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Monday, March 18, 2013
Eagles' biggest question defies cap room

By Dan Graziano

The one team in the NFC East with salary-cap room to burn has been the Philadelphia Eagles. And while they may not be loading up on earth-shattering household names, the Eagles' level of activity since free agency began has left some fans of their division rivals jealous. "When's our big signing?" the Cowboys fans wonder. "Why can't we do anything?" the Redskins fans implore.

And sure, it stinks to feel left out. This time of year on the NFL calendar gets built up so much that when it starts, you want your team to go-go-go and sign everybody in sight to fill all of the holes on the roster. I get it.

But here's another way of looking at it, from the perspectives of the relatively quiet non-Philadelphia teams in the NFC East: You may not have the Eagles' cap room, but you have something they don't. You have stability at the quarterback position. And the Eagles would trade any amount of cap room for that.

Chip Kelly
The quarterback position remains a question mark for new Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Yes, sacrifices and choices have been made that have resulted in the Giants, Cowboys and Redskins having less to spend. Giants quarterback Eli Manning eats up more than $20 million of the team's salary cap. But as owner John Mara said last week, he's worth it. The Cowboys' path to 2013 salary-cap relief is likely a reduction of the $16 million cap number of quarterback Tony Romo, which they can accomplish by giving him an extension they want to give him anyway. The Redskins don't have a first-round draft pick this year or next because they traded for Robert Griffin III. But assuming Griffin's recovery from knee surgery is going as wonderfully as everyone insists it is, they wouldn't go back and undo that trade for anything right now.

When you're set at quarterback in today's NFL, you are at peace. You may have other needs, but somehow they don't seem so terribly tough to correct. If you've got a quarterback and you really like him, and you know you've got him for a while, you are a happy franchise, whether they took all of your cap room or not.

So while the Eagles and new coach Chip Kelly are enjoying this early free-agency period by adding pieces on the defensive side of the ball, one reality about their 2013 prospects remains inescapable: At present, they're still planning to go with the same quarterback who turned the ball over 14 times in the first eight games of the 2012 season. And he's not a young guy who offers hope for the long-term future.

Could Michael Vick be great with Kelly? Of course he could. We've seen Vick be much more than great. We have seen Vick perform, in the NFL, on a level so high that it seemed impossible, and it wasn't that long ago. If 2010 happened again for Michael Vick, no one could convincingly claim surprise. We have seen it done.

But having seen the inconsistent turnover-prone, injury-prone Vick too much over the past two years, we have no choice but to cast him into the "question mark" category. Kelly can dream and scheme and imagine all that Vick can do with the help of his fresh offensive concepts, but he can't be sure Vick will be able to run the offense responsibly, make the right decisions under fire, protect the ball or keep himself from getting hurt. No one can. That's who Vick is, and that's what you accept when you take on Vick as your starting quarterback.

This isn't news to Kelly, and that's why you're starting to hear rumblings about the Eagles poking around West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who could be theirs for the taking with the No. 4 pick in the draft. Scouts say Smith has the tools to be a franchise quarterback. The issue with him is inconsistency on tape. He showed flashes in college, but not every single game. If you're a coach like Chip Kelly and you find a guy with the right tools, it's easy to convince yourself you can make a franchise quarterback out of him.

Nick Foles remains on the roster, as does Dennis Dixon, and there's talk of the University of Arizona's Matt Scott being of interest. Kelly knows he doesn't yet have the answer to his most important question, so he continues to tinker, to explore, to look at every option in search of the one that will unlock that NFL peace that comes only when you know and like your quarterback.

So no matter what the Eagles do in free agency right now, if you're a fan of one of their division rivals, don't get jealous. They'd gladly trade places with your team in one specific, vital area. Your team has a quarterback.