- Phil Sheridan, ESPN Staff Writer
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PHILADELPHIA -- Let's move to the offensive side of the ball this week in our position-by-position look at the state of the Eagles.
Since it's Presidents Day, let's look at the leader of the offense, the quarterback. This should be the easiest position on the team to assess, but in classic Eagles fashion, things are not as clear as they might seem.
Here's a mental exercise worth trying: Imagine the Eagles traded up in the 2012 draft and took Nick Foles with, say, the 12th pick in the first round. In this version of events, Andy Reid spent the summer of '12 talking about his plan to start Michael Vick early and ease Foles into the job -- just as he did with Donovan McNabb back in 1999.
When Chip Kelly took over, his approach would reflect Foles' status as a recent first-round pick. He might have the same competition between Vick and Foles that he had last summer, but Foles would have the edge in anything approaching a tie. Vick clearly had the edge in real life (and he played superbly in the preseason to claim the job).
Now put Foles' 2013 performance into the context of this alternate reality. The 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. The 8-2 record as a starter. The NFL-best passer rating. Offensive MVP of the Pro Bowl.
All that from a heralded first-round quarterback? Folks would be rushing to anoint Foles the starter for life instead of debating whether Kelly deep down wants a different style of quarterback to run his offense. When general manager Howie Roseman left open the possibility, however slight, of taking a quarterback in the first round of this year's draft, you would have checked him for a fever.
Imagine that kind of talk in Seattle, Indianapolis and Carolina, where young franchise quarterbacks are in place.
In Foles, the Eagles have their starter for 2014. Period. If he continues to perform at his 2013 level, Foles will get the kind of contract that establishes him as the franchise guy. If not, then we'll be talking about the true Kelly-style quarterbacks available in the 2015 draft.
There are legitimate reasons to withhold judgment on Foles. When things were going great, there was an unmistakable sense that he was very lucky as well as very good. When underthrown passes bounce off a defensive back's hands and into DeSean Jackson's for a touchdown -- which happened in Green Bay -- there is more than a little luck involved. On his record-tying seven touchdown passes in Oakland, Foles' receivers were almost comically open thanks to blown coverages and falling defenders.
In his final two games, Foles was frustrated by the defensive strategies deployed in Dallas and against New Orleans. He is going to see variations of those schemes next season until he and Kelly prove they have solved them. And he is going to face some pretty good defenses, Seattle, San Francisco and Carolina among them.
So 2014 will be Foles' acid test. He will be the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback all year, a first for him. As for his backups, that's another area where things get a little murky.
Roseman has said the Eagles would welcome Vick back if the veteran can't find a starting opportunity in free agency. The feeling here, though, is that everyone concerned feels it is best for Vick, and the Eagles, to move on.
Matt Barkley was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 draft. He played in three games as a rookie. In the first two, he was forced to play because of injuries to the starter and without the benefit of any meaningful practice reps.
So take Barkley's stats with the appropriate grain of salt. He completed 30 of 49 passes (61.2 percent) for 300 yards. Those numbers are actually pretty encouraging. But Barkley threw four interceptions and fumbled away one red zone opportunity. Those plays tend to stick in the memory better than the rest.
Can Barkley be the No. 2 quarterback behind Foles? Absolutely. If he's forced to play? Well, a midround pick from a major Pac-12 program in his second season -- that description would have applied to Foles in 2013 just as it applies to Barkley in 2014. G.J. Kinne, who was on the practice squad, knows the offense, but is not likely to be in the mix. Of course, the media hasn't seen him practice since training camp, so information is limited.
If the Eagles want to bring in a veteran free agent to compete with Barkley for the No. 2 spot, they will have good options: Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman, Tarvaris Jackson, Josh McCown. Remember, we're talking about a solid veteran who would be competing with Barkley for the backup spot.
The draft should provide more possibilities. Using a first- or second-round pick would change the dynamic too much -- while shorting the many other areas the Eagles need to improve. But another midround pick? Certainly. Training and developing quarterbacks in the Kelly system should be a priority for as long the coach is here.