It seems inevitable that at least one NFL team ends up falling under the intoxicating influence of the “Scott Mitchell Effect.”
You remember Mitchell, don’t you? He spent three years as a backup to Dan Marino in Miami. In 1993, after Marino suffered a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon, Mitchell took over and performed well enough to become a red-hot commodity on the 1994 free-agent market. The Lions scooped him up for a handsome price, but with the exception of the 1995 season, Mitchell failed to give them — in slightly more than four seasons as a starter — what they thought they saw during his spectacular seven-game stretch with the Dolphins.
Cautionary tale? Not for league talent evaluators.
Teams continue to be mesmerized by what backup quarterbacks do elsewhere and pounce on the chance to make them their starters. Although they surely attempt to incorporate sound football judgment in their thinking, they too often develop an opinion inflated by desperation and the fear of risking a high draft pick on a quarterback who won’t be ready to make an immediate impact — if he makes one at all.
You can’t help but wonder, then, whether the very same thing is happening as clubs ponder the possibility of making a trade with the Eagles for Kevin Kolb.
At present, there is no trading in the NFL and won’t be until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place or some sort of court-imposed rules force the resumption of trades, free-agent signings and other suspended league business.
Nevertheless, Kolb’s status is worth discussing because it definitely is on the radar of multiple teams that, regardless of the current labor uncertainty, still have quarterback issues to address and are considering their options.
The Eagles, of course, have committed to Michael Vick as their starter. Andy Reid has publicly insisted he is also committed to hanging onto Kolb, but reality suggests that he could easily change his mind in the coming weeks or months.
There simply are too many teams desperate for a quarterback — enough, seemingly, for one to be willing to part with at least a first-round pick for a player it feels has the goods to provide an instant upgrade. Given the thin market of available quarterbacks with experience, as well as the many questions swirling around the quality of this year’s draft class, and the price tag for Kolb just might swell to two premium choices. Reid and the rest of the Eagles’ brain trust couldn’t help but take a long look at such an offer, especially with the knowledge that Kolb could leave for no compensation when he becomes a free agent after the 2011 season.
The question is would they view a team prepared to make that deal the way the seller of a used car might look at someone ready to overspend on a clunker?
Here are some sobering facts that teams should consider before allowing desperation and fear to skew their perception of Kolb: He has made only seven career starts, during which he has thrown 10 touchdown passes and been intercepted nine times while posting a passer rating of 81.8. In his last two starts, his passer ratings were 56.9 and 37.0, respectively. Those numbers shouldn’t justify two high draft picks.
But they just might.
When the Eagles used a second-round pick to pluck Kolb from the University of Houston in 2007, they weren’t the only NFL team that viewed him as a high-quality prospect. The rest of the league also took notice that not only was he was being mentored by two top-flight quarterback coaches — Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg — but that the Eagles felt good enough about Kolb’s progress to name him their starter last season and ship Donovan McNabb to Washington. We’ll never know how things might have unfolded had Kolb not suffered a concussion halfway through the season-opener and Vick not stepped in and ultimately taken away the starting job.
That great unknown is part of what figures to help drive up Kolb’s stock. If he was good enough for the Eagles to initially give him the No. 1 job, the theory goes in some NFL corners that he’s probably good enough to still start.
Why not for us? What’s it going to take to get him? A first and a third? A first and a second? Two firsts?
At some point in this thought process, someone needs to take a breath and consider what history has taught us about similar transactions.
You remember Rob Johnson, too, don’t you? After spending two years as a backup in Jacksonville, he had one start in 1997 that was spectacular enough to convince the Bills to give up first- and fourth-round picks and a big contract a year later in hopes that Johnson would become the next Jim Kelly. He didn’t.
The Texans and Chiefs are more recent examples of clubs that made large investments in both salaries and draft picks in former backups. In 2007, the Texans gave up a pair of second-round picks and swapped first-round choices with the Falcons for Matt Schaub. That deal was made more than a full season after the second of his two career starts with the Falcons. In 2009, the Chiefs spent a second-rounder to land Matt Cassel, who he started practically all of the 2008 season in place of injured Tom Brady.
Schaub has put up some impressive numbers during four seasons in Houston, although the jury remains out as to whether he can be the man who leads them to that elusive playoff berth. Cassel showed signs of progress after a disappointing first year in Kansas City, but the man who did plenty to help improve Cassel’s game — offensive coordinator Charlie Weis — now works at the University of Florida.
Then again, teams might not have the chance to trade for Kolb or anyone else before the draft, which obviously could influence their approach to seeking quarterback help.
After that, they should be advised to at least be mindful of the “Scott Mitchell Effect.”