At its core, the NFL Draft is about one thing: teams selecting players to help improve the teams that draft them.
Unlike a sport like basketball, the contributions a player can give will vary based on position. Most of the conversation about positional value is academic - is a wide receiver more valuable than a right tackle? Is safety more important than center? - but when it comes to building an NFL roster, one rule supersedes all others:
Without a great quarterback, you have nothing. Until you have that quarterback, search for him.
Since the end of the 2014 season, this axiom has been repeated so often in Philadelphia that it's morphed into various mantras: Get Your Guy. Whatever It Takes. Make The Deal.
It's a day before the draft, so I don't have to tell you that all of this circles back to Marcus Mariota. After all, to Chip Kelly he's the Peyton Manning of the Spread; to many fans he's the savior of choice in a city looking for its next franchise signal-caller. On Thursday night, Chip Kelly and the Eagles will have the chance to bring this player to Philly.
If Chip wants Mariota in Philadelphia, he'd be wise to not let anything - not draft picks, not players - stand in his way.
As it stands now, the arithmetic for moving up and selecting Mariota is fairly straightforward. Assuming FSU's Jameis Winston goes first overall to the Buccaneers, the first spot for a trade would be second overall, a pick held by the Tennessee Titans. This is the spot long speculated to be the spot at which Mariota is drafted, be it by the TItans or another team.
Throughout the offseason Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt has shown signs of being interested in Mariota, but recent reports suggest the team is willing to make a trade. With other teams reportedly interested in moving up, the Eagles will have the most difficult time trading up to number two.
That's where trading players comes in. That's also where the pain of losing players comes in.
As of Thursday afternoon, the Cleveland Browns reportedly offered their two first round picks, numbers 12 and 19, for the second overall selection. This is likely not enough to get a deal done, which shows two things. First, it demonstrates that value of a high, high draft pick. It also shows that this is a reported seller's market, and that it's going to take more than some picks to get a deal done.
The Eagles, owners of the 20th pick, don't have the kind of draft pick ammo that would wow a team at the top. What they do have is good players who are largely expendable.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin has been impressive, but clearly isn't going to be given a real chance to start. Vinny Curry is a lifelong Eagles fan, but is no longer a scheme fit. All signs point to Chip being out on linebacker Mychal Kendricks. Many observers feel that some (or all) of these guys could be gone by Saturday afternoon. But the one player whose future divides the most fans is defensive end Fletcher Cox.
Make no mistake - Cox is a beast. He's shown Pro Bowl and All-Pro potential at a young age. He's scheme versatile and cheap. Any team would be lucky to have him, but he belongs to the Eagles. Among all 3-4 DEs, Pro Football Focus ranks Cox as the fifth-best, and with another solid season, it wouldn't be out of the question to imagine him even higher on that list next year. So if you're the Titans, you know this, and you're absolutely asking for him in a trade. And if you're Chip, you should give him up.
Here's the list of PFF's best 3-4 DEs. Outside of their obvious talents, notice anything else that sticks out?
Last year, one of these players' teams, Campbell's Cardinals, made it to the postseason. In that game, Cardinals' backup quarterback Ryan Lindley went 16-of-28 for a whopping 82 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. None of the four teams has stable quarterback play, and none of them had a starter play all 16 games. Perhaps not surprisingly, per PFF, all four of these DE's teams were in the bottom half of team passing performances.
To contrast, all eight of the quarterbacks who made it to last year's Divisional Round of the playoffs were ranked among PFF's top 15 quarterbacks. And if their advanced stats aren't your thing, consider that seven of those eight quarterbacks finished with a QB rating of at least 90 (Cam Newton missed the cut with an 82.2 rating). To contrast, Foles finished the season with a rating of 81.5; Sanchez's was better at 88.3.
So with these numbers in mind, I'll ask - would you rather have the stud defensive end, or the potentially great quarterback?
All of these numbers aren't to suggest that the Eagles should spend wildly. After all, there needs to be a team left to surround a hypothetical rookie quarterback. But quarterback is the most important position on any team, and until that guy is in the locker room, the pursuit will continue.
We're in the final moments of the great suffocating smokescreen that is the pre-draft process, and the panicked reports and rumors flying around reflect that. But if Chip Kelly and the front office really want to come away from the draft having made meaningful change to the roster, they should recognize that no one on the team - not the stud defensive end, not anyone - are worth missing out on a potentially great franchise quarterback.