A large focal point of Chip Kelly's career as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles has been the team's quarterback situation. Given the importance and scrutiny of the position, this is only natural. The most recent development features the official promotion of Nick Foles as the Eagles starting quarterback for the remainder of the 2013 season. Make no doubt about it: Foles has played very well in the absence of the Vick.
However, the move has some questioning why Vick ever started in the first place. Was it mistake to even bring Michael Vick in the off-season? The answer to that question is no, it was not a mistake to bring Vick back. A closer look at how the current quarterback situation developed reveals why the Eagles made the right decision.
It all started back in the off-season when the Eagles announced they brought Michael Vick on a one year deal. The move came as a surprise to some. Vick had obviously struggled in recent years in Philadelphia. Why would Kelly want to bring him back? On the other hand, the allure of Vick's speed and athleticism made it clear to some that he would be a natural fit in Kelly's offense. Part of the reason Vick was brought back was because the quarterback market was terrible. There weren't any legitimate options in free agent (there hardly are when it comes to quarterbacks), and there wasn't much available on the trade market either. Alex Smith went to Kansas City but it cost the Chiefs two second round picks and a three year, $24 million contract.
via Howard Smith, USA TODAY Sports
So, Vick was back. Alright. But what did that mean for Nick Foles? Well, some people argued second year quarterback Nick Foles should have been the Eagles starter by default. They argued Vick shouldn't have been brought back because the Eagles needed to evaluate Foles. Vick was a known commodity while Foles, an unknown commodity, had potential.
Except, Vick wasn't in the way of Foles' development. Why? Because Chip Kelly immediately declared a quarterback competition as soon as Vick was brought back to the team. Just like he had done at Oregon, Kelly set to emphasize competition here in Philadelphia. Michael Vick and Nick Foles were slated to compete in an open competition throughout the off-season. The best player would be set to win the job. Matt Barkley was then added into the mix during the draft.
Competition made sense for a number of reasons. One, Michael Vick was coming off disappointing seasons. In those years, he was the unquestioned starter. Now, a fire was lit under him. Vick is a tough competitor. It only made sense to put him in a position where he needed to play hard to earn a job. Two, Foles had done nothing to earn a starting job. It's not wise to just hand a starting job to a player who did nothing to deserve it. Foles showed some potential in his rookie season, but not enough to win a job under a new regime with a new offense and a new coach. The competition gave both players a clean slate and an equal chance to win the job.
A period of time existed in the off-season, after the draft but prior to training camp (aka The Dreaded Dead Zone), where speculation around the Eagles quarterback job ran rampant. One reporter (hello, Jimmy Kempski) said Foles clearly looked ahead of Vick in organized team activities and mini-camp. Some national reporters suggested that the quarterback competition was more of a formality than an actual event. To them, it was clear Vick was the starter. But this wasn't the case.
Training camp opened and it was clear the competition was real. Vick and Foles split the first team reps equally in practice and Kelly showed no favoritism towards one side. The competition was pretty even throughout the start of camp. What the competition did reveal early on that Barkley wasn't legitimately a threat in the competition. It was clear he was a rookie who would secure a third string job as a developmental prospect.
Then, the preseason games started, and Michael Vick played some of the best football he's played in recent years. He looked comfortable and confident out there. Foles played well during his pre-season opportunities too, but also made more errors than Vick did. He just didn't look as good as Vick did. This made Kelly's decision fairly easy. Vick won the job, fair and square. Back when Michael Vick was named the starter in late August, I wrote about how Chip Kelly made the right decision. It was clear: Vick's performance in training camp and preseason outranked his competition. He absolutely did all the right things to earn the job. Selecting Vick also proved Kelly's rightful desires to have the team "win now". As I've repeated many times in the past, that's exactly what Kelly's job is: to win football games. His job is not to play young players merely to evaluate their talents. I've explained this before:
So while the youth movement argument holds some merit, it is a flawed argument when you consider Chip's priorities. Once again, Chip came here to win now. He's on a 5 year contract, and while the money is fully guaranteed, his job is not. If Chip proves to be a failure after his first 3 seasons, he could easily be on his way out of Philly. This is why Chip can't afford to at least challenge the young QBs in training camp and pre-season. That's exactly the reason Michael Vick was re-signed: healthy competition will ensure the winner earns his job. Everything indicates that the Eagles QB competition is wide open. If Chip truly wants to win now, he'll pick the QB that gives him the best chance to do so.
Vick started the year and had some mixed results. He played well in the opener against Washington, and then again at home versus the Chargers. He struggled with turnovers against the Chiefs and then played simply OK versus Denver. He struggled as a passer but excelled as a runner before leaving the Giants game with a hamstring injury. In came Nick Foles, who played well in Vick's absence. This caused the beginning of the cries to replace Vick with Foles. Foles started against the Buccaneers and retained his success. Coming back home to face Dallas didn't end up so well. Foles looked terrible before suffering a concussion injury. Foles would then return the week after an injured Vick started and a rookie Matt Barkley finished in a loss against the Giants. It was against the Raiders that Foles returned and threw for seven touchdowns and has played well ever since.
Present day: Kelly has named Foles the starter, and Michael Vick the backup. It was absolutely the right decision. Why? Because unlike in training camp, Foles has now gone out there and earned the job. Make no mistake: Chip Kelly is not playing Foles right now because he wants to evaluate his young quarterback for the rest of the season. Think of that reasoning as a nice side benefit, but it's not the main reason. You don't play a guy just for the sake of playing a guy. The main reason Kelly announced Foles as the starter is because it's what he feels gives the team the best chance to win football games.
Wait, where have I seen that reasoning before? Oh, I don't know... how about the whole off-season? It's what the whole quarterback competition was about. It's the reason Vick was originally, and correctly, named the starter. And now it's the justification to start Foles over Vick.
It's easy to look back and say Foles should have been the starter all along due to his recent play. But that's revisionist history. He did not originally earn the job, and he gave no reason to believe he would play as well as he's doing right now. No one saw this coming. Some would argue that's exactly why he should have been playing, because he was unknown and this type of performance was "possible". Again, that's revisionist history. What if Foles took over and played terribly? Then you just handed a job to a player who did nothing to deserve it and the team is a mess. Just think about the decision making process in that proposed situation. Why would Kelly award someone the job without a concrete reason? He has too much to risk by making an uneducated decision in that situation.
Kelly is infamously known as a man who does everything for a reason. The reason here is not only obvious, but consistent. Kelly isn't flip-flopping. The decision to start Foles now isn't an acknowledgement that originally starting Vick was a mistake. It's an confirmation of the process he swore by.
The way Kelly's handled the Eagles quarterback situation up to this point is completely correct. It remains to be seen how the situation plays out beyond this year, but for now, he's made the right decisions.