#ZMS8 Notes: Eagles 3 Quarterback Strategy

Last week, I released Episode #8 of The Zack Moore Show podcast and covered the Eagles 3 QB strategy after the trade for the #2 pick in the first round, which was actually something I’d brought up in my first draft of an Eagles chapter that I’m writing for Caponomics: Moneyball Thinking for the NFL. I see the Doug Pederson Era as an extension of the principles of the Andy Reid Era, which saw the Eagles make the NFC Championship five times in 14 seasons and average just better than 9-7 over the course of those seasons.


Like the Patriots, the Eagles strategy has always been boosted by having a quarterback who fits their system at a decent rate as McNabb cost them an average of 8.82% of the cap from 2002 through 2008 before an outlier in 2009 of 16.48%, which bumped the average to 9.78% in those eight seasons. Now in Kansas City, if Alex Smith stays as Reid’s QB on his contract that runs through 2018, he’s projected to average 9.08% of the cap from 2013 through 2018. With Smith under center, Reid has gotten the best quarterback play his West Coast system has ever had. No disrespect to McNabb, but the Chiefs have been over a 60% completion percentage and had single digits in interceptions thrown every year Reid’s has been there.

Smith had a completion percentage of 60.6% in 2013, but it was been 65.3% in both 2014 and 2015. The best year the Eagles had as a team in completion percentage was 2010 at 62.0% and the only year they had single digit interceptions was 2006, which was actually a season where Jeff Garcia started six games and went 5-1 leading them into the playoffs.

The overvaluation of the quarterback position is evident in that Brock Osweiler started seven games and his $18 million per year is 82% of what two-time MVP and Super Bowl champion Aaron Rodgers makes per year on his current contract. If the entire market is being overvalued because it’s the most important position on the field and you can acquire three for the cost of one top quarterback, then you should try to find yourself multiple options you’re comfortable with, so you have competition and do your best to ensure a decent performance out of the position. Currently, Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and Jared Goff/Carson Wentz will combine to consume about 14.30% of their 2016 salary cap, which isn’t cheap, but it is manageable due to their terrific Caponomics as they’re cap figures are close in line with the Super Bowl averages.

The Eagles understand that whoever wins the job will be their long-term starter, while the others can provide them with a back-up and trade value. When I saw Bradford’s $23.5 million cap hit in 2017, which would consume 14.20% of a projected salary cap of $165.5 million, I knew that was in place to hold his rights to trade him. Pederson is on record saying that he believes Daniel is a starting quarterback in the NFL back in February, so the organization knows they can rely on him as a bridge to the next quarterback or as their long-term quarterback if he earns the job.

The critical aspect of Daniel’s contract is that he’ll be under 5% of the cap through 2018, so he’s very low-cost, while the QB they take with the #2 pick will also be less than 5% of the cap. I know Bradford’s asking for a trade now, but the Eagles had the option to trade him built in through the guarantee structure like with the Demarco Murray, Byron Maxwell and Mark Sanchez contracts they just traded away and trading him would see his dead money go from $9.5 to $5.5 million in 2017. Seeing how reliant the Reid, now Pederson, West Coast system is on a quarterback with mobility, I knew that Bradford was never the long-term option here.

Bill Walsh’s West Coast system was built for Virgil Carter after his big-armed quarterback Greg Cook tore his rotator cuff at a time where the surgical solution for that injury had not been discovered yet. Walsh molded the system to Carter and then built off that with the main principles being accuracy, mobility and protecting the football. While Montana only had two seasons over 200 rushing yards, he did average 153 rushing yards per season from 1982 to 1990, so he had some mobility. The Reid and Pederson system could get by with Bradford under center, but for the long-term efficacy of the system, Bradford is not the solution here as it works best with a runner like McNabb or Smith who can provide them with, ideally, around 400 rushing yards per season. Smith has given them 431, 254, and 498 over the last three years and that 498 combined with a 65.3% completion percentage with a 20/7 touchdown-to-interception ratio makes him so incredibly valuable for this system. Daniel could certainly give them a serviceable performance to bridge to the next quarterback, but I think Wentz, considering his skill set is the best long-term option for the Eagles. In my opinion, I’m hopeful that Goff lands in Los Angeles and Wentz lands in Philly as I think that’s the better scenario for both players.

Tom Condon is Bradford’s agent, so I have to believe he has something lined up for Bradford to be asking for a trade at this point because when they signed that deal, they had to know Bradford wasn’t an ideal fit. I thought they would wait for Dak Prescott or someone else in the second or third round, but I love the move up to #2 considering they gave up five picks for two and have the trade value at quarterback to make up for some of those lost picks by trading Bradford or even Daniel in 2018 if Goff or Wentz take over in 2017, but Daniel proves he could contribute in limited action.

They’ve got options and value at the most important and expensive position in the NFL, it’s been a really masterful offseason for the Eagles. This episode focuses on the Eagles and touches on a few important salary cap management concepts, so without further ado, check out Episode #8 of The Zack Moore Show on iTunes and subscribe to The Zack Moore Show as well. If you don’t have iTunes, you can find the episode over on Soundcloud.

I had a great time on Kevin Cole’s Numbers Game Podcast in early April, so if you want to check that out, the link is here. You can follow him on Twitter, @cole_kev, and his writing can be found on RotoViz.com and Pro Football Focus.

Watch and follow along with the NFL Draft tomorrow night on Twitter by following me @ZackMooreNFL.

  • McGeorge

    Zach, I think the overvaluation of mid level and below QBs is because at the bottom, the starting QBs are terrible. Starting the bottom QBs (like a Mark Sanchez when he was with the Jets, or Geno Smith) is like turning an 8-8 team with an average QB into a 4-12 team. The terrible QBs cost 4 wins a year. So QBs like Bradford or Osweiler are over paid because the scarce resource (just average QBs) is in short supply.

    Is Bradford overpaid? Yes and No. Of course he’s not 82% as good as Aaron Rodgers. I’d pay up the extra 18% for Rodgers in a heart beat. But he’s worth it if the alternative is to start a scrub who will cost your team a few extra games.

    How much is it worth to a 8-8 team to not go 5-11? And it you have a good team, with an average QB, going 11-5, then adding a scrub QB can turn you into an 8-8 or 7-9 team.

    I think you are undervaluing the cost of Daniel’s 7MM salary cap hit. He’s the #3 (or #2) and that money (call it 6.5MM with another minimum salary player on the roster) could be enough to top the balance for a player the Eagles want to keep, like Fletcher Cox.
    “Hey Fletch, what if we add an extra 6.5MM to the signing bonus?”
    ” Done!”

  • Jason Wood

    I don’t think the Eagles’ offseason can be labeled as “masterful” quite yet. I think it depends largely on how they are able to handle the Bradford scenario. If they are able to trade him and get Bradford and/or the trading partner to reduce/take on the portion of the $11M signing bonus than sure call it masterful. They would be able to go into next season with Daniel as a solid bridge QB until Wentz is ready to start.

    I do not see good value in heading into the season with Bradford, Daniel, and Wentz taking up 14.3% of the cap. The money dedicated to Bradford or Daniel (namely Bradford) over this year and next would be much better used re-signing players like Fletcher Cox or adding a much needed starting caliber CB.

    Lastly, it isn’t a far fetched idea that this Bradford situation drags out and creates a media/locker-room disaster as he begrudgingly heads to camp after demanding a trade. So while I do love a lot of the moves the Eagles have been able to do this offseason, especially in regards to cap maneuvering, I think it is premature to call it a “masterful offseason”.