clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Marcus Mariota Multiverses of Madness

What could and could not have been

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

In 1961 mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz re-ran a weather simulation and because of a difference in rounding, unknowingly made a fractional change in one variable when entering in the data. The seemingly marginal change drastically changed the results of a simulation of two months of weather. And thus, the Butterfly Effect was born after the simulation caused Lorenz to theorize that a butterfly’s wings could be the first domino in a stack of changes that could create or stop a tornado.

One small change can have massive consequences down the line. In sports, that change can completely rewrite legacies and league history. What if the Colts drafted Ryan Leaf instead of Payton Manning, leaving Manning for the Chargers? Not only do the destinies of those two franchises change, but with Manning on the team the Chargers don’t draft Drew Brees a few years later, meaning someone else does. Maybe that’s the Colts! On another team maybe Brees never leaves for New Orleans, which completely changes Super Bowl 44, where the Drew Brees Saints beat the Peyton Manning Colts. Before that, the Peyton Manning Chargers wouldn’t be in position or need to draft and trade Eli Manning for Philip Rivers. So instead Eli Manning gets drafted directly by the Giants, while Philip Rivers is taken by the Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger by the Bills, who took JP Losman at 22 that year, or maybe the Steelers still draft Roethlisberger and Rivers falls to the Bills. And on and on.

Pulling just one thread can completely remake the tapestry of a franchise, and the league.

The signing of Marcus Mariota in 2023 is a reminder of what could have been and not been for the Eagles in 2015 and on.

What if the Eagles were actually able to trade up in the 2015 draft and select Mariota as Chip Kelly wanted to? Let us enter the Marcus Mariota Multiverses of Madness.

The Chip Kelly is fired in 2016 multiverse

The dud that was the Eagles 2015 season cost Kelly his job before it was over. In a world with Marcus Mariota and not Sam Bradford as the starting QB, Kelly may have gotten another year.

At the very least the start to the Eagles 2015 seasons could have been better. In his first three games Sam Bradford threw for 3 TDs, 4 INTs, 5.8 yards per attempt, for a passer rating of 72.5. The Eagles went 1-2, losing 26-24 to the Falcons and 20-10 to the Cowboys, the latter featuring a trademark Sam Bradford touchdown down 13 with less than two minutes to go. In just two games the season was already on life support.

Mariota meanwhile exploded onto the scene with a 4 TD 0 INT debut, and over his first three games he threw for 8 TDs, 2 INTs, 8.7 yards per attempt and a 110.3 rating. It’s not hard to see the season opening two point loss to the Falcons turn into a victory with a more efficient QB at the helm, and the tone of the start of the season is totally different.

Tactically, Kelly’s offense became completely stagnant in 2015, restrained in part by the limitations of his QB. A QB who was a threat to run and could execute his read options could easily have opened the playbook, at least for the beginning of the season until defenses adjusted. Hindsight tells us Mariota was not a success story, but he was also not a total bust. Lurie gives Kelly another year after a disappointing 8-8 season, staying consistent with how Andy Reid got another shot after his.

We know what will happen next. The 2016 Chip Kelly led Eagles will be another miserable season that eventually gets him fired. The league had totally figured out his offense by then, with the 49ers in 2016 Kelly’s only wins came against Jeff Fisher.

In this alternate universe, Kelly is fired during or after the 2016 season, and Howie Roseman regains control. Things don’t quite go so well for him or the Eagles in the alternative universes that spin off of that.

Doug Pederson doesn’t get hired

To replace Chip Kelly in 2016, the Eagles initially wanted then-Giants OC Ben McAdoo to replace him. Fortunately for the Eagles that forced the Giants hand, and the Eagles had to settle for Doug Pederson.

A year’s delay wouldn’t dramatically change their preferred hiring philosophy of a young offensive coach. Which puts two other OCs from the division in play who got head coaching jobs that year: then-Washington OC Sean McVay and former Washington OC Kyle Shanahan.

Would either have taken the Eagles job? Despite Chip Kelly’s misguided moves, the Eagles had a better roster than the Rams or 49ers, though that gap would have been smaller had Kelly stuck around another season. Kelly, who discarded DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin, would have made other changes in 2016. However both those coaches have had significant say in roster moves, which the Eagles were not going to have happen for Kelly’s replacement.

The Eagles pay for some Coupons…

At the end of the 2017 season, Mariota would have completed his third season, and the Eagles would have to make a decision on his fifth year option. Hard to see Howie Roseman wanting to pick it up, when he regained control of the team in 2016 he immediately went to work stripping out the most Chip Kelly parts of the team.

We’ll go over potential early draft options later, but if Kelly’s replacement was McVay or Shanahan, they probably would have preferred a veteran QB. In real life they both moved off the QB they inherited for a veteran: Shanahan and Jimmy Garappolo, McVay and Matthew Stafford.

In 2018 there was a QB who changed teams that both McVay and Shanahan had coached and who would one day reunite with a third coach he worked with:

Kirk Cousins.

…and/or draft a QB in 2020

As unlikely as it would be, perhaps Eagles do pick up the 5th year option, as the Titans did, and then hit 2020 looking to start over. In this alternate universe, they enter the 2020 offseason without a starting QB, not far removed from how they entered the 2021 offseason, when they didn’t intend to trade Carson Wentz.

Would they trade up to 2, 3, or 4 and draft a QB? If so, the options are Tua Tagovailoa or, from Oregon, Justin Herbert.

Or perhaps they sign a stop gap free agent in case they can’t. They did re-sign Sam Bradford before drafting Carson Wentz. That year Philip Rivers, Teddy Bridgewater, and Jameis Winston changed teams. Then in the 2nd round the Eagles select… Jalen Hurts. It’s also possible that even with Kirk Cousins under contract they draft Hurts, in 2021 in the 3rd round the Vikings drafted Kellen Mond. And hey, if Nick Foles can return to be a backup, maybe Marcus Mariota does too.

Time is a flat circle.

The Chip Kelly is fired in 2015 multiverse

After those first three games Bradford and Mariota would perform at roughly the same level of efficiency, so it would be easy to assume that in this alternate universe the rest of the season goes the same way: poorly. As noted earlier, Kelly’s offense became entirely predictable, restrained in part by pacing limitations in the NFL. Marcus Mariota doesn’t change that.

Nor would he likely change their closest losses after the season opener, to Miami by 1, and Washington by 3. In both games Bradford played well. Against Miami he completed 76% of his passes for 9.4 yards per attempt, against Washington he threw for 3 TDs. It would be asking a lot of rookie Mariota to play much better in those games, and the rest of the Eagles losses that year were by double digits.

Is having his college QB and an 8 win season enough to save Kelly’s job? I don’t think it is. Kelly was fired after losing to Washington 38-24 in Week 16, which eliminated the Eagles from the playoffs, and would have if the Eagles started off the season with a win and nothing else changed. The team was clearly a major disappointment, and Kelly was fired not only for the play on the field but because Jeffrey Lurie had had it with Kelly’s crap off of it. Andy Reid had much more clout when he got a reprieve from his self induced 8 win disaster season in 2011 and it failed miserably, that had to have been a factor in the decision to move on so fast with Kelly. One more win that changes nothing in the outcome of the 2015 season wouldn’t and shouldn’t have changed Lurie’s mind.

The Eagles trade up for a QB in 2018

As said above, in the 2018 offseason it was decision time on Mariota. With Doug Pederson at HC, the 2018 draft offers a big, mobile, strong armed, small school QB that has some similarities to Carson Wentz: Josh Allen.

Or maybe Doug isn’t around for it and they outbid the Jets to move up and draft Sam Darnold? Ouch.

Doug Pederson is one and done

It almost happened.

It wouldn’t have made sense at the time and in hindsight been a massive, massive mistake. But if Doug Pederson’s job was under that much uncertainty after one year with Carson Wentz, then it could easily happen with Marcus Mariota. His replacement? Maybe the guy who almost replaced him in 2021.

Eagles hire Josh McDaniels (and he doesn’t back out)

If the Eagles were highly interested in McDaniels in 2021 after he had ditched the Colts in 2018, why wouldn’t they be highly interested in 2017?

The it doesn’t matter when Kelly was fired multiverse

Whatever the outcome of the head coach would have been, the next results are still the same...

The Eagles don’t draft Carson Wentz

This is straightforward, having just traded up to take a QB 2nd overall in 2015 they weren’t going to do the same thing again in 2016, and even if they wanted to they wouldn’t have had the draft picks to make it happen.

Which leads us to…

The Eagles don’t win Super Bowl 52

Like Wentz, Mariota’s second season was his best. But unlike Wentz, he didn’t play at an MVP-caliber level. Even if he somehow did, the 2016 Eagles didn’t have the talent around him to win the Lombardi. While the 2017 team obviously did, Mariota wasn’t good enough to help the team to the best record in the league and set the table for a Super Bowl run.

Without the Eagles winning the Super Bowl in 2017, two significant ways the league operates now might not have happened, or at least been delayed.

The league’s rush to draft QBs as early as possible may not be so severe, or happen at all

In the five drafts before the Rams traded up for Jared Goff and the Eagles traded up for Carson Wentz in 2016, there were only 4 times where a team traded up to draft a QB, and just 2 of them were in the top half of the round. In 2013 the first QB drafted was done so by a team trading down.

2016 changed that. The Rams traded two 1sts, two 2nds, and two 3rds to move from 15th overall to 1st. The Eagles then executed a pair of trades to move from 13th to 8th to 2nd, giving up two 1sts, a 2nd, a 3rd, 4th, and two starters. This would become the norm. In 2017 alone there were 3 QBs traded up for, all in the top 12. In 2018 five 1st QBs were drafted, four of whom were traded up for, including the 3rd, 7th and 10th picks. In 2019 three went in the first 15 picks. In 2020 three went in the first 6, in 2021 the first three picks were QBs, with another traded up for with the 11th. And this year we already have our first trade up for a QB with the draft over a month away.

In the new CBA that capped rookie contracts, 3+ QBs going in the top wasn’t anything new (2011, 2012) nor was a big trade for a QB (RGIII), but the volume of both exploded after Goff and Wentz. If the Eagles had Mariota they obviously aren’t trading up, and if they’re not then are the Rams under pressure to move up to 1st overall to get Goff? If so, then does the league’s overnight rush to trade up for QBs ever happen?

The league is still in the dark on 4th downs

The Eagles and Doug Pederson took everyone out of the dark ages of fourth down attempts. In 2016 and 2017 there were 479 and 485 total 4th down attempts, in 2018 there were 539, in 2019 595, and in 2020 there were 658. Doug Pederson changed the league with the Philly Special. That doesn’t happen if he’s going 9-7 with Marcus Mariota, or if the Eagles have a different coach altogether.

Non-Eagles what ifs

The ripple effects easily spread out along the league. A few open ended questions:

Who drafts Wentz if the Eagles aren’t? Possibly the Broncos, who traded their up to 26 with the Seahawks to draft Paxton Lynch. Or possibly the Cowboys, who were apparently very high on Wentz and made their own offer to the Seahawks to take Lynch.

Who do the Colts hire in 2018 after Josh McDaniels gets cold feet?

Who is the starting QB for the Colts in 2021? For the Commanders in 2022?

All those branches off of one potential trade. A big thank you to the Tennessee Titans for not trading with the Eagles in 2015.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bleeding Green Nation Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Philadelphia Eagles news from Bleeding Green Nation