PHILADELPHIA -- As the suspicion deepens that Chip Kelly's real Philadelphia Eagles quarterback is playing at Oregon or Louisville or some other college outpost this fall, it is worth revisiting the decision making that got the franchise to this point.
Put simply: Would the Eagles have been better off letting Michael Vick walk and then selecting a quarterback higher in the 2013 draft?
“There is not an Andrew Luck or (Robert Griffin III) or someone that you say that guy's going to be a 10-year All Pro, one of the best,” Kelly said. “I had the opportunity, fortunately or unfortunately, to coach against Andrew Luck in [college]. So he was as close as there was to a can't-miss guy. I don't see that type of guy in this draft at any position, to be honest with you.”
So Kelly and general manager Howie Roseman restructured Vick’s contract, retaining the veteran for one more season, and set up a competition between Vick and second-year quarterback Nick Foles for the starting job. Then they grabbed USC’s Matt Barkley in the fourth round.
Was it the right call? Are the Eagles better off with the injury-prone Vick, who has missed two starts, and with Foles, who looked like a terrible fit in Kelly’s offense? Or would they be better off with Manuel, Smith or Ryan Nassib as a young quarterback in development?
Manuel was drafted 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills. The Eagles had the fourth pick, so they could have grabbed Manuel there or traded down, adding a pick or two and getting him in the mid-teens. Manuel started the Bills’ first five games before injuring his knee. He is expected to be out another month or so.
In five games, Manuel had a passer rating of 79.4. He had thrown five touchdown passes and three interceptions. In short: a rookie learning on the job.
Smith is a more interesting case of what-if. He was taken by the New York Jets four picks after the Eagles took tight end Zach Ertz in the second round. Smith is 4-3 as a starter, including wins against Atlanta and New England.
The Eagles are 3-4 with Vick and Foles. Right now, it is hard to imagine either of them being the Eagles’ long-term answer at quarterback.
So even if Smith turned out not to be the ideal franchise quarterback for Kelly, wouldn’t the Eagles be better off with a 23-year-old Smith? His presence wouldn’t stop them from seeking one of the promising quarterbacks in the 2014 draft. And it would allow them to trade either Foles or Smith, whichever brought greater relative value, after this season.
Nassib, who grew up in West Chester and went to Malvern Prep, is harder to get a bead on. The Giants drafted him in the fourth round and he has not taken a snap in the regular season. If he turns out to be a better quarterback than Barkley, whom the Eagles chose ahead of him, that will come up in conversation again.
If Kelly winds up winning a Super Bowl someday with Marcus Mariota or Tajh Boyd at quarterback, the season he spent (or misspent) on Vick and Foles will seem like part of the plan. But if Kelly winds up wandering in the NFL desert, never quite getting that elite quarterback, it will be his decisions of early 2013 that lead him there.