NFC East: Kellen Clemens
We are days away from the start of NFL free agency, when we will find out for sure whether (and where) Vick gets his chance to be a starting quarterback. Whatever happens, it has been clear since Jan. 6 that Vick’s time in Philadelphia is almost certainly over.
As those other Eagles sang, he's "already gone."
Nick Foles is the starter. Matt Barkley is going to be here. The team could very well draft a quarterback again this year. If coach Chip Kelly feels he needs a veteran backup, there will be several attractive options in free agency that aren’t named Vick: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Kellen Clemens among them.
None of those names may excite your imagination, but they’re not supposed to. They’re potential backup quarterbacks. Signing any one of them would provide competition for Barkley without what we’ll call the Vick Factor -- a guy some percentage of the fans will be clamoring for the moment Foles has a bad game, or even a bad half.
Going into last season, I thought Kelly should have moved on from Vick. He judged him only on what he did in training camp and the preseason, ignoring the pre-Kelly history of injuries and turnovers. Lo and behold, Vick pulled his hamstring running out of bounds on Oct. 6.
When the Eagles were 3-5 at the midway point, and had gone two games in a row without a single offensive touchdown, Kelly explained the problem in five words: “instability at the quarterback position.”
Anyone can get hurt. Foles missed a game with a concussion. But after a firsthand experience with Vick, the walking definition of “instability at the quarterback position,” it’s hard to see Kelly bringing him back for his age-34 season, especially when he has invested serious coaching time in Barkley.
But that was obvious on Jan. 6, when Vick gave what amounted to a farewell speech to the media and posed for photos with his soon-to-be former teammates. The only reason to report that Vick isn’t coming back is that the calendar says March, and his departure is imminent.
Where will he go? It was fascinating to see Adrian Peterson tweet his interest in bringing Vick to Minnesota. That seemed like a possible fit all along, although the hiring of Norv Turner as offensive coordinator didn’t exactly line up with that. Peterson is 29 and has bounced back from a torn ACL. He wants to win now. It wouldn’t be surprising if new head coach Mike Zimmer, who waited a long time for this opportunity, feels the same.
There are a number of teams that could use Vick as a quick-fix starter and a bridge to a young quarterback.
The Eagles aren’t one of them. They’ve already crossed that bridge.
Biggest surprise: The decision to keep Chris Neild as a backup nose tackle and release Anthony Bryant. There was some chatter in the offseason about Bryant's possibly being promoted to starting nose tackle if the Redskins focused their offseason energies on defensive end. But once they signed Barry Cofield, they didn't need two backups, and they liked what they saw from Neild, especially on special teams.
Running backs Evan Royster and Keiland Williams have apparently been released, victims of overcrowding in a Redskins running back field now headed by Tim Hightower. Ryan Torain will remain on the roster, along with Roy Helu, as a top option if Hightower should falter. And it's a bit surprising to see them keep eight receivers, including Brandon Banks, Leonard Hankerson, Niles Paul and Donte' Stallworth.
No-brainers: They're only keeping two quarterbacks, John Beck and Rex Grossman, while cutting Kellen Clemens and Matt Gutierrez, but I don't think that's surprising. Those last two were only there to help take up preseason snaps when they needed to rest guys who might be their starters at any point this season. Rookie receiver Aldrick Robinson didn't do anything to help himself. And Artis Hicks has been squeezed out of the offensive line mix. They looked into trading Hicks Saturday but ultimately had to put him on waivers.
What's next: They could hit the market for a third quarterback, obviously, though that's not a major concern. I wonder if they'll still look for help at defensive end with Jarvis Jenkins out for the year. The Cowboys just cut Igor Olshansky, who's a name that will surely catch someone's attention.
"I'm excited because I think we have a lot better competition," the 31-year-old Shanahan says. "Last year, we kind of knew who our guys were a little. We were trying to figure out our team and stuff. The depth wasn't there. We have better depth this year and there's going to be some competition there from the first quarter all the way to the fourth."
Fair enough. The pessimistic side of that coin would be that the competition results from the lack of quality on the roster, rather than a preponderance of depth. But Shanahan's job is to mold, not to mope, so let's take a look at what he's looking at as the preseason gets underway.
Quarterback: Looks as though Rex Grossman will get the start Friday night and John Beck's groin injury will keep him from being a factor in the first preseason game. Kellen Clemens should play some Friday, and surely he'd love to get himself into the competition. Remember, Clemens thought he was going to be the Jets' starter two straight offseasons before being supplanted first by Brett Favre and then by Mark Sanchez. Shanahan and his head-coach father have presented this as a competition between Beck and Grossman, and the sense I got while there was that they really wanted to see if Beck could handle it. But if Beck and his groin are going to linger, and if Grossman doesn't impress, how crazy is it to imagine Clemens getting into the discussion?
Running back: Another injury here, as Ryan Torain is out with a broken hand and Tim Hightower, who's the favorite to win the starter's job, will get the chance to show he can hold onto the ball with his two good ones. Mike Shanahan loves Hightower as a one-cut runner, as a pass-catcher, as a goal-line back and as a pass-blocker. The only hangup is the fumbles, which were a problem in Arizona and showed up early in camp this year. Expect to see rookies Roy Helu and Evan Royster a lot, and if Hightower does fumble, there's certainly opportunity there for the youngsters while Torain sits out.
Wide receiver: Who will start opposite Santana Moss? Right now, they're listing Jabar Gaffney as the starter, but it's clear that Anthony Armstrong and Donte' Stallworth have a chance to grab the spot. Rookie Leonard Hankerson is a player they like a lot but consider a project. Fellow rookies Niles Paul and Aldrick Robinson are likely to see action, too, and it sounds as if Paul has played well in recent practices. My guess is that Armstrong plays well this preseason and goes into the season as the No. 2 receiver. But that's just a guess, and if he doesn't pay well there are plenty of guys to take the spot from him
Tight end: The Chris Cooley injury would be a bigger worry if they didn't have Fred Davis backing him up, but they are better when they have both, and they won't have Cooley for this game. It'll be interesting to see how much the tight end is used as a pass-catcher in Washington's offense this year. Sure, the receiving corps could use the help, but the offensive line could use some blocking help as well. My guess is Cooley and Davis will do a lot of blocking.
Of course we'll be watching to see how the offensive line plays, because there are question marks there. But there aren't really position battles there. It looks as though the starting five is set and just needs time to jell together. How much time it takes -- and whether it happens at all this year or ever will -- is not a question that can be answered in one or even four preseason games. These other questions, though, will start to find their answers Friday night.
Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley
ESPN.com columnist Len Pasquarelli thinks that teams such as the Vikings Redskins, Jets and Bucs owe their incumbent (or projected) quarterbacks an explanation after either making or attempting to make moves to upgrade the position. The Redskins have already met with Jason Campbell to explain their position, but I'm not sure that matters. It has to be embarrassing to watch your team desperately try to acquire someone to replace you -- especially when you've done everything they've asked of you over the past four years.
Campbell is heading into this third full year as the team's starting quarterback, and his second year under head coach Jim Zorn. As Pasquarelli points out, the Redskins can't afford to send him into the 2009 season with a lack of confidence. But is there anything they can say to make him feel better? I guess we'll find out soon.
Regarding the other teams Pasquarelli mentioned, I'm not sure why the Vikings owe Tarvaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels any explanation for going after Brett Favre. Rosenfels just showed up on the scene and Jackson doesn't have any right to gripe after the way he's played the last couple seasons.
And call me callous, but I have no sympathy for Kellen Clemens. What has he done to earn the starting job with the Jets?