- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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You're going to see this $10 million number connected with Michael Vick and his new, restructured Philadelphia Eagles contract, but it's important to note the "with incentives" part. That $10 million is the most Vick can earn in 2013 -- presumably if he stays healthy, starts every game and plays very well. The key number, yet unknown, is the minimum number -- the amount of money the Eagles are committed to paying Vick even if they decide in training camp they don't want him around anymore and let him go then instead of now.
You have to think it's more than the $3 million he was already guaranteed under his old deal (or else why would he have agreed to it?), but the question is how much more. And the answer to that question will tell you the extent to which new Eagles coach Chip Kelly has tied his fortunes to Vick.
Eagles fans should hope it's not too much.
Kelly wouldn't be the first coach to get fooled by Vick's potential, but he'd do well to learn the lesson of his predecessor. Committing to Vick was one of many decisions that got Andy Reid fired, and if Kelly is dreaming big dreams of Vick as the key to the translation of his high-speed offensive principles to the NFL level, his tenure in Philadelphia could end up being short.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Kelly being intrigued by Vick as a possible solution at quarterback. As a concept, Vick's skill set is unquestionably tempting. If Kelly wants a quarterback who can run fast and extend plays with his legs, maximizing the speed of the high-level skill players that surround him on offense, there's no one on the 2013 quarterback market who offers -- in theory -- what Vick offers. You can't trade up and get Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck in this year's draft. There's no Peyton Manning-caliber free agent on this year's market.
If you need a quarterback in 2013, as Kelly does, your best bet is to amass as many intriguing candidates as possible and find out what works. Vick, who is 18-16 as the Eagles' starter the past three years, is one candidate. Nick Foles remains on the roster as another. Dennis Dixon may turn out to be yet another. They could draft one. Minicamp and OTAs and training camp are still to come, and those are the times to sort it all out -- to let your candidates compete and see what you can come up with that works best.
If that's what Kelly's up to, then this makes sense. If the level of financial commitment to Vick is low enough that the Eagles can reasonably decide in August to go in a different direction, then there's no issue with today's news. At that level, Vick's probably a better gamble than Alex Smith or Matt Flynn or Geno Smith or Matt Barkley.
But going forward, Kelly must take care not to get duped. That whole thing about Vick's speed and his ability to make the speedy players around him more effective? Reid had that same plan. Didn't work. Didn't work in 2011, when the offensive line was good, and it certainly didn't work in 2012, when the line fell apart. And one of the main reasons it didn't work was that, for all of his physical ability, Vick comes with significant flaws that have prevented him from maintaining a level of quarterback performance consistent with the best in the game.
Vick has struggled to call the correct protections at the line of scrimmage when presented with that responsibility. He has consistently failed to make good decisions, pre-snap, with regard to audibles. He has never shown improvement at reading a defense, not even after all of the additional classroom work he promised everybody he was doing last summer. He has never shown improvement in making decisions on the run or when the play breaks down. He has demonstrated, outside of one breathtakingly brilliant 12-game stretch in 2010, an unacceptable propensity for turning the ball over. He has not shown a devotion to the quarterback position as a craft, the way one must if one is to develop and maintain quarterback excellence into one's 30s.
Can Kelly fix all of that? Eagles fans should hope he's smart enough not to think so. Vick will turn 33 in June. He's not changing. When you sign up for Vick, you sign up for all of the bad along with the good. Kelly's mission, should he decide Vick is his starter in 2013, will be to design his offense in such a way as to maximize the good while minimizing the impact of the inevitable bad. Kelly may well be a talented enough coach to do that. We are months away from any NFL-level evidence on that one way or the other. But if Vick is the Eagles' starter, Kelly had better commit to managing his flaws, because he can't expect to be able to erase them, and he certainly can't expect them to go away on their own.
So if you heard this Vick news today and your first thought was, "Great! He'll be the perfect guy to run Kelly's offense at the NFL level," you're overreacting. This doesn't mean Vick is automatically the starter, and it shouldn't. What Vick is for the Eagles, on a market with no good quarterback solutions, is one potential answer. And if he ends up being the 2013 answer, then he's a flawed one who will have to be managed very carefully if the Eagles expect to have more success with him than they've had so far.
As long as Kelly knows that, he should be fine. But if he turns out to be the latest coach to get fooled by what he thinks Vick can do for him, then we know what his first major problem as Eagles coach is going to be.