Losing out on Mariota taps brakes on Chip Kelly’s manic offseason
Philadelphia’s freewheeling head coach made a strong effort to reunite with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota by proposing deals to Tampa Bay and Tennessee for either the No. 1 or No. 2 overall selection. Kelly said he offered draft picks but denied media reports that quarterback Sam Bradford and other players were dangled.
Kelly could have thrown in a lifetime of cheesesteaks and the Liberty Bell. The Buccaneers and Titans simply weren’t going to budge unless presented a Herschel Walker-type blockbuster package.
Who could blame them?
In a league where franchise passers are sorely lacking, Tampa Bay and Tennessee weren’t in position to let the top two quarterback prospects slip away. Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota were off the board before Thursday night’s draft was even 20 minutes old.
Whether either player will hit projected heights is anyone’s guess. The draft landscape is littered with promising prospects who never panned out for various reasons. Many of them couldn’t overcome the circumstances inherent in being chosen by a bad team.
To that end, Tampa Bay and Tennessee were the league’s worst in 2014 with only two wins apiece.
If it weren’t for off-field concerns, the Buccaneers might have finalized the Winston selection weeks ago a la Indianapolis and Andrew Luck in 2012 rather than keeping everyone in suspense. Winston is considered the draft’s most “NFL-ready” rookie QB because he flourished in a pro-style system while with the Seminoles. But a checkered past that includes a civil lawsuit filed against him on a rape allegation and a shoplifting citation involving crab legs prompted Bucs brass to interview roughly 75 people as part of a background check.
“Thank you for accepting me as your quarterback,” Winston said from his draft party in Birmingham, Ala. “I look forward to getting in there with the guys, earning a spot, competing my tail off and bringing us some wins.”
It was always considered a longshot for the Eagles to leap 19 spots in a trade with Tampa Bay. The Titans seemed like a more feasible possibility because there wasn’t nearly as much love being shown publicly by Tennessee’s braintrust toward Mariota as the Bucs had showered on Winston. Mariota also isn’t the kind of traditional drop-back quarterback like Kurt Warner or Philip Rivers who Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt has flourished with in the past. Bradford would have fit that bill.
Whisenhunt instead feels better about adjusting his offense to take advantage of the skillset that allowed Mariota to win more games (36) than any quarterback in Oregon history. The process starts immediately. Whisenhunt already has declared Mariota as his starter.
Don’t expect the Titans to turn back, either. General manager Ruston Webster said Thursday night that Mariota will not be available via trade.
As for the Eagles, Kelly has said all the right things about Bradford being a good fit for his up-tempo offense. Even though knee injuries have kept him from playing for the past 1 1/2 seasons, Bradford will enter training camp as the favorite to start ahead of Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley and — yup — Tim Tebow.
Maybe this is the mix that can get Kelly over the top after two years of 10-win seasons with no playoff victories. But if Kelly was truly sold that there was a definite long-term answer at the position on his roster, he wouldn’t have been so willing to sacrifice so much for Mariota.