Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has for years been a man firmly committed to head coach Andy Reid. And yet Lurie has made no bones about the idea that Reid's time in Philadelphia will in all likelihood expire if the team can't make progress in 2012.
We've reached the Week 7 bye and, at least in the standings, absolutely no progress has been made. Lurie has stated that 8-8 would be unacceptable and that such a finish—for the second consecutive season—would not be enough to save Reid's job.
Last year's excuse was that the Eagles had tossed together a potpourri of stars on short notice upon completion of the lockout. Robbed of an offseason and forced to learn Juan Castillo's system on the fly, the defense failed to adjust on time, and the offense couldn't compensate for those failures.
What's this year's excuse? The pass rush has evaporated (no sacks since Week 3), the defense still isn't closing out opponents and the entire team continues to fail the fight-or-flight test.
Since last summer's exciting makeover, they're 11-11 and have outscored their opponents by an average of 2.1 points per game. This year, their points for/against ratio has jumped from the black to the red, and they're lucky to have an even record. Philadelphia has won its three games by a grand total of four points, surviving in each case.
The key word is "surviving." They're using all of their energy simply to keep from drowning, which is why this bye week is so utterly crucial. It gives them a chance to regroup and catch their breath before what could be their final chance to escape survival mode and go on the hunt.
Reid's team has the talent, which must be remarkably frustrating for fans. But Lurie has invested far too greatly in the last two seasons to let them get away with missing the playoffs again. To get back to the postseason, they'll likely have to finish 7-3, maybe 6-4. And they have to begin that stretch with a game against the league's last unbeaten team.
It's not completely far-fetched, but the odds don't favor it happening.
If current trends continue and they can't win six or seven games to close out the season, there will be far fewer excuses this time. And if Lurie is true to his word, he'll wave goodbye to Reid after his 14th season, and Michael Vick's future will become the key mystery in the City of Brotherly Love.
The Eagles don't have to pay Vick $15.5 million to quarterback the team in 2013, so will they? Will a new coaching staff want to inherit a 33-year-old pivot who's failed to lead his team to the playoffs in back-to-back years, and will Lurie be able rationalize to himself such a sum?
Quality quarterbacks don't grow on trees, and Vick wouldn't be easy to replace, but Nick Foles proved himself to be a viable option this preseason, and that kid's only on the hook for $692,000 next season, a 96-percent drop-off in the quarterback salary department.
Even if the Eagles can't land a franchise-caliber quarterback on the open market or via trade (and they very likely cannot, because nobody really can), then maybe they'll weigh the pros and cons and determine that rolling with Foles is the better option.
Foles may or may not be ready to quarterback this team right now, but a full year on the bench and another full offseason could change that. When you consider the mark young signal-callers are making all around the league right now, it's easy to think a dude like Foles could be doing the same thing.
All that matters is that if Vick continues to swing and miss, it'd make a whole lot more sense for the Eagles to roll the dice on an unknown and let a new coaching staff start anew with a guy like Foles—saving $15.5 million in the process—than to keep stubbornly believing that things are about to change.
I think Lurie realizes that, which is a good thing.
By no means is 2012 a lost cause, but this upcoming 10-game stretch should represent Reid's and Vick's final opportunities to move this franchise into the next gear. Maybe that pressure will work to the team's advantage, but at least there will be a semblance of finality either way.
The great thing Philadelphia has going for it is that many of the team's key cogs are wrapped up for several years to come. If they continue down this path of mediocrity for the remainder of 2012, a complete rebuild won't be necessary. Instead, they'd be smart to attempt to adjust on the fly, surrounding a new coach and a new quarterback with proven talent in supporting roles.
If they're lucky, in 11 weeks, they'll be worrying about their first-round playoff opponent. Otherwise, the focus should shift to finding the right coach-quarterback duo that can win with this incarnation of the roster.
Although a spruced-up offensive line wouldn't hurt, either.