Kelly's word games aside, Foles is starting

PHILADELPHIA – There is more shtick than substance in Chip Kelly’s replies to questions about the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback situation.

Kelly does not have to name Nick Foles his No. 1 quarterback for all eternity, or even for the rest of the season. As I wrote the other day, there are perfectly good arguments for his continuing to avoid making any declarations.

But Kelly’s refusal to acknowledge that Foles is the starter for Sunday’s game in Green Bay? That’s just being silly, to borrow a word Kelly used to describe risking injury to Foles in pursuit of the single-game touchdown record.

Foles took all of the first-team reps in practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Rookie Matt Barkley took the second-team reps. Michael Vick, still nursing a twice-injured hamstring, barely did anything football-related.

“Before when Mike was injured,” Kelly said, “we got him in on 7-on-7 [drills] and things like that. But he hasn’t taken any reps on 7-on-7 this week.”

The real question regarding Vick isn’t whether there’s any chance he starts in Green Bay. There isn’t. The real question is whether this injury, and his slow recovery after rushing back from the initial hamstring strain, is a milepost on Vick’s journey toward the end of his career.

He is 33. He said he had groin injuries in each of the first two games of this season but played through them. He pulled the hamstring while running out of bounds, untouched, in the Eagles’ Oct. 6 game against the Giants at MetLife Stadium. After missing two games, he tried to return for the home game against the Giants on Oct. 27.

“He came back before and injured it again shortly in the first quarter against the [Giants],” Kelly said. “So I think we’ve got to make sure you can’t rush him back. You have to make sure he’s healthy again when it goes. It doesn’t help anybody if Mike goes out there, he can only play a limited amount of snaps, because we’re back where we started.”

Vick pushed himself to return the last time because Foles had been knocked out with a concussion and was unavailable for the second Giants game.

Vick also has bonus money tied to playing time. At the time of the Giants game, he still had a chance to reach the $1.2 million bonus for playing in 80 percent of the offensive plays. At this point, based on the team’s average number of offensive plays per game, Vick would have to return to the field against Washington on Nov. 17 and play nearly every snap of the remaining six games to get above 60 percent of the plays.

That would trigger a $700,000 bonus. Vick would get $500,000 if he plays half the total offensive plays. Vick is at 52 percent after nine games. Assuming he misses Game 10 in Green Bay, he’d have to play in more than half the remaining plays to get to that $500,000 bonus.

If the contract was a factor in his decision to return from the original hamstring injury, it backfired. Vick played just 17 plays and knocked himself out for at least the next two games.

From Kelly’s perspective, the issue isn’t Vick’s incentive clause. It’s whether Foles can run his offense consistently well enough to win. As long as Foles avoids a letdown game like the one against Dallas, or another injury, it doesn’t make much sense for Kelly to go back to a guy whose body seems to be breaking down.

Kelly can play word games with the media, but his main concern is winning real games.