Chip Kelly caught in QB crosscurrents

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Chip Kelly AP Photo/Kathy WillensChip Kelly's Eagles find themselves atop the division and in a position to make a run for the playoffs.
The crosscurrents are powerful for the Philadelphia Eagles right now. It is going to be fascinating to see where they carry coach Chip Kelly and his team.

Watching the Sunday night football recap shows, it was striking just how upset Michael Vick appeared to be after he left Sunday's win against the Giants. Vick sat on the bench, his head in his hands. He looked more like a man whose career was in jeopardy than a man with a slight hamstring pull.

And no wonder. Vick is acutely aware of the perception that he is injury-prone. He spent the summer boldly proclaiming that his mission was to play all 16 games for the first time since 2006 and for just the second time in his career. So to pull up lame on a routine run around left end had to sting more than his hamstring.

This is not just a matter of pride. Vick is 33. His contract expires at the end of this season. Coming off a three-game losing streak, there was already speculation that his time might soon be up. The added doubt about his durability was the last thing Vick needed Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos defeated the Dallas Cowboys in a vulgar offensive display later on Sunday. When Matt Prater's field goal cleared the uprights, the Eagles moved into a tie for first-place in the NFC East.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles stepped in for an injured Michael Vick and finished the win with 16 completions, 197 yards and two touchdowns.
The state of the division casts an entirely different light on the state of the Eagles in Kelly's first season. Is this a straight rebuilding year? Or is there an opportunity to go from 4-12 to the playoffs, the kind of jump made by first-year coaches in other cities in recent years?

It is a nuanced issue, which brings Vick back into the conversation. If Kelly and GM Howie Roseman had drafted Geno Smith or EJ Manuel in the spring, then this season would be all about developing a young franchise quarterback. But choosing to go with Vick, surrounded by in-their-prime players like LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson and an established offensive line, meant trying to win now.

So it was Kelly who set the bar at competitive respectability. And the lack of a breakout team in the NFC East ensures that the bar does not need to be all that high. In short, there is an opportunity for this Eagles team, with its veteran starting quarterback, to go to the playoffs this season.

So the crosscurrents are strong. Vick is playing for some kind of NFL future, here or elsewhere. Kelly is either trying to win right away or build a foundation with a winning attitude or simply get through this first season so he can draft his true franchise quarterback next May. It is impossible to know Kelly's true intentions. It may well be that he is not sure himself, that he figured he'd take a shot with Vick, get a feel for the NFL winds and then adjust his sails accordingly.

And then there is Foles. Is he a viable starter in the NFL? He looked like one Sunday at the Meadowlands. Remember, he did not prepare in practice all week to be the starter. Vick did, and he failed to complete a pass in the first quarter. Vick's biggest pass play, a bomb to Jackson, should have been intercepted by Giants cornerback Trumaine McBride.

For the previous two weeks, the Eagles piled up rushing yards without putting up a lot of points. That was the track they were on in the first half. Vick ran for 79 yards. The Eagles had 16 points. Then Foles came in and started throwing the ball more effectively. The rushing yards went way down, but there were two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to put the game away.

It seems abundantly clear that Vick will not be the quarterback here if and when Kelly's team is ready to contend for a Super Bowl. It seems unlikely that Foles will be the guy then, either, but at least there is a chance.

Sticking with Vick means treading water.

Going with Foles means letting the Vick era drift to an anticlimactic end.

There is a bumper crop of quarterbacks in the 2014 draft, if you are drafting high enough to get one. There is a playoff berth awaiting the NFC East team that sinks most slowly to the bottom.

The crosscurrents are strong. We'll learn a lot about Kelly by how he chooses to navigate them.

Phil Sheridan

ESPN Philadelphia Eagles reporter

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