I'VE HAD A fair number of people ask me if I agree that Michael Vick should be starting for the Eagles tonight, when the Chip Kelly era begins at FedEx Field in Landover, Md.
I always answer the question the same way: Vick clearly won the training-camp quarterbacking competition with Nick Foles.
But my real answer is, I dunno.
Despite all the talk about how Vick might turn around his fading fortunes in Kelly's offense, I still see this: New coach. Rebuilding mode, team that didn't draft well for several years. Injury-prone, 33-year-old quarterback. And I still wonder how that fits together, what the long game is here. Let's say Vick plays really, really well, stays healthy. With this defense, I still think we're looking at 8-8, 9-7. We certainly aren't looking at the Super Bowl.
So is Vick back again next year, at age 34? Do the Eagles sign him to another multiyear, big-bucks contract, like they did in 2011, a deal they came to regret? I have a hard time even imagining that.
What I don't have a hard time imagining is that Vick plays OK, still turns the ball over in the red zone more than he or Kelly would like, misses three or four games with injuries, the Eagles finish 6-10, 7-9.
How do you get from there to where you need to be to draft one of the two or three potential franchise QBs in the 2014 draft? Do you go into Year 2 of Kelly's rebuilding project with either a rookie running the show, or a Nick Foles or Matt Barkley as a first-year full-time starter? Do you declare, "Hey, this time Vick's gonna stay healthy, and make good decisions under pressure."
What, then, are the expectations for 2014?
I touched on it in a piece last week - the lack of a bona fide, long-term franchise quarterback is the biggest obstacle to Kelly succeeding here. Name a coach in the last decade who has built a strong, steady, contending team without that. Name a team that has won the Super Bowl in the last decade without a franchise quarterback.
As you've probably heard before, this is the biggest difference between the dawn of the Andy Reid era in 1999 and where the Eagles are today. Reid's first team went 5-11, after a 3-13 debacle in the final season of Ray Rhodes. Reid's first year was underwhelming, except for the part where the second overall selection in the 1999 draft, Donovan J. McNabb, took over as the starting quarterback down the stretch. When the season ended, everybody understood Reid was building something.
Will we have that assurance at the end of 2013?
I understand why Kelly thinks Vick might be his best option to win some games this season. It's entirely possible that if you put Foles or Barkley out there to make young-guy mistakes, without Vick's elite arm or athleticism, the new coach could go 4-12 or worse. Hard to build morale, give players confidence in what you're asking them to do, etc., if you lose over and over and over, and that's all they know of you. But at the end of the season, you'd either know you had something in Foles or Barkley, or you'd be in good position to draft a franchise quarterback.
"My job is to win right now," Kelly said at the start of training camp, when asked about this very question. "How do you think I'd be received in Philly if I told them we were going to write this year off? Those people that are waving to me on the streets right now? That ain't gonna happen.
"But that's never been my mentality, either. We're not writing anything off. We're going out there to compete and see how it falls, but that's never been our mentality. I don't think anyone on our staff, anyone in our locker room . . . you want to talk about our players buying in? If I went in the locker room and said, 'This is going to be a really good year for us to get ready for the following year,' that's not going to work.
"No one has a mindset like that. So our decision isn't based upon what is the future 2 years down the road, 3 years down the road. I don't think that far."
I think he does think that far, on some level. I think you have to, to have any sort of coherent plan. I would love to know how Kelly, deep down, in his heart, sees this all working out. I still feel what I felt in February, when the Eagles surprised most of us by bringing Vick back under a 1-year deal: It makes sense only if you think you can somehow wring 3 or 4 franchise-QB-level years out of a guy drafted back in 2001, whose effectiveness still depends heavily on his legs. That will be a heckuva trick, if Kelly can manage it.
I don't think the result tonight, or next week against the Chargers, or in the game that next Thursday against Andy and the Chiefs, is really going to tell us whether the Kelly era will be successful.
But the identity of the starting quarterback a year from today might very well tell us that.