Eagles should keep Foles, forget Mariota

Eagles should keep Foles, forget Mariota

William C. Kashatus
Main Line Times
Tuesday, March 3, 2015

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles are planning to make a strong push for Heisman quarterback Marcus Mariota when the NFL draft comes around in April.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, who now controls player personnel, recruited and coached Mariota at the University of Oregon in 2012. Although NFL experts predict that the Heisman trophy winner will be selected by another team early in the first round before the Birds have a chance to draft him with the 20th pick, don’t count on it.

Kelly would love to draft Mariota. He’s a running quarterback more familiar with his “hurry-up” offense than the Birds’ current starter, Nick Foles. But to replace Foles with a rookie quarterback would be a serious mistake.

To be sure, Foles is on shaky ground. Over two seasons, he’s had a mixed performance. In 2013, Foles appeared to be the heir apparent to former starter Michael Vick. When Vick was injured, the young Texan quarterbacked the Eagles to a 6-3 record leading the team to their first playoff berth since 2010.

In the process, he completed 27 touchdown passes with only 2 interceptions for the best TD-INT ratio in NFL history. The impressive performance earned him Pro Bowl status, and he went on to win the Offensive Most Valuable Player award in the postseason classic.

Last season was a different story, though. Before he suffered a season-ending injury, Foles completed 59.8 percent of his passes for 2,163 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Granted, it’s difficult to place much confidence in a starting quarterback like that. It’s probably why Kelly said he will “evaluate Foles in the offseason based on his existing body of work and then decide his future.”

That’s hardly a vote of confidence, and it opened the door for speculation that Kelly was going to explore the draft for a replacement.

Since then, Mariota has captured the attention of Eagles fans and the local media. It’s assumed that he will flourish under Kelly and give the Eagles the franchise quarterback they’ve lacked since trading Donovan McNabb after the 2009 season. And the possibility exists that the Eagles will trade future draft picks or a current player like Foles or Shady McCoy to get him.

It’s a bad decision to sign Mariota.

A Heisman quarterback does not necessarily translate into a successful NFL quarterback. Among the biggest busts are: Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns), Tim Tebow (Denver Broncos), Troy Smith (Baltimore Ravens), Matt Leinart (Houston Texans), and Chris Weinke (Carolina Panthers).

Besides, Mariota might be an expert in running Kelly’s “hurry-up offense,” but that offense doesn’t transfer well into the NFL where the defensive schemes are more complicated than in college.

At best, Mariota will need a season or two of grooming before he’s ready to start; at worst, he will be a bust, and Kelly’s credibility – and tenure in Philadelphia – will have ended. In either case, Mariota will set the team back in terms of competing for a Super Bowl as veteran players age.

Building the Eagles’ future around Foles is a better bet.

Despite all the adversity he suffered last season, the Eagles were perched atop their division with a 6-2 record when Foles broke his collarbone. That is a very telling fact.

Great quarterbacks find ways to win. Look at Tom Brady (New England Patriots), Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos), and Aaron Rogers (Green Bay Packers). All of them are considered elite NFL quarterbacks.

Like them, Foles is a pocket-passer with a strong throwing arm and an exceptional ability to read opposing defenses quickly. He can connect with receivers deep into offensive territory and in the red zone. That’s the kind of quarterback who will lead his team to a Super Bowl.

Instead of drafting a quarterback, Kelly must focus on improving the Eagles’ poor pass defense, achieving more depth on the offensive line and at the linebacker position, and significantly reducing the appalling number of turnovers and penalties the Birds committed this season.

Until those glaring needs are met, the Eagles will not be a playoff team, let alone a Super Bowl contender.