HOUSTON – Apparently the Los Angeles Rams want their homecoming to be an ongoing media event. To make that unfold, they overpaid for the first pick in this week’s NFL Draft. LA gave Tennessee everything but the Queen Mary to own the rights to . . .
Well, they’re not sure.
Actually, they probably are, but they’re keeping mum, perhaps hoping the Philadelphia Eagles, with second choice in Thursday’s Draft, will want to play leapfrog a second time.
The Draft is, to mix some trite metaphors, a game of musical chairs. More teams looking for quarterbacks than capable quarterbacks looking for teams. You can’t say the same for any other position.
At first, Eagles general manager Howie Roseman was going to give Sam Bradford a season to play quarterback free of Chip Kelly. Which seems fair.
Then he gave Bradford a two-year contract extension with $22 million guaranteed. Which seems absurd, given that Bradford’s playing record is less discussed than his medical record.
Roseman, back in charge of the roster pursuant to Kelly’s demise, soon realized his error. Bradford on further inspection was not a Franchise Quarterback but the dreaded Bridge.
No cause for mourning. These were Jeffrey Lurie’s millions and he had plenty more. And Roseman saw recovery with the Draft that begins Thursday in Chicago.
The Cleveland Browns originally had that lofty second pick but were not so fond of it, as they usually screw these things up. So they sent it to Philadelphia, which in Tinseltown fashion went all-in for a Franchise Quarterback to bring a future Lombardi Trophy. The role model here is the New York Giants with Eli Manning.
The Eagles are coveting Carson Wentz, rated by most draft evaluators as best available quarterback. At 6-5, 237 pounds, he’s an inch taller, 20 pounds heavier and even a half-step faster than consensus second-best Jared Goff.
They seemed to think either would be an upgrade over Bradford, who needless to say, was not pleased by the vote of confidence. A team does not spend the second pick in the draft on someone who’s not expected to start.
It wasn’t just that the Eagles are promising a quarterback on the first round that irks Bradford, it’s that they signed as a free agent his presumed backup, Chase Daniel, to a contract guaranteed for three years at $12 million. Daniel was the backup QB at Kansas City the past three years, Doug Pederson, Philly’s new head coach, was offensive coordinator, which must make Bradford wonder what’s really the Bridge here.
So Bradford demanded to be traded, not appreciating all the giddiness over Wentz and Goff, who haven’t created much excitement on the football field. They didn’t lead the NCAA in passing or play in the National Championship Game, like Bradford did when he was in college on his way to being the No. 1 Pick. An undisputed No. 1.
There was no Heisman hype over Wentz and Goff. Two months ago they weren’t top five in anybody’s mock draft. But the longer they didn’t play, the better they looked.
As more teams realized how badly they needed a quarterback, Wentz and Goff equaled Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who went 1-2 in last year’s draft.
The Rams may think it matters little if their choice is Wentz, off the desolate frontier of North Dakota State, or Goff, from the big-time but oddly underachieving U of California. In LA, where entertainment is the economy, the Rams saw massive publicity with possession of that No. 1 pick, regardless of what comes out of it. There’s no such thing in LA as bad buzz.
The re-born Rams can live off the buzz; their honeymoon could last a year, even longer. But it would behoove them to get this thing right. I can tell you the Houston Texans are still suffering pain from making David Carr first pick in 2002.
Ramfan might be less accepting of Wentz failing than Goff, who has California roots (albeit, Northern California). The Eagles hope the Rams are biased for a favorite son and let Wentz slip to them. But the Rams know that if Goff throws five picks in a game, as he did vs. Utah, the most faithful fans will turn.
Draft guru Mike Mayock sees Wentz having “a ceiling as high as Andrew Luck’s.” Wentz was boosted by the Senior Bowl when he was “the best quarterback there by far.” And Mayock liked his Pro Day, the ease in which he mingled with college teammates who clearly admired him. Mayock was less impressed with Goff’s charisma.
As Draft Day nears, the quarterback hype intensifies. Now there’s Paxton Lynch, who’s another world of large, 6-7, 244, said to be as talented as Wentz/Goff but needing time to transition from the spread offense he ran at Memphis.
There was a time last fall, while everyone was playing, that Lynch was ranked as the top pro prospect. Now he’s scaling the draft boards anew, as scoutmasters see him as far superior to anyone who will follow.
“Until you find your quarterback,” Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff has said, “the search for him consumes you.”
All the Falcon eggs are already in one basket: Matt Ryan, No. 3 Overall in 2008. The Falcons earned that pick the right way, by being terrible.
They haven’t been all that great since, and Ryan is 30. He throws lovely spirals, but NFL Network’s audiotape has revealed him as a whisper-past-the-graveyard type of leader, not inspiring confidence. And nothing says leadership like fumbling the ball, which he did 12 times last season.
Still, Dimitroff insists Ryan is his Franchise QB, and he’s right that most teams have more quarterback worry than his. We still don’t know if Andy Dalton can show up in the playoffs. Or Carson Palmer. Or Luck, Winston and Mariota. Or the best rookie FQBs from 2014, Derek Carr (related only by blood to David Carr) and Teddy Bridgewater.
The Super Bowl champion Broncos determined Brock Osweiler to be not an FQB but an overpriced Bridge. So now Osweiler, with the slowest release this side of Guantanamo Bay, is Houston’s problem. Meanwhile the Broncos are considering moving up, tossing draft picks aside to catch the rising Lynch, who is the new Wentz.
Other quarterback-challenged teams — Jets, Dolphins, 49ers, Browns – can find strong arms in the mid-rounds, but some of them are carrying red flags. Dak Prescott got arrested for DUI. In the context of the Johnny Manziel reality show on TMZ, this is the worst of times for an alcohol mishap. Forget what I just said about bad buzz being impossible in LA.
Connor Cook can throw a ball over a mountain but might have trouble hitting it. And his Michigan State teammates didn’t like him. Jay Cutler with less accuracy. Lots of demand for that.
A better bet might be Ohio State’s Cardale Jones, rated first-round after the College Football Championship in the 2014 season. He stayed in school (ever so tenuously, blabs his coach, Urban Meyer), and his quarterbacking regressed slightly, perhaps because his offensive coordinator, Tom Herman, became head coach of the Houston Cougars.
Kevin Hogan of Stanford is more accurate (65% in 2014, 67% last year) than Wentz or Goff. But there’s so much concern over his faulty mechanics (Couldn’t David Shaw straighten him out?) that Hogan could be available in the third round.
Could Jones or Hogan or Someone be a Wilson or Brady or Romo blooming late? You can’t keep from thinking about it. Probably too much, if you’re an NFL general manager.
Alan Truex covered pro football for the Atlanta Journal and Houston Chronicle.