- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter
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PHILADELPHIA -- Give Chip Kelly your tired, your poor, your no-huddle Heisman-winning quarterbacks yearning to run the read-option.
Kelly traded for Sam Bradford (2008 Heisman winner) in March, signed Tim Tebow (2007) in April and was widely expected to land Marcus Mariota (2013) by May. The Philadelphia Eagles also have Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley, two generations of USC quarterback, on their roster.
The first thought might be that Kelly is planning to run some kind of three-quarterback formation. But the more you think about it, the more this all seems to be about Kelly than about the quarterbacks.
Simply put, coaches have egos. If they can coax success out of a player who has struggled while playing for other coaches, that's a badge of honor. Tebow has played for the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets. He has gone to training camp with the New England Patriots. That was in 2013, and Bill Belichick decided to release him before the season started.
If Belichick, the best coach in the NFL over the past 15 years, doesn't see an NFL quarterback in Tebow, then that would seem to settle the issue. Except that Kelly, who worked Tebow out last month, sees the skills and the physical presence and he can't help himself. It's not just about ego. There's a challenge in finding ways to utilize a player's talents, and Kelly enjoys that challenge.
Back in 2009, the Eagles were the surprise team that signed Michael Vick after he was released from prison. Other than being a left-handed quarterback, Tebow doesn't have much in common with Vick. But Tebow has been out of football, essentially, for the past two seasons. Like Vick, coaches have tried and failed to get him to perform the very difficult task of running an NFL offense -- enough so that there's a consensus it's probably not worth trying anymore.
Tebow was not on a roster in 2014. Kelly could have signed him at any point last season. He did not. So why now? And what does it mean? For Bradford, for Sanchez, for Barkley, for Mariota?
It's a good question, and one with a number of different answers. The first thing to know is that Tebow's arrival probably means more to Barkley, a fourth-round pick in 2013, than it does to Bradford or Sanchez. That is, Tebow is more likely competing for Barkley's third-team quarterback role than for the starting job.
Another Vick reminder: When the Eagles signed him in 2009, he was the third-team quarterback behind Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. By Easter Sunday of 2010, McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins and Kolb was the No. 1 quarterback on the depth chart. After being knocked out during the season opener with a concussion, Kolb's tenure as the starter was over.
The point is, Bradford is the presumed starter with Sanchez as the very capable No. 2 quarterback. But if Tebow is able to click in Kelly's offense -- which ran pretty well with the less mobile Sanchez and Nick Foles at the helm -- then all bets are off. With his running ability and his arm, Tebow may just blossom in Kelly's system.
So Kelly brings Tebow in with no pressure and no expectations. The focus is on Bradford, with Sanchez as the pro's pro if something goes wrong. Tebow will get his practice reps. The third-team quarterback gets plenty of practice time in Kelly's go-go training sessions. If Kelly sees the spark that Tebow carried at the University of Florida -- and that flashed once or twice while he was playing in Denver -- then Kelly will have a fascinating choice to make.
He says this a lot, and he really means it. Kelly's football team is a meritocracy. The best player at each position will be on the field. All Kelly is really doing right now is giving Tebow a chance to prove himself better than Bradford and Sanchez -- better, at least, in Kelly's spread offense.
The Tebow signing may mark the death knell for the long-speculated (and, among many Eagles fans, wished for) reunion of Kelly and Mariota. Kelly recruited Mariota and shaped the Oregon offense around the young quarterback's skill set. Kelly left for the NFL and Mariota continued to shine. It seemed almost inevitable that the two would join forces in the NFL.
Kelly has tried very hard to discourage that kind of thinking. He said he would never "mortgage the future" by trading too much for the chance to draft Mariota. But Kelly has also spoken of Mariota in almost reverent tones. He described Mariota as a football mind equal to Peyton Manning's, only with speed. While interviewing for NFL jobs in 2013, Kelly told people Mariota would someday win multiple Super Bowls.
That sounds like something that might be worth mortgaging the future for.
When Kelly pulled the trigger on the stunning Foles-for-Bradford trade, there followed even more speculation that it was part of a larger plan to get Mariota. Could Bradford be used as a trade chip -- to Tennessee, to Cleveland -- to move up high enough to draft Mariota?
"I'm the only Chip here," was Kelly's impish retort.
The Mariota speculation won't die until he's holding up another team's jersey on draft night. But the Tebow signing certainly seems like a sign that Kelly doesn't expect to get a deal done.
Maybe he tried. Maybe he didn't. But the simple truth is Kelly has now acquired three quarterbacks since the end of the 2014-15 season: Bradford, Sanchez and now Tebow. That doesn't seem like the actions of a man who is planning a major move for Mariota.
But who knows? Kelly has proven nothing if not unpredictable. So send him your tired, your poor, your huddled masses of quarterbacks.
Maybe he's planning to run the Statue of Liberty play.
This seems to be more about Chip Kelly than about the quarterbacks. There's a challenge in utilizing a player, and Kelly enjoys that challenge.