PHILADELPHIA -- A segment of the Philadelphia Eagles' fan population has been operating under the belief that a quarterback change from Michael Vick to Nick Foles could help save this season -- that Vick has proven an inability to make his necessary evolution as a quarterback, that Foles looked good in the preseason and that, well, he couldn't do any worse. Foles' debut in Sunday's loss to the Dallas Cowboys, following Vick's exit with a concussion, should work to quiet that group of fans.
Eagles coach Andy Reid made it clear after the game that Vick would return to the starter's role if and when he's cleared to play. The NFL's concussion protocols are complex and thorough, and even if Vick can return to the field next week (and there's no way to know that yet), he may not be cleared until Friday or Saturday to do so. But assuming Vick is able to pass all of the required tests this week, next week or at some point in the next seven weeks, he resumes his role as the Eagles' starting quarterback. As long as the Eagles have not been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention -- which they have not -- this is the correct decision. Flawed as he is, Vick still gives the Eagles the best chance to win 2012 games. Foles played Sunday like a rookie, and it's clear that, if he plays, you'll have to expect rookie jitters and rookie mistakes.
But Ashley Fox's column raises an interesting question about what happens later this season. If we assume Reid is done in Philadelphia after this year (and I believe he will be, though no one truly knows what team owner Jeffrey Lurie is thinking), and that Vick is likely to be gone as well, what happens once the Eagles are out of it? Reid could be faced with the uncomfortable prospect of trying out and/or developing a young quarterback he knows he won't be around to coach:
So what will Reid do now? Vick is the present. Foles represents a future of which Reid likely won't be a part. Does he play Vick when healthy, to stick with his guy? Or does he go with Foles so that the franchise -- owner Jeffrey Lurie and presumably general manager Howie Roseman -- can evaluate Foles to see what they have?
A potentially dicey situation, to be sure, and one Reid understandably does not want to confront until all 2012 hope is officially lost. If you assume self-interest as default human motivation, it's easy to wonder why Reid would play Foles at all. He has nothing personally to gain by doing so, if he knows he's gone, so maybe he would stick with "his guy," Vick, and let him pile up some numbers, maybe get on a good garbage-time role that helps he and Vick get a job somewhere else next year.
But I think sometimes we assume self-interest to the exclusion of other potential avenues. Even if the Eagles are eliminated with two, three or four games left in the season and Reid is a dead coach walking, it's not automatic that he'd act out of self-interest as opposed to the best interest of the team. He's been the Eagles' coach for 14 years, assuredly has strong positive feelings about the place and the franchise and, above all else, understands the concept of professional responsibility. If the Eagles are done but Reid is still their coach, then his job is to do what's best for the team. And if that means playing Foles over Vick with the season out of reach so that whoever's running the team next year can get a better handle on what they need to do at quarterback, then that's what he should and probably will do.
Now, if you don't trust Reid to put the team's best interests over his own, long term as well as short term, then you fire him with games still left on the schedule. But even that's tricky because whoever replaced him (Marty Mornhinweg? Todd Bowles?) likely would be gone at the end of this year, too, so they'd find themselves in a similar boat. Unless Lurie is bringing in the coach he expects to shepherd Foles and the rest of the team into 2013, he likely has to trust that Reid will do what's right. Certainly, after 14 years, he should be able to expect that.
All of this goes to the idea that it's probably going to get uglier and more uncomfortable in Philadelphia before anything gets better. The Eagles would like to allow Reid to make a graceful exit after all he's done for their franchise, but a graceful exit can be very difficult to pull off. There are many tricky scenarios that still await Reid and the Eagles before this is all said and done.