Now that Chip Kelly has once again decided against taking an NFL head-coaching job and is out of the mix for the opening to replace Andy Reid in Philadelphia, the odds that Michael Vick sticks around to quarterback the Eagles in 2013 have dropped from slim to slimmer.
With that in mind, now is a good time to address the Philly quarterback situation.
After several quality performances as a rookie, third-round pick Nick Foles is probably the lead candidate to quarterback this team in Week 1. However, a lot could change between now and early September, especially if Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman bring in a head coach who has another name in mind.
The good news is that NFL rules allow teams to carry more than one quarterback on the 53-man roster. Therefore, when we break down the quarterback possibilities for the Eagles, it's not necessarily X vs. Y. A healthy training camp battle wouldn't hurt anyone, and it wouldn't be outlandish if Foles were to start the 2013 season backing up a veteran offseason acquisition.
When it comes to veteran candidates, it's really either Vick or Alex Smith. Starting-caliber quarterbacks don't often hit the open market or the trade market, but circumstances have probably made those two available.
Vick, of course, was always available to the Eagles. He remains on the roster but is slated to make $15.5 million in 2013. Considering that he's been injury- and turnover-prone for much of the last three years, it's hard to rationalize keeping the 32-year-old around at that salary. Philly can cut Vick for free, so long as the move is made by early February, and the expectation is that will happen.
So what about Smith, who is sort of the Bizarro Vick? Had the 28-year-old qualified, he'd have been the league's third-highest-rated passer this season. He had the NFL's lowest interception percentage in 2011 and he's lost just six fumbles in 45 starts since the beginning of 2009 (Vick has lost 12 in his last 35 starts).
Smith is a smart, risk-averse quarterback who could manage the offense but not carry it. Having LeSean McCoy and Jason Peters and DeSean Jackson all healthy and on top of their game would be necessary if the Eagles were to succeed with the former top pick under center. However, that's probably also the case with Foles or anyone else who is a candidate to take snaps for this team in 2013.
Smith isn't guaranteed to be available and the price tag isn't about dollar signs but instead trade ammunition. The San Francisco 49ers have him under contract through 2014, but the emergence of 2011 second-round pick Colin Kaepernick has many believing that Smith will be available for the right trade partner.
So is that the sort of move the Eagles should consider making once their new head coach (whomever that might be) is on board? Obviously, it depends on what they're giving up. However, I think this franchise would be better off entering 2013 with Smith and Foles leading the quarterback depth chart than with Vick and Foles in the top two spots, especially considering the money they'd save (approximately $8 million next year).
If they acquire Smith, they'll surely have to make him the starter. What does that say to Foles? With that in mind, and again with that price tag considered, I think the Eagles would be better off deciding ahead of time if they're going to ride with Foles or not to kick off 2013. If they're confident in the Arizona product, it would be silly to trade away draft picks and/or players and give Smith his $7.5 million base salary just for the sake of creating camp competition.
Another option exists, and that involves the Eagles using a draft pick on a quarterback for the fourth time in seven years. This is not considered to be a good year for quarterbacks in the draft, and the Eagles are extremely unlikely to select a signal-caller in the first round (something they haven't done since they selected Donovan McNabb in 1999). The question is, what if a Landry Jones or a Tyler Wilson can be had later?
Rather than pay up for a guy like Smith, who is talented but was still ultimately replaced this season by an unproven sophomore, I think the most prudent route is that one. Forget Vick in February, stay away from Smith and instead use a single, mid-round draft pick on someone who might be able to emerge should Foles not pan out, but who could be a quality backup regardless.
Of course, the next head coach might not see eye-to-eye with me on that plan of attack. What do you believe is the best strategy for how the Eagles should tackle the quarterback position this offseason? Let me know in the comments section and cast a vote in the poll.
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