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Chip Kelly and the Marcus Mariota Long Game

Is Chip Kelly tempting other teams to draft Marcus Mariota too high?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The weird twist on drafting Marcus Mariota is that he clearly has more value to Philadelphia than any other team, because the coach knows him and the scheme fits him.

So why, in this period of bluffing and fakeouts right before the draft, is Chip talking Mariota up?  Ron Jaworski says 2 or 3 GMs have told him that Chip is saying that Marcus will hoist 2 or 3 Lombardi Trophies.  Now, assuming Chip still wants Mariota, why would he do that?

Here's a theory.  I'm just spitballing, but there's some historical precedent and it makes sense. Chip may be trying to manipulate Tampa Bay or Tennessee into drafting Mariota with the first or second pick. Why? Because with those teams' schemes and offensive lines, he will be a bust relative to the massive expectations such a high pick will create.  And the Eagles will be able to get him much cheaper via trade in 2 years.

I'm taking Chip at face value here when he says that it doesn't make sense to mortgage your future by giving up key players (Kendricks) or multiple first and second round draft picks for a prospect who might not pan out. If Mariota goes to the Rams at 10, or maybe even the Jets at 6, expectations will be relatively modest.  You might even let him sit behind Foles and learn for a bit.

But if Mariota is #1 or #2 he basically has to start immediately in a less than ideal system.  All of his well-noted deficiences for pro-style offenses play out.  Fans grumble, the GM or coach get fired, and the new guy is happy to unload Mariota for a single first rounder after the 2016 season.

The Eagles would then get Mariota after he has learned the NFL ropes for a while, after building the team through the draft for two more years, youthening the front line, and forming a solid WR corps. Or maybe Mariota doesn't work out after all, or gets injured.  In that case the Eagles haven't wasted multiple picks.

Think back to the Dion Jordan situation in 2013. Another hot prospect from Oregon, with widespread speculation that Chip would draft him at #4.  Miami traded up to get ahead of Chip with the third pick, and the Eagles got what they really needed -- a solid tackle with a big upside in Lane Johnson.

Jordan did not work out in the NFL, despite his pro body, and Miami took the hit. Now, reportedly, Miami is shopping him and the Eagles have no interest. It may be that they would have taken Jordan at #4, but I'm inclined to think that was a smokescreen designed to make sure they got a top offensive lineman.  Only 3 were available and they had pick #4, but they got what they needed without trading up.

Other teams are trying to use that fact that Mariota is worth more to Philadelphia as leverage against Chip, to extract maximum value from him for a QB who doesn't really work for their team anyway. But that imbalance works both ways.

It looks to me like Chip is throwing that right back at them, daring them to draft Marcus high.  Either his pressure works, making a later trade possible, or Chip's suspicious promotion of Mariota causes teams to get nervous and let him drop into a range where the Birds can afford to trade for him.

Either way, the Eagles win.

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