Early in 2016, before most in Philadelphia knew the color of Carson Wentz’s hair and there was no reason to plan a Nick Foles statue outside Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles brass envisioned a plan for the quarterback depth chart.
Doug Pederson was just one month into his tenure as head coach when he discussed building a “pipeline” at the position replenished almost annually through the draft. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said the Eagles would like to try to add a quarterback every year or every other year “like we used to do.”
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Then the Eagles made a blockbuster trade to draft Wentz, they signed Foles as the backup one year later, and they brought Nate Sudfeld onto their practice squad and eventually their 53-man roster to develop. There were fewer opportunities to invest draft picks in quarterbacks and little need to build that pipeline.
That could change this season. Foles parlayed his unforgettable second stint in Philadelphia into an $88 million contract in Jacksonville. Sudfeld is the front-runner to win the No. 2 job, especially after the Eagles didn’t add a veteran in free agency. But Pederson wants Sudfeld to have competition to back up Wentz, and that competition might come from a rookie.
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The Eagles reached a deal with former AAF quarterback Luis Perez, although the depth chart will look different come training camp. Pederson said in March that the Eagles would continue to look at quarterbacks and noted how the draft was approaching. That’s because the Eagles are back in the market of drafting quarterbacks, which Lurie said the Eagles will do opportunistically.
“I would expect us, if not every year, every other year, to try to find a quarterback,” Lurie said last month.
The Eagles drafted a quarterback six times during Andy Reid’s 14 seasons as head coach: Donovan McNabb in the first round in 1999, A.J. Feeley in the fifth round in 2001, Andy Hall in the sixth round in 2004, Kevin Kolb in the second round in 2007, Mike Kafka in the fourth round in 2010, and Foles in the third round in 2012.
McNabb, Feeley, and Kolb were all traded in packages for second-round picks, which turned into a key part of the Eagles’ roster building. The Green Bay Packers notably did this in the 1990s, when they drafted a quarterback in eight of nine seasons and four became starters elsewhere. This is an approach the Eagles wouldn’t mind replicating.
There’s a catch, though.
If the Eagles select a quarterback this year, the question is not simply if he is the best quarterback on the board. It’s also how he’ll fit in the quarterbacks’ meeting room. The Eagles have not been shy to boast about the culture of the three quarterbacks during the last two years, with Wentz, Foles, and Sudfeld cooperating to allow for a clean transition from Wentz to Foles and back again. And with Wentz as the unquestioned franchise quarterback, the Eagles will make sure that whatever quarterback they add can help Wentz instead of create friction.
“We’re very conscious of the culture,” Lurie said. “That quarterback we bring in, let’s say this year’s draft or next year’s draft, needs to be a great fit in that room. You’re not just drafting a player that can be a backup, but someone that can help the culture with the quarterback that’s starting.”
The Eagles would like to have Wentz as the No. 1 quarterback for the next decade. The two quarterbacks behind him will likely rotate during that span.
They had continuity for two consecutive seasons, but the circumstances were unique. Foles was a Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago and remained under contract. Wentz was coming off a season-ending injury that would extend into the 2018 season. Sudfeld fit the profile of the developmental player. His strong relationship with Wentz and Foles preserved that chemistry and his inexpensive rookie contract making it tenable on the balance sheet.
It’s a different situation this year, and not just because Foles is in Jacksonville. Sudfeld was a restricted free agent and the Eagles gave him a second-round tender, which comes with a $3.095 million base. That’s nearly five times more than he made last season, and the investment illustrates the Eagles’ confidence in him.
Sudfeld will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2019 season. He has hopes of becoming an NFL starter, so the Eagles can’t necessarily plan on Sudfeld as a long-term backup. Plus, Sudfeld has only 25 career pass attempts in the regular season, so it’s not as if he’s a proven No. 2. (The Eagles were nonetheless confident enough to make Sudfeld the backup in the Super Bowl.)
Sudfeld’s presence likely complicated the Eagles’ ability to add an established veteran in free agency, because such players aren’t usually inclined to compete for the No. 2 job. But the Eagles could find that competition in the draft.
In 2012, Kafka appeared poised to be the backup after spending two seasons third on the depth chart, but Foles beat him out during the preseason.
“When you have that quarterback-in-waiting, so to speak, like Nate, who’s seen a lot of football the last couple of years, it’s a great opportunity for him,” Pederson said. “You can kind of go either way. You can go with the younger guy, you can kind of bring in a veteran free agent, but at the same time, I want Nate to compete for it and see where it’s at.”
The Eagles won’t be in the market for the top quarterbacks this year, such as Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, and Duke’s Daniel Jones. If they draft a quarterback, it will likely be on the third day.. Pederson said in March that the back of the draft is really good for quarterbacks.
“The ones I have seen, it is pretty healthy,” Pederson said. “Find a Day 2, maybe Day 3 guy that you bring in and develop and see what happens.”
The group includes North Dakota State’s Easton Stick, a close friend of Wentz’s who replaced him for the Bison; Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson, who is 6-foot-7 and 249 pounds with a big arm and good speed for the position; Vanderbilit’s Kyle Shurmur, who went to La Salle High and is the son of Giants head coach and former Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur; and Penn State’s Trace McSorley, who lacks ideal size but had considerable success for the Nittany Lions.
The Eagles could instead decide to sign an undrafted quarterback this year and draft a rookie passer next year, when they’re expected to be flush with picks and when Sudfeld might play elsewhere. It all depends on who’s on the board and whether the Eagles want to replenish other positions. What’s clear, though, is that the Eagles want to draft quarterbacks – and they’ll be studying the position closely each spring.
“We are always looking at quarterbacks,” Pederson said. “I think you have to continue to find those guys, develop quarterbacks, and prepare them.”