Chip Kelly should feel awfully proud about the progress he’s made in his debut season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. Kelly, a former University Oregon luminary truly grasped the bull by its horns when he first stepped onto Lincoln Financial Field last January. Thus far, he had the luxury of transforming a cellar-dwelling 4-12 Eagles squadron who lacked the tangibles of a stable quarterback and a bruising defensive line in 2012 into a functional playoff contender overnight. Kelly accomplished what previous head coach, Andy Reid couldn’t in his first season: prevail.
Kelly wasted no time when he assumed the position of head coach in 2013. In a franchise overhaul, Kelly threw away many of the philosophies and methods of the former regime and instilled a demanding, but fluctuating game plan. Kelly referred to himself as an “equal opportunity scorer” explaining that he is not married to a specific scheme or formula, but is more interested in tailoring his attack to fit his personnel. Since the beginning of the 2013 season, Kelly and his birds enter Lincoln Financial Field on game day as one unit – a ploy never implemented under Reid or Howie Roseman. It was with this very modification that allowed Kelly and the Eagles to stare adversity in the face and reach the division’s highest pinnacle. Kelly revamped a sluggish offensive unit when he implemented the spread offense, he installed quarterback, Nick Foles, after injuries plagued an incumbent Michael Vick, he allowed Bill Davis to run the defense, and led the Eagles to a 10-6 record along with a Wild Card berth. Unfortunately Kelly and the Eagles were unable overcome the might of the New Orleans Saints’ running game allowing Mark Ingram with 18 carries and 97 rushing yards as they left the birds breathless in a saddening 24-26 loss. Despite the inability to advance further into the playoffs, Kelly’s leadership demonstrated progress which only bears the question: what is next for the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles?
If the draft or free agency were to begin today, the Eagles would have to first address their porous defense. Broken tackles and poor blocking from the Eagles defensive unit created running room for opposing tailbacks all year. The Eagles were trampled by opposing running backs Adrian Peterson, Mark Ingram, Jamal Charles, Ryan Mathews, and Knowshon Moreno in 5 of their losses this season. The Eagles are projected to draft a safety or a cornerback with the 22nd pick. The Eagles will also need to address pending free agents, wide receivers Riley Cooper and injury-prone Jeremy Maclin, as well as punter Donnie Jones and safety, Nate Allen.
All four of these players sustained marquee roles with the organization and have proven they are highly-deserving of contract extension despite injury or off-field miscues. However, the one free agent who stands out from the rest is quarterback, Michael Vick, a man who has seen more opportunities than missed. Vick’s free agent status is quite glaring as opposed to the Eagles’s other in-house free agent possibly due to his previous history with the franchise dating back to 2009. Vick’s tenure in Philadelphia is certainly one of the most tumultuous I can recall in NFL history. Vick owed everything to the Philadelphia Eagles after being released from the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas for charges of operating an illegal interstate dog fighting ring from 2002-2007.
Following his mentorship by former Indianapolis head coach, Tony Dungy, Vick filed for reinstatement into the NFL only to discover that his former team, the Atlanta Falcons moved on without him. After exploring a trade, owner Arthur Banks ultimately decided to cut ties with Vick barring the former Virginia Tech sensation from the Georgia Dome. It was not until Aug. 13, 2009 when the Philadelphia Eagles signed Vick to a one-year contract where he was named the third-string quarterback behind Kevin Kolb and Donovan McNabb. After seeing limited action, Vick successfully cleaned up his act and finally solidified his role as the starting Eagles quarterback after then-starter Kevin Kolb suffered a concussion in the 20-27 loss against the Green Bay Packers in 2010. Vick eventually led the Eagles to a 10-6 record winning the NFC East and entering the postseason with a Wild Card berth.
While Vick’s character improved and his leadership intensified, his on-field struggles began entering the 2011 season. The Eagles did not continue to play at the level as they did in 2010 after Vick agreed to a six-year contract worth approximately $100 million in the offseason. Vick quickly saw his stock plummet when turnovers and injuries afflicted his unorthodox style of play as he endured broken ribs and a fractured hand that forced him to miss two games. His absence ultimately cost the Eagles a fourth consecutive trip to the postseason as they finished 8-8. With little light at the end of the tunnel, Vick continually digressed in 2012 as the Eagles finished 4-12- their worst season since 1998.
Once Kelly stepped onto the scene, Vick was retained and won the starting job again despite scrutiny by the media. After a 1-3 start, Vick was sidelined with a hamstring injury and was replaced again by Nick Foles who rallied the Eagles in a 36-21 victory against the New York Giants. As Vick nursed his hamstring, Foles relieved the quarterback efficiently, becoming the second NFL quarterback to post a perfect 158 passer rating with more than 400 passing yards and seven touchdowns in a single game against the Oakland Raiders. The momentum only continued when Foles led the Eagles to the postseason with a 10-6 record, throwing 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions as opposed to Vick who completed 30 touchdown passes and threw a whopping 24 interceptions in his previous two seasons. Now while the argument can be made that Eagles have found their quarterback of the future in Nick Foles, their depth at the backup position appears thin if Vick were to walk. The Eagles could easily move on without Vick as there are plenty of free agent signal-callers leaping for an opportunity in the NFL, but once again, how easy will it be without Michael Vick? Nick Foles has proven he is no iron man behind the Eagles offensive line.
Last season the second-year veteran was diagnosed with a concussion in a slugfest against the Dallas Cowboys and was forced to miss two games. The Eagles resorted to third-string rookie quarterback, Matt Barkley, who played horrifically under duress. The USC quarterback threw for 129 yards, 4 interceptions and no touchdowns in two games as a starter. Now granted, ugly numbers are pretty standard for a rookie quarterback selected in the lower rounds of the NFL Draft, but in comparison to Foles, Barkley would have to hold Frank Reich’s jock strap before considering him as Foles’s go-to-guy. The bottom line is Barkley is not ready to be the Eagles backup option and Kelly would like to have an insurance cushion if Foles were to go down again. On paper, resigning Vick seems unwise and unnecessary, but from personnel perspective it makes logical sense. After returning from his hamstring injury, Kelly named Foles the starting quarterback for the remainder of the season and to the surprise of many, Vick was quite comfortable and willing to take the backseat. He never fought the organization’s decision, acted selfishly, nor did he initiate quarterback controversy. He suited up for game day humble and appreciative as supporting his team from afar. Vick’s maturity and willingness to mentor only illustrates how far he’s come as a NFL quarterback and as a person. If you were to flashback to Vick as an Atlanta Falcon and look closely at Vick currently as a Philadelphia Eagle, you will discover that the two are simply incomparable.
Vick will turn 34 this June – a grey hair mark for an NFL quarterback. While there are plenty of landing spots in free agency, it’s difficult to imagine a fragile Vick being the long term answer for quarterback-needy team. If Vick were to land a gig with the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Buffalo Bills with Super Bowl aspirations you are deeply mistaken. Vick would only serve as a stopgap for a quarterback-deprived team and even if he were successful enough to take a squad to the postseason his stay would most likely be short-lived. His age and his delicate health have shown its true colors from 2011 to 2013 and it would only be ideal for the Eagles to retain Vick who has maintained a veteran presence as opposed to a Tyler Thigpen or Brady Quinn signee who is destined to fail upon acquisition. The Eagles have plenty of important personnel and roster issues to address this offseason especially in regards to their frail defense and weaknesses on special teams, but preserving Vick would be heading in the right direction even if it is not their most sizable priority.
Drew Mattiola is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.