Roob's Observations: Marcus Mariota makes most sense for this huge reason
Roob's Observations: Mariota makes most sense for this huge reason originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The value of Marcus Mariota, understanding why the Eagles moved on from Miles Sanders and how the recent cornerback moves will affect Howie Roseman’s thinking in the draft.
As we navigate through free agency and with the draft just five weeks away, here’s our latest edition of Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations.
1. I love Marcus Mariota as Jalen Hurts’ backup, and what makes him a better fit than Gardner Minshew is his skill set. Mariota gives Nick Siriani and Brian Johnson the luxury of not having to tear up the playbook if he replaces Hurts for a series or a game or more. Mariota is a smart, solid, efficient, experienced quarterback. He had a decent year throwing the football for the Falcons last year – 15 TDs, 9 INTs , 88.2 passer rating – but what’s most important is that he can run and operate the RPO game at a high level. In fact, Mariota ran the second-most RPO plays in the NFL last year with 133 – only 15 fewer than Hurts (in two fewer starts). Mariota took off and ran twice as often as Hurts on RPOs (28 percent to 14 percent) and averaged the exact same number of yards per RPO play as Hurts (7.8). Mariota actually had a higher rushing average last year than Hurts (5.2 to 4.8). He’s not Hurts and he’s not close, but his skill set is a lot closer to Hurts’ skill set than Minshew was. The things Hurts is great at Mariota is pretty good at, and that’s huge.
2. Rashaad Penny is such a Howie Roseman type of move. Tremendous upside and literally no downside. Howie can’t lose. There’s no question Penny is talented. His 5.7 career rushing average is 4th-highest in NFL history among running backs with 200 carries. He’s an explosive, tough, big-play back with an unlimited ceiling. But injuries have limited him to 8 ½ games per season and just 337 carries over five pro seasons. That’s fewer than 70 carries per year. But what if he stays healthy? Roseman just brought the Eagles an elite running back at barely over minimum wage. If he doesn’t stay healthy? You’re out a paltry $600,000 with no future cap ramifications. Penny’s injuries have been all over the map: A knee strain and broken finger in 2018, hamstring and torn ACL in 2019, knee in 2020, calf and a hamstring in 2021, broken leg last year.Behind this offensive line, he may have a better chance to stay healthy than in Seattle because he shouldn’t get hit as much. And sharing time with some combination of Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott, Trey Sermon and possibly a draft pick, he can be an 8-to-10 carry-per-game type of guy and contribute without taking on an excessive workload that would increase his injury risk. Everything to gain, nothing to lose. HowieBall.
3. How explosive is Penny? He had 13 runs of 30 yards or more over the last five years, and only five players had more (Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Saquon Barkley, Dalvin Cook, Aaron Jones). Sixty-four backs had more carries during that span. Only five had more 30-yard runs.
4. Speaking of Mariota and Penny, in the span of three days, the Eagles signed two of only 15 players in NFL history to average 5.7 yards per carry (minimum of 300 carries). Mariota is tied for 9th in history at 5.8 and Penny is tied for 13th at 5.7.
5. I’ll bet analytics had a lot to do with the Eagles’ decision to move on from Miles Sanders before his market value was even established. Sanders is around that magic number of career carries – 795 including the postseason – where the analytics say a running back starts to decline. It doesn’t mean Sanders will start to decline, but it does mean that running backs with a certain amount of wear and tear generally do. Not always, but enough that some teams just won’t give a second contract to a starting running back. Not only do Penny, Gainwell, Scott and Sermon cost less than Sanders, they have a combined 743 career carries – fewer than Sanders. I really like Sanders, although his lack of production late in the season and in the Super Bowl was concerning. Running backs have such a limited shelf life, and it’s understandable if a team doesn’t want to make a long-term investment in a guy whose best days may be behind him.
6. There is no way the Bradberry contract, Slay restructure and Greedy Williams signing all of a sudden mean Roseman won’t take a corner early in the draft. Nothing changes. This is a strong cornerback draft, and if there’s a corner who’s available that the Eagles love, they won’t hesitate to snag him whether it’s at No. 10 or 30 or with a trade up or down. Bradberry will be 30 before the season starts, Slay is 32 and Williams has started nine games over the last three seasons. Think back to the 2002 draft. Bobby Taylor was 29 and Troy Vincent was 32 and both were at the top of their game. But the Eagles drafted Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, and it seemed like lunacy at the time but it sure worked out. Roseman won’t reach for a player at a position of need no matter how obvious the need, so he's no less likely to take a corner now than he was before these recent signings.
7. Crazy how the expected safety market never materialized. Jessie Bates got $16 million per year from the Falcons, but other than that? Vonn Bell, Juan Thornhill, Donovan Wilson, Jimmie Ward, Julian Love, Marcus Epps and Jordan Poyer all got free agency deals in the $6 million to $7 ½ million per year range. This had to take Chauncey Gardner-Johnson by surprise. Spotrac projected him getting a deal worth an annual average of $13.3 million per year, but obviously that’s not going to happen. If someone offered a deal north of $10 million per year, Gardner-Johnson would have taken it. There are fewer teams looking for safeties now than a few days ago, and as demand decreases, offers decrease. You only need one team – hard to imagine anybody other than the Falcons was prepared to pay Bates $16 million per year – but so far that team hasn’t shown up for Gardner-Johnson. And with each passing day, the odds increase that he'll be back with the Eagles at a number far lower than he expected.
8. How crazy is this: Jalen Hurts had 10 rushing first downs in the Super Bowl. That’s 2nd-most in Super Bowl history – Terrell Davis had 12 in Super Bowl XXXII vs. the Packers in San Diego after the 1997 season. It’s also the most by an Eagle – in any game – since LeSean McCoy had 12 vs. the Cowboys in his 185-yard game in 2011.
9. There are 30 active NFL players who’ve started at least 100 games for the same team and never played for another team. The Eagles are the only team with four of them – Jason Kelce (176), Fletcher Cox (167), Lane Johnson (127) and Brandon Graham (105). The only other team with three is the Cowboys with Tyron Smith (148), Zack Martin (137) and DeMarcus Lawrence (102).
10. With Mariota joining DeVonta Smith, this will be the first time two Heisman Trophy winners are on the Eagles’ active roster. The Eagles have had seven Heisman winners on the team over the years but never two at the same time. Their former Heisman winners are Davey O’Brien (1939-1940), Howard Cassady (1962), John Huarte (1968), Herschel Walker (1992-94), Ty Detmer (1996-97), Sam Bradford (2015), Smith (2021-22) and now Mariota. They did have Tim Tebow and Bradford in training camp together in 2015 (seven years after Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners beat Tebow’s Florida Gators in the 2008 BCS Championship Game in Miami), but Tebow was released after training camp.