During the next two weeks, The Inquirer will look at the state of the Eagles' roster entering the offseason. The series will look at who's returning at each position, and who could help the team in free agency and the draft. We start with quarterbacks.
ON THE ROSTER
Under contract: Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, G.J. Kinne
Free agents: Michael Vick
Outlook: Nick Foles’ outstanding 2013 season propelled him to the starting job and a spot among the NFL’s upper echelon of quarterbacks. His statistics (27 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 64 percent, 8-2 as a starter) served as validation, but his Pro Bowl MVP and red-carpet treatment during Super Bowl week shows how popular Foles has become around the league.
The Eagles will build their 2014 roster around Foles as the starting quarterback. Whether he’s the “franchise quarterback” makes for good debate, but it’s not one the Eagles need to worry about at this point. Foles is not eligible for a contract extension until the 2015 offseason. So the team can remain in wait-and-see mode – Foles has started only 16 regular-season games, after all – but it’s safe to say that Foles will be the starter beyond this season if he continues playing the way he did in 2013.
Still, you heard coach Chip Kelly say all season that a team needs two quarterbacks. Don’t expect Michael Vick to return to Philadelphia unless no possibilities to compete for a starting job emerge elsewhere. That won’t be the case – Vick should get the opportunity, or at least a far better one than he would have in Philadelphia. So one of the biggest questions of the offseason is about backup quarterback.
The Eagles invested a fourth-round pick in Matt Barkley last season, and they’re still high on the 23-year-old quarterback. However, Barkley needs a strong spring and summer for the team to believe he can be a trustworthy backup quarterback. Barkley’s shoulder bothered him more than he let on last summer, and he’s healthy now.
His season was not a hearty endorsement that he can be reliable: Barkley threw four interceptions and no touchdowns. He played in difficult situations, entering two games in relief while the Eagles were trailing and showing little life. Barkley is a quick decision maker, but he must play better than last season.
G.J. Kinne spent much of the season on the practice squad. He picked up the offense and is the most mobile of the three quarterbacks under roster. If Barkley is the No. 2 quarterback, Kinne’s best hope is to try to make the roster as a developmental quarterback. Draft weekend will be important for Kinne; if the Eagles draft a developmental quarterback, Kinne will become even more of a long shot to make the roster.
The Eagles will not enter free agency and the draft searching for a starting job, which should be of great relief for the front office. That doesn’t mean they’ll be inactive in acquiring quarterbacks this offseason. The Eagles are rigid about value-based drafting, and they’ll certainly take one if the value warrants such. If they feel the necessity to have a veteran backup quarterback, then they’ll be active in the free agent market.
It’s not an especially strong crop of free agent quarterbacks, but there is always a demand for veteran backups. Vick is probably the top quarterback available. Matt Cassel is a name to watch, although he’s more likely to get a chance to compete for a job elsewhere and should get paid more than what the Eagles might be thinking for that spot. But Cassel played for new Eagles quarterbacks coach Bill Musgrave in Minnesota last season, and Kelly repeatedly praised the 31-year old for his performance against the Eagles (26 of 35, 382 yards, two touchdowns). Cassel voided the final year of his deal, which would have paid him $3.7 million. He could get more for a team requiring a starting-ready backup.
One intriguing name is Colt McCoy. The former Texas star spent last season with the 49ers. He’s 27 and has 21 career starts. McCoy has good mobility and was a solid threat running threat at Texas. Some of the other free agents on the market are Minnesota's Josh Freeman, Jacksonville's Chad Henne, and Seattle's Tavaris Jackson.
It would not be a surprise if the Eagles draft a quarterback. It might not come early, and all those thoughts about Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater faded when Foles emerged during the final two months of the season. Even the next tier of quarterbacks such as Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo and LSU’s Zach Mettenberger will likely go too soon for the Eagles to bite.
If the Eagles go the Matt Barkley route and look for productive college quarterbacks who slipped in the draft, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd would fit the bill. Both are on the smaller side, but it’s hard to argue with their college production. Murray is coming off a major knee injury. Boyd lacks ideal height, although so does Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson.
On the other side of the spectrum would be a physically gifted quarterback whose production disappointed in college, such as Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas. If the Eagles want a developmental player, the coaching staff would be intrigued by the possibilities of a 6-foot-6, 250-pound quarterback with a big arm and nice athleticism (Thomas was recruited to Virginia Tech as a tight end). The Eagles would need to trust that their coaches can develop him, because his accuracy was an issue throughout college. Kelly has emphasized the trait he looks for in a quarterback is “repeatable accuracy.”