When it comes to Birds' QBs, assume nothing

Kevin Kolb has yet to take full ownership of the starting quarterback position. (Clem Murray/Staff Photographer)

If nothing else, what has transpired with the Eagles' quarterbacks since the end of the 2009 season has taught us that little should be taken for granted about Andy Reid and his suddenly mercurial approach to that position.

In succession, Reid said that Donovan McNabb, then Kevin Kolb and then Michael Vick would be the starter for the 2010 season. After a decade in which there was a stubborn lack of movement regarding the quarterback, the upheaval was not only unprecedented but unforeseeable.

Now we arrive at the closing acts of another season and the assumptions about the future are beginning to stack up once again. It is assumed that Vick will return as the starter in 2011, barring a work stoppage, and that he will probably be given a one-year franchise tag contract.

The second assumption is that Kolb, whose three-year apprenticeship behind McNabb earned him the starting job for 22 plays, will return as the backup. It is difficult to tell how the organization actually regards Kolb now, but outwardly he is cast as a steady insurance policy that will pay predictable, if unspectacular, dividends.

Both are good guesses, assuming that Vick exits the postseason in reasonable health and that Kolb does nothing to significantly help or hurt his status. There is another possibility, of course; that Kolb's desperation pass at the end of Sunday's rainy, wretched debacle against Dallas marked his last moments on the field as an Eagle.

If the Eagles don't advance deeply into the postseason, and particularly if they were to lose Sunday in the first round to the Packers, this would have to be regarded as another wasted season in the team's development of Kolb. September has spun into January and, realistically, the organization still doesn't seem to know much more about his true potential than it did during training camp.

If Vick gets them back to the Super Bowl, then the trade-off will have been worth it. Anything less, and it is just another season without a complete evaluation of the quarterback of the future. Kolb played poorly before being injured against Green Bay in the opener, was just OK taking over for Vick against Washington, had decent starts against San Francisco and Atlanta, and then wasn't effective against Tennessee. He can't really be judged for what happened in the glorified scrimmage against Dallas, but his own assessment was that he didn't play well.

So, who is Kevin Kolb? We still don't know for sure. There may be more information arriving as soon as Sunday, however. Vick is recovering from a thigh bruise that might limit his mobility, and the Packers led the conference in sack percentage this season. It would be another irony in Kolb's ironic career if Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who has 131/2 sacks, was the one to put Kolb back in the lineup after also being the one who removed him.

The probability is that Vick gets through the game or games, though. He's tough, has taken a ton of hits this season, and only came out because of a freak rib injury. As Kolb has done most of the season and almost all of his professional career, he will still be standing on the sideline.

If that's the way it ends, and if the assumption regarding Vick is accurate, are we really to believe the Eagles would bring back Kolb for a fifth season as the backup? Maybe, since Vick's high-risk style could lead to injury again, but maybe not, because Kolb's trade value might never be higher and the market for quarterbacks might never be more robust.

Look around the league and you can find a dozen teams that need an upgrade at the quarterback position. The draft won't provide much help, especially if Andrew Luck opts for another season at Stanford; and aside from Denver's Kyle Orton, there isn't anyone with Kolb's combination of youth and potential who might become available.

Should the Eagles be able to get a decent first-round pick for Kolb - their own won't be higher than the 21st selection - they just might grab it and, as Buddy Ryan used to say, let the young man get on with his life's work.

That outcome would mean the Eagles felt they had seen enough to decide that Kolb is not a superstar in waiting. It might mean those 22 plays against Green Bay - 15, if you subtract the three he played after his concussion and the four in which Vick was the Wildcat quarterback prior to it - were enough.

Otherwise, how to explain the quick change of starters? Vick finished the Green Bay game well and was very good against the Lions, the 12th-ranked defense in the conference. Would Vick's play in those 11/2 games have gotten him the job if it were McNabb who suffered the concussion in the opener? We'll never know, but it was enough to push aside Kolb.

What the organization really thinks will remain a mystery, right up until the time Kolb is either traded or retained. And as for the assumptions that seem so logical about next season, the last year has proved that none of them mean a thing.


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at 215-854-5842 or bford@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.