Chip Kelly has audibled to Philadelphia, showing that you cannot believe any reports or sources until the final word is official. The problem is not that reporters are making up things, it is that sources who have incentives to pass bad information to gain an advantage are everywhere. Chip Kelly is burning NFL bridges with his attitude, he is returning to Oregon, he can wait. All of these play a role in negotiating for one side or another or maybe a third, where multiple teams are in.
Now that we know Kelly is going to Philadelphia, the key question for him in personnel is what he does at the quarterback position. All options have different questions that must be answered. Let’s go down them.
Nick Foles: Pros are that he has at least some potential as a passer, that he has some experience playing in the NFL, and that he comes really cheaply for a few years. Thus, there is no risk from a monetary standpoint of going with Foles short term.
The questions, of course, are whether Foles can run an offense where the quarterback has to be at least a threat to run, even if it can be adapted to Foles and the percentages tweaked. Foles ran only 11 times last year in 6 starts, for 42 yards. Foles ran a 5.1 in the 40 yard dash at the Combine. Kelly has said (via Chris Brown at Grantland):
I look for a quarterback who can run and not a running back who can throw. I want a quarterback who can beat you with his arm. We are not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team. I am not going to run my quarterback 20 times on power runs.
Foles is not going to be ripping off the 40+ yard touchdown runs that we have seen from Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III when they keep the ball on the read option and hit the second level at full speed. Can he be football intelligent enough to make the right call on the keeper enough, and pick up eight yards and slide enough, to make it a legitimate option in an offense? Expect him to get some work in the spring to find out.
Michael Vick: It really is too bad in some ways that Vick’s career began in 2001, rather than 2011. Coaching orthodoxy had his coach trying to fit Vick into the West Coast offense a decade ago. He might have been perfect for this offense. Even at 33 by next season, Vick is fast enough, and has the arm strength to make the downfield throws that will open up when teams have to drop an extra defender.
There are two issues with Vick, one obvious and one that people may just assume but is no given. The first is the contract. He would be owed over $15 million if he comes back without re-negotiating, and only $3 million if he is cut. In a vacuum, Vick is not worth $15 million. As a short term gap filler, he may be worth the “loss” to Philadelphia for a year to bridge to a better solution. If you could not believe anything that came out over the last month in the Kelly coaching saga, you certainly shouldn’t believe anything on Vick until it is final. The Eagles will have incentive to leak things about cutting him, and the parties will negotiate through the media.
Kelly may decide on a different alternative; I’m not sure there will be a better opportunity for Michael Vick than in Philadelphia now, for less money. Of course, the other X-factor that we don’t know is that Vick can actually operate in the offense. He’s got the arm strength to make big throws against favorable coverages, he’s got the speed and running ability, but can he actually run read option out of the shotgun well enough. Vick has always taken big shots. Vick has never run this offense. An underrated and important aspect is the quarterback’s ability to read the play properly. It’s why Griffin III and Kaepernick are having so much success, in addition to their passing ability. They make the right call on when to keep it or give it up way more often than not. Will Vick?
Other: There is not really a great solution for this offense in this year’s draft, at least early and with a pick that would signify a long term commitment at the position. You will hear Geno Smith. I’m not sure that Smith is really the runner to justify that. For comparison, here are some college career numbers: Kaepernick (4,112 rushing yards), Robert Griffin III (2,254 rushing yards), Russell Wilson (1,421 rushing yards), Andrew Luck (957 rushing yards), and Geno Smith (342 rushing yards). Will the Eagles have him rated highly enough to invest long term with the 4th pick? I’m not so sure.
Conversely, those running quarterbacks available don’t look like good enough passers to make me think Kelly would rather go with them over, say, a passer with more limited running like Foles. Collin Klein or Tim Tebow? Don’t see it. Could he bring one of his old Oregon quarterbacks in as a temporary competition for the job? I’m not sure about that, either. He might have someone lingering on a bench somewhere in mind (Terrelle Pryor in Oakland, for example), but my guess is that he could choose to punt short term (something he would otherwise never like to do), go stop gap, and see where Marcus Mariota is in a year.
My guess: Michael Vick could be fantastic in this offense. That may not be popular in Philadelphia, were he was a turnover machine before getting hurt. He could experience a revitalization in this offense, if he reads the ends and the defense correctly, and is freed to just let it go and not worry about staying in the pocket. He could be great throwing against defenses trying to stop LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown. I bet they want to find out. You will see lots of posturing, and he will have to take a pay cut, and we may not know for a while. I think he’s the best gamble short term, with Kelly looking for the long term solution a year later.
[photo via USA Today Sports Images]