With the No. 6 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select…
Perhaps LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase, as CBS Sports projects.
Or maybe Alabama wideout DeVonta Smith, as pegged in USA Today’s mock draft.
Might it be a defensive player, like Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, as SB Nation has it?
The Eagles have a lot of options, as only five players will be off the board when their turn to pick comes around. Good for them. Philadelphia was well aware of the system under which the draft order is in reverse order of regular season record, and in deep danger of winning against the Football Team on Sunday night, they did the logical thing, benched Jalen Hurts, and put Nate Sudfeld in at quarterback to ensure there was no chance they’d lose that No. 6 pick.
A lot of people were angry about this, led by the Giants, who would have won the NFC East at 6-10 had the Eagles beaten Washington. They’re right, it sucks that the Eagles had a chance to win and willfully pissed it away in front of everyone. It also sucks that we don’t have the chance to see Tom Brady get knocked out of the playoffs by a 6-10 Giants team this weekend, because that would’ve been amazing.
Ultimately, the Giants are mad for the same reason the Dolphins are mad as they pack their bags for the offseason: they didn’t get help in the last game of the season from a crap team — in Miami’s case, a win by the Jaguars, who already had the No. 1 pick locked up, would have put them in the playoffs. At a certain point, yeah, you should’ve taken care of your own business on the field and not left it up to rooting for the Eagles or Jaguars to open a back door for you.
Aside from the Giants, the main outrage at the Eagles is from the “sanctity of the game” crowd, not only from those who believe that Philadelphia owed it to the league to be competitive on national television and make things interesting for that last playoff spot, but from the general standpoint that, if you’re out there on the field, you ought to be trying to win.
The only thing the Eagles did wrong was playing Hurts in the first place and not “seeing what they had” with Sudfeld for a full four quarters. The Eagles don’t owe anything to anybody but themselves, and what was best for the Eagles on Sunday night was to lose. By playing Hurts for as long as they did, they nearly blew it.
It sucks for the players, who are never going to try to lose, but it’s in the best interest of any team that isn’t in playoff contention to lose as much as possible and advance their draft position. It’s just that, usually, this kind of thing doesn’t happen with teams that had playoff aspirations like the Eagles did. It’s generally more like the Jaguars and Jets mailing in their entire seasons. But losing on Sunday was absolutely what was best for Philadelphia, and neither Doug Pederson, Sudfeld, nor anyone else with the Eagles should be the subject of scorn for doing the best thing for the organization.
The problem is the system that rewards failure. ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap talked in December about how the Jets didn’t deserve Trevor Lawrence. Chris Mortensen, two weeks later, said the Jaguars should be stripped of the No. 1 pick because of a tweet from June.
How about, instead of the Jets, the Jaguars, or anyone else being awarded the rights to a franchise quarterback because they farted through a whole season, Lawrence got to choose where he went? Why should the Eagles be rewarded with the exclusive opportunity to select Chase, Smith, or Parsons, just because Sudfeld sucks?
The NFL has a salary cap, so it’s not like teams could go out and just shower money on whatever college kids they wanted to add. The NFL doesn’t have a farm system, so it’s not like teams could go out and stockpile quarterbacks, stashing them in the minors until they’re ready to play. The NFL just has a system in which the very worst teams are afforded the best chance to upgrade their rosters with players who have no choice in the matter, except in very rare cases like Eli Manning or John Elway forcing their way out via trade.
There are ideas that can discourage tanking, like a draft lottery, or a system under which picks are ordered by which teams win the most games after being eliminated from playoff contention, in order to give those teams something to play for. But those ideas still center around a draft, and it’s the draft that’s the problem.
If the Eagles want Chase, Smith, or Parsons, they should have to convince those guys to come to Philadelphia and sell them on the team’s plans and ability to pay them. Maybe Chase would prefer to reunite with Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, even if that means less money. That would be his choice.
Doing away with the draft wouldn’t be the end of tanking for a full season. You’d just see a team like the Jaguars clear out as much salary cap space as it possibly could, put a bare-bones lineup on the field, and try to rebuild with rookies the following spring — not all that different from what they’re actually doing. But there wouldn’t be an incentive for the Eagles, in a game they had every chance to win, to spit on it and disgrace everyone involved with the Sudfeld subterfuge.
Of course, they’ll never get rid of the draft, both because treating football players like actual human beings with agency over their own futures is antithetical to the NFL’s very existence, and also because the draft is a three-day television event with an entire cottage industry based around it. This ignores that the same cottage industry could transition to something akin to the way college recruiting is covered, and that the draft TV programming could be replaced with a full week of wall-to-wall coverage of rumors, speculation, signings, and knock-on effects like where Dak Prescott would wind up after the Cowboys signed Lawrence for an obscene sum of money. It’s up to the NFL to someday overcome that failure of imagination.
For now, though, the Eagles did nothing wrong. It’s the system that’s broken.