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Pondering The Next Steps At Quarterback

It seems fairly straightforward, and within that there are many complexities for the Eagles to consider: What happens next at the quarterback position for a franchise in search of stability and excellence?

As the Eagles settle in at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the quarterback question is the one that is looming larger than any other. The straightforward part of the equation is that there are very clear-cut options the Eagles can take, ones they are considering.

  • The Eagles can use the franchise or transition tag on 2015 starting quarterback Sam Bradford, virtually retaining his services for the 2016 campaign, unless another team signs him and the Eagles don't match.
  • The team can come to contract terms with Bradford between now and 4 p.m. on March 9, the time the NFL's new year begins and free agency starts.
  • Bradford can become an unrestricted free agent, test the market, and also negotiate with the Eagles.
  • Head coach Doug Pederson and the team can decide to let Bradford find a new team and can move in another direction and add to the quarterback room via free agency, the draft or a combination of both, or even a trade.

So it really comes down to those options, which seem fairly cut and dried. But they aren't, of course. There is a whole lot more to the equation than what appear to be pretty simple options. How much do the Eagles value Bradford? What is Bradford looking to accomplish with his next contract? How does the quality of quarterbacks in free agency and the draft contribute to the decision?

What in the world are the Eagles going to do at quarterback? In the immediate future, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Wednesday, the team will look to meet with Bradford's representative, Tom Condon (who heads the football division at Creative Arts Agency), in Indianapolis. The team has been nothing but positive about Bradford and his performance in 2015 and their desire to have him back. But it's also a two-sided deal.

Said Roseman from the Combine: "It's never productive to talk about an ongoing negotiation, but we've been pretty clear that we'd like to have Sam back. One of the great things about the Combine is that you get everyone together in one place and so when you have pending free agents you're able to talk to those agents face to face and eye to eye and eye people up."

"Sam is part of the Eagles' organization and what he's done in the last half of last year, I think, has given him that opportunity to stay in Philadelphia," Pederson said from the Combine. "Being a player in his shoes, you have to want to be somewhere and I think Sam wants to be in Philadelphia."

There is no way to read this, one way or the other. Does Bradford stay or does he go? The Eagles have kept their intentions very much to themselves, and not a peep has been heard from the Bradford camp. There has been a whole lot of hot air and conjecture and water-cooler conversation, but that's typical for this time of the year. The Eagles face the prospect of having two quarterbacks on the current roster under contract when free agency starts, as both Bradford and Thad Lewis are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on March 9, leaving only Mark Sanchez and recently signed McLeod Bethel-Thompson under contract.

Pederson and Roseman know this, of course. They've been talking about the quarterback position and considering the angles since Pederson was named the head coach. They know the landscape. And they no doubt understand the recent history of the position for the Eagles, which has neither been stable nor particularly prolific.

Donovan McNabb's run as the winningest quarterback in franchise history came to an end after the 2009 season when the Eagles traded him to Washington, ostensibly in order to turn the position over to Kevin Kolb, a second-round draft pick in 2007 who had shown in his 12 games from 2007-2009 that he had talent, touch on his passes, a good arm and an understanding of the team's offense.

Kolb, though, suffered a concussion in his first start of 2010, and Michael Vick rescued the position, and the season, leading the Eagles to an NFC East title in his Pro Bowl season. It was a marvelous return to grace for Vick and a resurgence for the Eagles offense, but it didn't last long.

Vick's giveaways increased in 2011 and 2012 and his injuries mounted and defenses figured out how to blitz him and take him out of his game. And by the time 2012 ended, the Eagles changed out the coaching staff and in came Chip Kelly who, for one shining moment -- the opening game of the 2013 season at Washington -- seemed to be the perfect match for Vick.

That, too, didn't last long, and along came Nick Foles. And in 2013 Foles had his historic 27-and-2 season and the Eagles won the NFC East and reached the postseason and it seemed like maybe this time ...

But, alas, no. No long-term success. No playoff victories -- none since 2008 -- and no stability at the game's most important position.

And now here we are, on the doorstep of one of the most important decisions in recent franchise history. The Eagles want long-term stability at quarterback, something they haven't had since McNabb's glory days of the 2000's. There are other needs for this football team and Pederson and Roseman are well aware of those areas of need, and they will be addressed throughout the course of the offseason. But quarterback is the biggie, the driver of the franchise and of the on-field success of the Eagles.

On this day, there are no answers. The speculation continues. The debate rages. And whether you are on the keep-Bradford side or whether you believe the Eagles need to find their solution in free agency, or in a trade, or in the draft, you know what's at stake: The goal is to win the Super Bowl, and to win the Super Bowl a team needs its answer at quarterback, and that is the most important piece of the puzzle for the Eagles in this offseason ahead.

"Obviously," Roseman said from Indianapolis, "you're not going anywhere without a quarterback."

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