“Let’s dispel that right now. I think that stuff’s crazy. You guys have been going with that stuff all along. I think Marcus is the best quarterback in the draft. We will never mortgage our future to go all the way up to get somebody like that, because we have too many other holes we have to take care of.”
It has been 50 days since Chip Kelly stood behind a podium and delivered the aforementioned quote. On the surface at the time, it was viewed as Kelly bowing out of Marcus Mariota sweepstakes and attempting to pour water on what he viewed as a media-induced fire.
The biggest change between then and now — the morning of the NFL Draft — is also the most obvious change — time.
On a Wednesday afternoon in March, Kelly wasn’t faced with a now-or-never franchise altering decision with the quarterback of his dreams dangling right before his eyes behind a forbidden fence. It’s easy to say something seven weeks before one actually has to decide on something.
None of this is to say Kelly is a liar. Rather, it’s to float the question ‘What’s his definition of mortgaging ‘the future’? And how might his definition deviate from the norm given the anything but normal circumstances?
NFL economics are fascinating in that they are often bound by certain unwritten but understood parameters. If a team hypothetically called the Indianapolis Colts right now and offered their next 25 first round picks for Andrew Luck, the Colts would do it in a heartbeat, but the Colts would never be presented with that scenario because no team would call with that type of proposal.
Head hurt? Yeah, mine too.
Kelly will not call the Tennessee Titans and offer 25 future first round picks for Mariota tomorrow night. I can guarantee that, but to guarantee anything else would be naive and ignorant to the way the Eagles czar operates and the power of human psychology that could be at work before him.
Mariota is Kelly’s Andrew Luck, his can’t-miss prospect. While he has never seriously compared the two young quarterbacks he has mentioned Mariota in the same breath as Peyton Manning, an even higher compliment.
For the past few weeks, I have looked for reasons to rule such an unrealistic reunion out. I got nowhere and instead ending up writing this, unable to dismiss the possibility. Folks who know much more about the inner-workings of the team have sought for the same roadblocks and kept on traveling.
Bargaining power is a valuable and envious asset, and in this particular situation, the Tennessee Titans have all of it right now. Or do they?
Based on Ken Wisenhunt’s coaching career, there is deductive reasoning to believe that the Titans have little interest in the Oregon quarterback. One of the most intense dynamics would be if the Titans in a game of chicken with the Eagles drive up the price so high that Kelly calls their bluff and folds. Would Tennessee actually invest a second overall pick in a quarterback it may not be fully sold on or would they select someone else and leave Mariota on the board where Kelly could jump back in and give up less?
More accurate of a bargaining power statement is to say that the Titans if they play it right have much of it, and Kelly has none.
Decision power, while much riskier of a principle, is even more powerful than bargaining power though. And decision power in this instance could theoretically belong to Kelly. And if decision power in this instance does theoretically belong to Kelly, it may not be a difficult decision at all.
Two words. One question: ‘What if’
It’s a phrase that can dominate our lives. We can ask it optimistically, pensively, and sometimes even regrettably, with the goal of avoiding the third scenario. Oftentimes it’s posed because the goal that follows the ‘what if’ is not attainable. That’s painful. Other times, it’s asked because the ‘what if’ was there for the taking, and one didn’t seize the opportunity. That’s much more painful.
What if Mariota is there to be had and all it takes is one more young player, perhaps one as talented as Fletcher Cox, one more future pick? Would Kelly be able to sleep at night knowing his star pupil, the player he molded into one of the top quarterbacks in college football was available and he didn’t go the distance to get him?
The ‘what if’ question can be all-encompassing. One is resigned to the notion that it will make future tasks more difficult. Avoiding major injuries, identifying underrated talent, and player development skyrocket from highly important to super essential with hardly any margin for error.
With the extra pressure though comes an unconventional way to land a franchise quarterback and turn league norms upside-down while progressing from good to great and legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
But what if it’s not worth it?
What if it is and Kelly never dares to find out?