Pelissero: High price in picks, cash limits marketplace for Kevin Kolb
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If it were as simple as trading a first-round draft pick for Kevin Kolb, someone probably would have done it already.
Not because seven starts in four NFL seasons have proven Kolb can be a franchise quarterback. Because there never are 32 of those guys, and right now, as many teams are searching for quarterbacks as anyone can remember.
But it's not that simple. Not with Kolb, not with the Philadelphia Eagles and not amid a labor climate that has transactions and contract talks on hold, precluding the most challenging negotiation from taking place.
According to league sources, Kolb's agents have spread the word they're seeking a multi-year deal from any team that acquires him, with a price tag one NFL decision-maker said is "significant enough to make me nervous," considering how little the former University of Houston star has played.
"There's no way I pay him like a proven guy," said an executive in personnel for an AFC team. "If you give up a one, that's your guy. You're going to ride with him, so you're going to pay him. But you've still got to make sure that the finances are such that it's based on what he's proven. Whether you're dealing with the agent or not, he has to understand I'm paying part of the price in draft picks."
The current cost of the Kolb package has drastically reduced the pool of potential buyers for a player who one year ago was signing a one-year, $12.26 million contract extension that included a $10.7 million signing bonus as the Eagles' new starter. And the NFL lockout has needy teams such as the Minnesota Vikings focused on options in this month's draft, rather than chancing a losing game of musical quarterbacks whenever a new league year begins.
This past week, four NFL personnel men -- including two with teams that don't need a quarterback -- were asked if they'd give up a first-round pick for Kolb, who has completed 60.8% of his 319 passes with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions since being drafted No. 36 overall in 2007.
Three of the scouts qualified "yes" answers based on the level of the pick, the type of offense Kolb would be asked to run and/or the quality of the team making the trade. One gave a firm "no."
"The guy's a solid prospect," an AFC personnel director said, "but man, watching the tape, I'm trying to see where the guy's worth a No. 1 selection."
Making peace with that part of the price is only one-third of the equation. Next, a team would have to negotiate with the Eagles, who have a reputation around the league for being difficult to deal with on trades -- contributing to skepticism about a report last month they have an offer of a first-round pick on the table.
Get through those steps, and it's on to the biggest hurdle: negotiating a new contract with Kolb, who never regained the starting job in Philadelphia after his Week 1 concussion opened the door for Michael Vick. Now, the Eagles appear to be trying to create a marketplace for Kolb, and his scheduled 2011 base salary of $1.392 million is too low to risk injury or diminished value while playing in a new system.
"You can't trade for the guy" without working out a contract extension, said an NFL source who has explored Kolb's situation. "He's not going to play for what he's making right now in the last year of his contract."
Nor are teams allowed to discuss the terms of a potential deal with Kolb's agents until the end of the NFL lockout, which -- barring a stunning turn of events in the next two weeks -- also bars teams from trading 2011 draft picks for players.
Multiple representatives from Select Sports Group, which represents Kolb, did not respond to messages this week.
To the Eagles, the value of having a veteran backup to a scramble-happy starter might outweigh anything less than a premium draft pick (or picks) in 2012. And potential buyers have to be skittish about dealing a first-rounder that could end up being more valuable than expected if the very player they're acquiring falls below expectations.
Kolb, 26, is considered a good athlete with the size (6-foot-3, 218 pounds), feet and arm strength to function in the West Coast offense he has learned under expert tutelage in Philadelphia. Common criticism among scouts is he's a system quarterback who struggles to stretch the field and battles accuracy issues, particularly under pressure.
"The game is swirling around so fast, you have a tendency to tunnel vision on your primary guys," the AFC executive said. "Some of it with him is just being consistent with touch and hitting his long balls. Beyond that, I think he's got some upside. You really like his athleticism. He's got size. He can throw the football. But for me, it's just seeing the game, slowing the game down, being able to go through his progressions, make the right decisions."
The logical starting point for negotiations is the Houston Texans' trade for Matt Schaub, whose three-year career included two starts and 84 passes when Atlanta dealt him for two second-round picks and a swap of first-rounders in March 2007. Schaub immediately received a six-year, $48 million contract that included only $7 million guaranteed, with a $10 million option bonus due at the halfway point.
So, who would be willing to pay that kind of price for (somewhat) experienced youth, rather than riding with a rookie or sniffing around retreads such as Matt Hasselbeck, Carson Palmer, Marc Bulger and Donovan McNabb?
Depending on what happens in the draft, one well-connected NFL source listed logical buyers as the San Francisco 49ers, the Miami Dolphins and the Vikings -- three teams with significant talent, particularly at the skill positions, that could be playoff-caliber immediately with the right guy under center.
However, the Dolphins run an offense that probably isn't ideal for Kolb's skill set, and the Vikings are expected to depart from the West Coast offense under new offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave. Also, Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has made clear his preference to draft and develop a quarterback -- an economical alternative for a team with a somewhat top-heavy payroll and designs on getting younger.
"Would you rather go with a guy this year and then just wait for him to develop and let a team kind of develop with him?" an NFC executive said. "Leslie Frazier's just starting his program, right? That's part of it, too. Minnesota has to decide where they are. 'All right, we've got to go out and get a guy that's an established quarterback, pay a lot of money, or are we going to go with a young guy and grow with him?'"
A bunch of teams will answer that question in the next two weeks -- and anyone shut out in the draft is sure to reappraise Kolb's situation.
Then, it'll be up to the Eagles and Kolb to decide how badly they want to move on, whenever they can move on, unless someone is just desperate enough to shell out the sticker price.