A quick look at the NFL standings shows that, even with the Eagles 17-3 loss to the Cowboys and 3-4 record, if the season ended today, 13 teams would draft before Philadelphia in the first round of 2014: Tampa Bay (0-6), Jacksonville (0-7), NY Giants (1-6), Minnesota (1-5), Houston (2-5), Oakland (2-4), Washington (2-4), Pittsburgh (2-4), Atlanta (2-4), Tennessee (3-4), Buffalo (3-4), Arizona (3-4) and Cleveland (3-4).
Save for the Falcons, and (on principle) Bills, the commonality between these teams -- and not uncoincidentally, the driver of their ineptitude -- is their lack of a franchise quarterback. You can quibble over a few. Jake Locker looked good enough early on that the Titans may stick with him. (But would Mike Munchak's replacement if Munchak is fired?) New York has Eli, Pittsburgh has Roethlisberger. (But how often will the Giants and Steelers get to pick in the top 10?) Brian Hoyer did some nice things for a while there. (But then, this.) Terrelle Pryor? Mike Glennon? Cinderella story, anyone?!
But don't forget a few likely additions to the line.
St. Louis, somehow the owners of a 3-4 mark (and better point differential than the Eagles), own the Redskins' No. 1 thanks to the RG3 trade two years ago. It also just watched Sam Bradford's knee go boom, likely giving the Rams two top picks and a glaring need at the position. Chicago, only 4-3 and likely to be quarterbacked by Josh McCown for what should be "at least" four truly dreadful weeks, will at the end of the season have to decide whether to re-sign an oft-concussed and erratic Jay Cutler, now coming off a torn groin.
Point is, even the most conservative estimate has six of these teams in the market for a quarterback. Even if we go "married couples in separate twin beds" conservative, that still leaves something like four teams drafting quarterbacks.
Who's (possibly) available? (Asterisks indicate draft-eligible underclassmen.) Even the most casual college football fans know the names. Bridgewater. Mariota*. Hundley*. Manziel*. Boyd. Braxton*. Murray. Mettenberger. Morris. Logan. But do they know about their warts?
Teddy Bridgewater has faced only two ranked teams in 36 games. He also has a hideous release, dainty frame, iffy accuracy. Johnny Manziel's recklessness (on and off the field) and durability (hurt twice in each of the last two weeks? really?) justify comparisons to Mike Vick. Samesies with Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who while he seems to have a squeaky-clean character, at times can't help himself but to unleash his arm strength on receivers, some only five yards away. Same footwork problems, too. Boyd has had the following written about him, by ESPN Scouts Inc: "Has had problems keeping weight down in the past and dedication to conditioning needs to be investigated further." (Sounds familiar...) Aaron Murray's a gamer for Georgia despite his reputation for "coming up small" in big games, but he's, well, small -- 6'0, less than 200 pounds. Zack Mettenberger only flourished this year, under LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron -- in a sport where guys routinely shine without such advantages. (There was also this.) Logan Thomas, well, he hasn't done too well at Virginia Tech, ever, but boy, does he have a big arm!
IMO, the only guys I'd be comfortable drafting in the first round and anointing the face of the Eagles for the life of a four-year rookie deal are Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley. Both have elite physical abilities. Uncanny arm strength. Above-average accuracy. Remarkable escapability. Mariota fits Chip Kelly's scheme, obviously. Hundley has experience in a pro set. And, it should be noted, with a horrendous offensive line chock full of true freshmen. Which, with the way the Eagles O-line has looked this year, makes for a seamless fit.
(Feel free to debate in the comment box below.)
Problem is, they could be gone with the first two picks.
Even if we assume that the Eagles season goes straight to hell, that they win only three more games for the rest of the way (despite getting four gift-wrapped in the Giants, Vikings, Raiders and Cardinals) to finish with a 6-10 record, that's still, what? The eighth overall pick in next year's draft? 10th? And of the quarterback-thirsty teams above, how many out-lose the Eagles the rest of the way?
Even if Howie Roseman went Thomas Dmitroff and traded, basically, their entire draft to move up, how many teams would be willing to move down? In this class? With this many quarterbacks? And so many teams needing them? Would that even be in their best interests, given all of their holes on defense?
Where does that leave the Chip Kelly on Draft Day?
Maybe, without a franchise guy to take.
You'd like to say that the Eagles could just go defense -- maybe a corner like Florida's Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy or Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, safety like Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, nose tackle like Louis Nix III, linebacker like Alabama's C.J. or Buffalo's Khalil Mack, or, maybe, draft DeSean Jackson's eventual replacement in Clemson's Sammy Watkins -- and wait until 2015 for a QB.
But it's unfortunately not so easy. Here, the Eagles would be stuck between a series of rocks and hard places. Ownership may be able to be patient through one year of Kelly hype yet no results. Could they stomach two? Isn't the only way for Kelly to bide time landing a solid draft class? Does that class lift the Eagles enough that the problem repeats? Maybe the absolute worst-case scenario: they reach, elevating an unworthy talent how Jacksonville, Minnesota and Tennessee did in the Gabbert-Ponder-Locker 2010 Draft.
Then again, the best-case scenario sounds pretty good. They could take Roberson or Purifoy, the best physical talents among the three top corners, slide Bradley Fletcher to the No. 2 corner spot, with Brandon Boykin staying in the slot to, hopefully, transform the defense the way that Patrick Peterson and Joe Haden did singlehandedly for Arizona and Cleveland, and wait for a quarterback to slide into the second round, most likely Murray or Morris. (Who's stock may soon be on the rise, now that Miami is bowl eligible this season.)
Ultimately, while it sounds like a great way to get through what may be a tough season, don't delude yourself into thinking the Eagles are definitely getting a franchise quarterback next year. At least not in Round 1.