Quarterback is the most important position in all of sports. Franchises live or die with their quarterback situation. We saw a great example with the Cowboys this season. When Tony Romo was healthy, Dallas got off to a 2-0 start. They went 2-12 the rest of the year, and one of those wins came in a game he started after coming back at midseason. Romo was 3-1 as a starter. The other quarterbacks went 1-11. It's incredible that one player made such a drastic difference. That's the importance of a good quarterback.
The Eagles are unsettled at quarterback right now. Sam Bradford is a free agent. The Eagles could use the franchise tag to secure his services for 2016. They could try to sign him to a long-term deal. They could let him walk and concentrate on finding a quarterback in the draft. No matter what they do, the Eagles need better quarterback play going forward.
Chip Kelly is a gifted offensive mind and knows how to create and call plays, but he hasn't done a good job of developing quarterbacks. Mark Sanchez didn't improve from 2014 to 2015. Matt Barkley never showed much progress. Nick Foles got worse from 2013 to 2014. Kelly knew how to design an offense. He knew how to call plays. He didn't seem to know how to develop quarterbacks.
Doug Pederson can be a big help in this area. Pederson, as a player and coach, spent time in systems that help quarterbacks grow and learn. Think about how different Brett Favre looked in 1992 and 1996 or Donovan McNabb in 1999 and 2004. The physical tools were always there, but not the nuances of the position. You develop quarterbacks by having them master the offense while also mastering the specific skills of their position. Put simply, a quarterback's job is to get the ball to the right guy at the right moment. It takes time to learn who the correct receiver is on a given play. It also takes time to perfect the timing of the offense. The mind and the body have to work in sync in the span of one to four seconds. You also have to do this with guys like Vinny Curry and Fletcher Cox coming at you full speed.
NFL Network and Eagles preseason analyst Mike Mayock released his list of the top five draft prospects at each position. Here are the quarterbacks ...
As the Eagles' quarterbacks coach in 2012, Pederson worked within Andy Reid's version of the West Coast offense. Pederson played in that, as well as Mike Holmgren's version. That all traces back to the system Bill Walsh designed and used while coaching in the 1970s and 1980s. Walsh's system worked with all kinds of quarterbacks and in all kinds of circumstances. It isn't foolproof, but it has been very successful.
Pederson will use his own version of this offense to try and develop the Eagles' quarterbacks. Don't think this just applies to rookies, either. The Chiefs traded for veteran Alex Smith back in 2013. Smith played well for Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman in 2011 and 2012, but Pederson had to teach Smith the Chiefs' offense. That was very different from what Smith had done with the Niners. Smith had the best three-year stretch of his career working under Pederson. Smith completed 64 percent of his passes and threw 61 touchdowns. The Chiefs won 31 regular season games and earned two playoff appearances.
If the Eagles bring back Bradford, Pederson will have to teach him the new offense. Bradford did work in the West Coast system under Pat Shurmur in St. Louis. While this would be similar, there would be some differences. Beyond just teaching X's and O's, Pederson would need to improve Bradford's overall performance. That could be mechanics or footwork or something like how he uses his eyes to influence the defense. Bradford played well down the stretch in 2015, but still can get a lot better.
No matter what happens with Bradford, it feels like the Eagles will add a quarterback somewhere in the draft. That could be with the 13th overall pick or someone in the middle rounds. Pederson will need to build that player from the ground up, just as he saw Reid do with McNabb.
There is no magic formula for finding and developing quarterbacks. Look around the NFC East. Eli Manning was the top pick in the draft. Tony Romo was undrafted and spent several years on the practice squad. Kirk Cousins was a fourth-round pick who didn't get the full-time job until his fourth season, and that was after a lot of ups and downs.
Executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman and the scouts have to find some talented players for Pederson to work with. Then it takes time to develop that talent. It used to take several years. The game of football is changing, though. Players now throw the ball in Pop Warner. They are accomplished passers in middle school and post insane numbers in high school. Quarterbacks are more ready to play than ever before. Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston did not look like typical rookie quarterbacks last year. Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr have played well pretty quickly.
Pederson has two huge challenges in front of him. Getting the Eagles back to winning is the first. Finding and developing a quarterback is the other one. If he can find the right quarterback, the first challenge won't be nearly as difficult.