August 18, 2023   4 MIN READ

Back It Up

Mosher: Pump Brakes On Fictional Birds QB Controversy


The Eagles don’t have a backup quarterback controversy as much as they have a struggling, veteran backup quarterback and an upstart sixth-round rookie.

These concepts can both be true and mutually exclusive.

There’s no doubt that Marcus Mariota, signed this offseason to fill Gardner Minshew’s old role as backup to Jalen Hurts, has lacked precision and command since his arrival – even going back to OTAs.

Mariota, who’s had trouble with ball security, was picked off for the umpteenth time since camp opened when his pass intended for tight end Grant Calcaterra landed into the stretched-out hands of Browns safety Ronnie Hickman.

Like many of his other interceptions this summer, the aesthetics of this one weren’t ideal; he wasn’t hit, hurried or even budged from the pocket when his pass whizzed way over Calcaterra’s head.

Still, he missed the backup tight end by a good 10 yards.

“I was sloppy,” the No. 2 overall pick of the Titans from 2015 said afterward. “I can do a better job of getting our guys operating cleaner and more efficiently. But that’s what preseason is for. Kind of get some of that stuff ironed out. Clean off some of the rust. We’ll find ways to get better.”

Marcus Mariota

GETTY IMAGES: Despite his struggles, backup QB Marcus Mariota won’t be unseated by a Day 3 rookie.

Mariota, who struggled last year as Atlanta’s starter until his late-season benching resulted in him leaving the team, was asked if his recurring overthrows were the result of poor mechanics.

He said he didn’t his mechanics were problematic, which is either a good thing (it’s a different problem!) or bad thing (I don’t what the problem is!).

“Right now, for me, I just missed the target,” he said.

Simultaneously, the Eagles are seeing sixth-round pick Tanner McKee hit plenty of targets, in ways that belie typical rookies – with back-shoulder throws, timing and anticipation throws, and with an overall poise and moxie behind a third-string offensive line that isn’t ordinary for preseason showings.

The spark plug McKee has supplied in consecutive preseason games – he tossed a game-tying 22-yard touchdown and two-point conversion Thursday against the Browns – is unmistakably jolting when juxtaposed with the inertia of the Mariota-led offense.

“We felt really good about how he looked in practice to this date, pleased obviously with how he played,” head coach Nick Sirianni said of his impressive rookie. “I think he was – what, 10-of-18? – but there were some drops there. So, the ball was going where it needed to go. It was accurate. Some really nice throws into some tight coverage.”

McKee has outperformed Mariota, but an NFL depth chart is never a meritocracy, and also shouldn’t be.

There’s a reason why every year a smattering of surprise standouts around the league are nonetheless waived, unclaimed and returned to obscurity somewhere on a practice squad.

The Eagles value the backup quarterback spot more than most teams. That happens when you win a Super Bowl behind one.

That’s why they replaced Minshew with someone who’s started 74 career games and, per the record books, actually went 17-13 in his second and third seasons with the Titans before losing his job two years later to Ryan Tannehill.

If they’re unhappy with Mariota and don’t think they can win with him if Hurts were to be sidelined, they’ll find another veteran, experienced arm, whether on the street or via trade market.

What they won’t do is toss the keys to a position they see as vital to competing for a Super Bowl to a Day 3 rookie who’s had a couple nice showings against players who’ll be cut in a few weeks.

That’s not consistent with how they’ve conducted business in the past, and nothing about their recent history of building a 53-man roster suggests they should be deviating from standard-operating procedure.

Mariota still has a few weeks to get his act together before the Eagles are forced to reconcile their options behind Hurts.

McKee has a few more weeks to convince the coaches they should keep him on the 53 as a developmental prospect who’s too risky to waive with the anticipation of brining back on the practice squad.

These concepts can both be true and mutually exclusive.

– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and staff writer for

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