This was supposed to be a quiet year for the Eagles, a step back from Super Bowl contention for the greater good of developing Kevin Kolb as the team’s next long-term quarterback.
It didn’t work out that way. A quarter into the season, Kolb was dazed with a concussion. By the time the game was over, the maelstrom had begun in earnest.
Michael Vick—by now, he needs no introduction—was the reason why. A Sports Illustrated cover, a miraculous comeback against the division rival Giants, and an unceremonious playoff loss later, and Vick is still the center of attention.
Now he’s a free agent, and the Eagles must decide whether to commit the long-term fate of their franchise to him. Is it really that hard of a decision?
Kolb will face an uphill battle with the Phaithful from the start, in which anything less than a Super Bowl title will be viewed in comparison to what could have been with Vick.
Players who get off on the wrong foot in Philly have a tough time turning public perception around.
Witness the town’s love-hate relationship with Donovan McNabb. Or the doomed Philly career of Scott Rolen, or the after-the-fact appreciation of Steve Carleton and Mike Schmidt.
Or how Philly treated that reliable veteran who’d been delivering the goods for Philadelphians for centuries, only to be pelted with snowballs in 1968. If memory serves, guy went by the name of Kringle.
The sixth highest selling jersey in the NFL this year was Michael Vick’s. Not Ron Mexico’s. Michael Vick’s.
If Vick keeps producing on the field and keeps his nose clean off it, he’ll climb in those rankings as the memory of his seedy past and those terrible things he did to those dogs fades.
Sure, most jersey sales are pooled by the league—teams only get 12 percent of the wholesale price—but the ubiquity of Vick’s jersey helps the Eagles brand.
It’s also worth noting that the Jeffrey Lurie’s Eagles have positioned themselves as a progressive, forward-thinking team. The “green” improvements they made to their stadium—wind turbines, solar panels—is one example. Giving a second chance to an ex-con is another.
Because Vick has the locker room
The value of a quarterback having the respect of his teammates can’t be overstated.
There’s every reason to think that Kolb would blossom into a leader his teammates would rally around.
But there’s every reason to know that about Vick. He already has.
The Eagles can make this question needlessly complicated. Or they can ask any fan of the Eagles’ divisional rivals who they’re more afraid of.
They'll get their answer.
You’ll hear a lot of talk about “regression to the mean” with Vick. Because his numbers this year were so much better than his career norms, people will say he’s bound to come back to Earth.
But here’s another take: Michael Vick isn’t bound to the same statistical laws as most players. He’s a guy who urinated his talent away for the better part of a decade, then became dominant once he screwed his head on straight.
It’s reasonable to think that he hasn’t reached his ceiling. If his upward trajectory continues, he really will represent “the full fruition of the position,” in Steve Young’s words, for more than a couple games at a time.
Kolb’s impressive 2009 spawned optimism about a smooth changing of the guard in Philly. His less-than-impressive 2010 did the opposite.
Kolb wasn’t awful this year, but he wasn’t very good. He went 2-3 as a starter, and posted a 76.1 quarterback rating compared to Vick’s 100.2.
He only attempted 189 passes—roughly a third of a season’s work—but that’s more attempts than he had coming into this year.
In other words, there’s more evidence that Kolb is mediocre than good.
If Donovan McNabb yields a second and a fourth-rounder, if Charlie Whitehurst yields a third rounder and a jump of 20 spots in the second round, if Matt Cassel (and Mike Vrabel) yields a second rounder, it’s not a stretch to say the Eagles can get pretty good value for Kolb.
When it comes to getting sacked, it’s difficult to parse out responsibility between the offensive line and the quarterback. Still, it’s safe to say that Philly’s pass protection is bad.
The Eagles ranked 26th in the league in sack percentage this year. Granted, Vick took more sacks per dropback than Kolb, but don’t forget all the good things that happened when the pass protection broke down when Vick was playing quarterback.
It’s a simple issue: Given that the pass protection is likely to break down, isn’t it better to have Vick back there than Kolb?
For years, Andy Reid had run a round hole offense with Donovan McNabb as a square peg.
Reid’s offense was predicated on short routes and well-timed, accurate passing. God bless him, McNabb tried, but his strength was always the deep ball, and he always struggled with the short stuff.
Then along came DeSean Jackson. And Jeremy Maclin.
Credit Andy Reid for changing the program. Starting in 2009, the Eagles became a big-play team, an identity that will persist as long as Jackson and Maclin are on the team.
Kolb might be a better fit for the old Andy Reid offense. But the new Eagles offense demands someone who can chuck the ball 65-yards with a flick of the wrist.
There’s only one guy on the roster who fits that description.
Sure, the Eagles were bounced in the first round, but it’s worth remembering that they were one of the league’s elite teams for most of the year before injuries slowed them at the end.
With a return to health of some key defenders, and couple of tweaks here and there—Nnamdi Asomugha, anyone?—they’ll enter 2011 on the short list of Super Bowl contenders.
Now is not the time to tear this team down and start all over with an unproven quarterback.