It's been building since before the season -- before Michael Vick inevitably was injured, before Nick Foles crumbled against the Cowboys, and before Matt Barkley did little to suggest that he was a franchise quarterback:
Considering the coach, the offense, and the likely draft pick, the Eagles and Johnny Manziel -- "Johnny Football" -- would be perfect together.
The Texas A&M sophomore is not considered the top quarterback prospect or among the first two by most analysts. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Oregon's Marcus Mariota are routinely mentioned as the cream of next year's crop, should both leave college early as expected.
Mariota would make obvious sense for the Eagles. Chip Kelly was his coach for a season, and he still often mentions his name, unprompted, whenever he's asked about the success of his offense at Oregon.
But Mariota, who has an ideal combination of size (6-foot-4), speed (4.48 40-yard dash), and accuracy at the collegiate level, isn't likely to be available. If the season were to end today, the 3-5 Eagles would select 10th overall.
They could move up with a disastrous finish, something Kelly made clear he would do everything to avoid even if it meant a better pick. But there is likely little chance the Eagles will jump three teams that are desperate for quarterbacks -- the 0-8 Jaguars, 0-7 Buccaneers, and 1-6 Vikings.
"No way Mariota is there when they pick," a league source who has experience with NFL quarterbacks said. "But a certain Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was once committed to Oregon could be."
Manziel gave the Ducks an oral commitment in 2010 only to decide later that he wanted to stay near his hometown of Kerr ville, Texas. But with Kelly now in the NFL, along with his up-tempo offense ideally suited to dual-threat quarterbacks who think fast on their feet, the buzz on a reunion of sorts has been mounting.
"Oh my gosh, he would be the prototype," an NFC general manager told Greg Bedard of Sports Illustrated in September.
The Eagles need a franchise quarterback, there is no question. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told CSN.Philly.com last week that it was the team's No. 1 priority. He did not rule out Foles or Barkley eventually being that guy, although both have not made a convincing argument.
"Foles had one bad game, why is everyone freaking out?" the NFL source said. "But I still think they take a quarterback fairly high next year because the position is too valuable not to, as the Eagles, Bills, and Browns are finding out now. The great teams have a star quarterback, a solid veteran backup, and a young guy they are developing."
General manager Howie Roseman recently made the same argument for taking a shot every draft until the Eagles landed their quarterback. They could wait until the second or third rounds and try to hit like the 49ers and Seahawks did with Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson, but even they are struggling some this season.
More than likely, Kelly and Roseman fire in the first round, and Manziel, who many expect to leave, would certainly be a quarterback they would have to think long and hard on.
Manziel, 20, seemingly has the skill-set to thrive in Kelly's offense. He's accurate, he's mobile, and he gets the ball out quick. And Manziel has worked in a variant of the up-tempo, zone-read, package-play scheme in both high school and college.
He isn't especially big (6-1, 210 pounds), but he has abnormally large hands and feet (size 15) for his height. Kelly, in the past, has spoken about the importance of big hands for a quarterback.
Eagles running back Matthew Tucker hails from the same hometown and said the one thing that struck him when he first met Manziel on campus at Texas Christian was his handshake.
"His hand just engulfed mine," Tucker said.
While great media attention has been focused on Manziel's playboy lifestyle, some have suggested that it isn't immaturity, but rather too much maturity.
One 30-year NFL executive, according to the NFL source, argued that Manziel's notoriety can actually be looked at as a positive because there would be less guesswork involved in evaluating whether he could handle the demands of being a franchise quarterback, especially in pressure-packed cities like Philadelphia.
At a recent Dallas Mavericks game attended by Manziel and Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, it was the former who had a line of fans waiting to get his autograph.
Eagles defensive lineman Damion Square said Manziel was the best college player he ever faced. The legend of Johnny Football took off last November, when Texas A&M upset Square's Alabama team in Tuscaloosa and Manziel accounted for nearly 350 yards of total offense against the top-ranked Crimson Tide.
"Being with one of the best coaching staffs in football, hearing the frustration in the locker room, and just watching this guy do some amazing things on the field where you come to the sideline and your coach can't even tell you that you did a bad job," Square said. "If I had to rate it, he was the best."
Square has heard plenty about Manziel. His high school coach, Clarence McKinney, is one of Manziel's offensive coordinators at Texas A&M.
While Bennie Logan and Lane Johnson, two other Eagles who faced the Aggies last season, said they thought Manziel would succeed in the NFL and quite possibly with the Eagles, Square was more skeptical.
"If I'm him and I'm coming up the draft, yeah, I would think the Eagles would be a great fit for me with what Chip does on offense," Square said. "We can make assumptions, but I can't judge it until I see it."
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