Among the many things that Andy Reid and Doug Pederson have in common (or that Pederson has cribbed from Reid, depending on your level of cynicism on such matters), one stands out. Each time one of them has accepted an NFL head-coaching job — Reid with the Eagles in 1999 and the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, Pederson with the Eagles last year — he wasted little time in pinpointing and pursuing a quarterback who he hoped would stabilize the most important position in sports.
Pederson was in Philadelphia, as the Eagles’ presumptive starting quarterback, when Reid and the franchise drafted Donovan McNabb. He was in Kansas City, as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator, when Reid traded two draft picks to the San Francisco 49ers for Alex Smith. And the Eagles had hired him just three months before they made the stunning trade with the Cleveland Browns that gave them the No. 2 pick and allowed them to draft Carson Wentz. If it’s unfair to say that Pederson is just aping everything Reid did or does as a head coach, it’s not too much to suggest that the two of them think similarly, particularly with respect to quarterbacks, and that Reid’s beliefs, insights, and experiences have influenced Pederson.
So what does a Reid/Peterson kind of quarterback look like? What qualities does he have? It’s a fascinating topic ahead of Sunday’s Eagles-Chiefs game, in part because, at first glance, the profiles of Wentz and Smith would seem so disparate.
Wentz is 24, in his second season, with one of the NFL’s strongest throwing arms and most daring natures. Consider, for instance, one play late in the first quarter of the Eagles’ 30-17 win over the Redskins on Sunday, in which Wentz completed a 7-yard pass in the right flat to tight end Zach Ertz. It would have been a risky throw under the best of circumstances. Given that a Washington defender was draped over Wentz and dragging him to the ground, it was downright reckless. Yet Wentz got the ball to Ertz anyway.
Smith is 33 and in his 12th NFL season, and because of his conservative instincts and lack of elite arm strength, he has been regarded around the league less as a “franchise quarterback” and more as a “game manager.” Now, calling Smith a “game manager” in the wake of the Chiefs’ season-opening 42-27 victory over the Patriots — in which he shredded the defending Super Bowl champions for 368 yards and four touchdowns — is admittedly an example of bad timing. But it doesn’t add any zip to his passes, and it obscures the qualities that he and Wentz share, qualities that Pederson noticed in Smith and that he looked for and found in Wentz.
“It did shape a little bit of the thinking …” Pederson said. “Alex, very cerebral guy. He’s a deep thinker. He studies. He prepares. Very athletic — probably more athletic than people give him credit for. Runs extremely well. Tough. Very smart. Doesn’t turn the ball over. Everything you want from a quarterback. So when looking at quarterbacks, yeah, you’d love to have all those traits and characteristics in a quarterback. Does it always happen that way? No. But at the same time, we were fortunate to make the moves we did to get Carson. Again, very athletic, smart, studies, cerebral, deep thinker. All those things that Carson is are what I coached in Kansas City with Alex.”
Those things are also what Reid has coached, to varying degrees, with other quarterbacks: McNabb, Jeff Garcia, Michael Vick. Add Smith and Brett Favre to that list — Reid made his bones as Favre’s quarterbacks coach in Green Bay — and include Wentz as a leaf on a branch of Reid’s coaching tree, and look at what you have: All of those quarterbacks can move well outside the pocket. Some of them tended to be more careless with the football (Favre, Vick, and so far Wentz) than others (McNabb, Garcia, and Smith). But Reid and Pederson apparently are willing to live with a degree of carelessness if a quarterback is so naturally gifted and dynamic. Favre and Vick — their improvisational skills, their cannon-like arms — exemplified that trade-off.
The ideal, of course, is to marry that dynamism and that good sense. McNabb probably did it better than anyone, and it’s no coincidence that the best years of his playing career align with the best years of Reid’s coaching career. Pederson and the Eagles certainly are banking that, in time, Wentz will mature into an equal or better iteration of that kind of quarterback. What’s interesting about Reid’s tenure with the Chiefs is that, in upgrading at quarterback by acquiring Smith, he necessarily limited the explosiveness that the position might provide. Only recently — by selecting wide receiver Tyreek Hill and running back Kareem Hunt, two of the NFL’s fastest players, in the last two drafts — have Reid and the Chiefs injected a bona fide big-play capability into their offense.
“I wanted to make sure we had [a quarterback] who fit into what we like to do,” Reid said, “and Alex did.”
He fit in a lot of ways, but not every way, maybe not even in the way Reid values most. It’s worth noting that the Chiefs traded up in the first round this year to get Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes: mobile, intelligent, with devil-may-care instincts and an arm that was considered the strongest of any quarterback’s in the draft. Sounds familiar.