?

During this quiet Eagles offseason in which the silence is only broken by rambling assumptions from the outside, it was a rare moment over the weekend when former general manager Howie Roseman cleared his throat and had something to say.

What he said is that, at least from his point of view, one of the most popular recent assumptions isn't a very good idea. According to Roseman, who spoke at the Geek Thanksgiving known as the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, trading up in the first round of the NFL draft in order to get a coveted player is rarely worth what you have to give up. He doesn't recommend it.

"The history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn't good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it," Roseman said, "because the guys who are really good at the draft, if you're hitting on 60 percent of your first-round picks, that's a pretty good track record. And then it's dropping as you go through the rounds. So, really, the more chances you get, the more tickets to the lottery you get, the better you should be doing."

This is newsworthy, or at least intriguing, since the idea that the Eagles will attempt to jump up from their 20th spot to land quarterback Marcus Mariota has become one of those cherished assumptions of the offseason. Various reports, anonymously sourced, have indicated that the organization - and by this we mean, Chip Kelly - is interested in exploring the possibility.

The assumption from the outside is constructed of several things. Kelly coached Mariota at Oregon in an offense using a great deal of read-option play that requires a mobile quarterback. Mariota is all of that, and fast to boot. What else? Well, Kelly has been unable to use read-option to any degree with the Eagles because he has had three quarterbacks - Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez - who either can't read, can't option or some combination of those. Anything else? Yes, Kelly appears more than slightly enamored of the young quarterback.

"When he was a freshman, I knew he was going to win the Heisman," Kelly said in December after Mariota did, in fact, win the Heisman Trophy. "He has a gift for playing football. He is everything you could want. He can throw the ball. He can run. He is the most talented kid I coached in college."

Other than that, he doesn't like him at all.

Put it together and what do you have? You have the Eagles trading up to get the quarterback of Kelly's dreams, right? It makes so much sense that it must be true.

If so, Roseman was throwing a bird into the punch bowl of Kelly's plans, laying the groundwork for an I-told-you-so of monumental proportions if a trade for Mariota proves too expensive to pull off or, somewhere down the road, becomes disastrous for the franchise. Either that or he is a secret agent working undercover for Kelly to mislead the other teams in the league, and the whole demotion thing was actually a Paul-is-dead ruse. (If you play his Sloan quotes backward, it says, "I'm still the boss.")

Since Roseman was stripped of player personnel power on Jan. 2, neither he nor Kelly nor owner Jeff Lurie has said anything about how this new setup is supposed to work. As a matter of fact, until Roseman spoke in Boston, none of them had said anything about anything.

If Roseman and his football administration department still control the salary cap and contracts, there is no way that job can be done in a vacuum. Kelly may have total authority regarding the roster - including whom to draft and when - but he's going to need help putting it together. Whatever Roseman's failings, and he certainly failed to dig a deep enough moat around his power base, he is an expert on the mechanics of the draft. (That gift didn't prevent the Eagles from being unable to either move up or move back far enough to avoid the Marcus Smith dilemma last year, but nevertheless.)

Kelly is smart enough to know what he knows, and also smart enough to know what he doesn't know. It might be that Ed Marynowitz, the new vice president of player personnel, can mortar those gaps, but Roseman isn't going to be merely sending out for sandwiches during the draft.

So, what to make of Roseman's pronouncement regarding the folly of trading up, one that he obviously understood would be widely disseminated?

It's hard to believe he would purposely wave a red flag in front of Kelly again, so he could have been putting up a smokescreen to the outside world. Or maybe Kelly really doesn't have any intention of going after Mariota - which would cost an absolute ton, by the way - and Roseman was carrying water for that decision ahead of time.

That brings us full circle to the most basic of assumptions, and perhaps the most inaccurate: Kelly wants a read-option quarterback.

It is just as likely that Kelly has studied the difference between college and the pros and decided that quarterbacks are too valuable at the professional level to expose them to that kind of abuse. In college, you just point to the next guy on the bench and keep going. Ohio State won a national championship that way. In the pros, when your starter comes out, you might as well get on the bus.

Chip has not enlightened us on his feelings about this - put it on the list - but based on what we know, which is nothing, one assumption is just as good as the next. He wants Mariota. He wants to trade up. He likes Mariota, but not enough to spend all those valuable lottery tickets on him. He doesn't really want Mariota at all. Take your pick.

Meanwhile, the former general manager, the one everyone assumed had been rendered mute by his demotion, is chattering away. Shows you how much assumptions are worth.

 


bford@phillynews.com

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