It is widely regarded that quarterback is the most important position on an NFL team. Nobody is really going to argue that. But there is one dynamic on a football team that is, for one reason or another, rarely discussed: the relationship between quarterbacks and head coaches.
It's not really a secret that there is a relationship between the quarterback on a roster and a head coach's job security. Most likely the only reason Chuck Pagano has a job still is because Andrew Luck is his quarterback. Jim Caldwell took the Colts to the Super Bowl in his rookie season as a head coach and was unceremoniously fired two seasons later after Peyton Manning missed the entire season. On the flip side of the coin, other quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III oozed with natural talent but saw their careers systematically destroyed by poor coaching. A coach's job is tied to his quarterback's play, and a quarterback can be ruined by poor coaching. It's clear that this has been the driving force behind Chip Kelly's coaching tenure, and a huge factor in his roster moves as the de facto general manager.
For the record, I think Kelly made the right choice by blowing up the roster. It was pretty obvious that 10-6 was that team's ceiling, and Nick Foles' benching in St. Louis for Case Keenum only exemplifies this. He blew up the roster in the wrong ways - mainly by signing players with injury histories and completely failing to address the offensive line - but that course of action was the right one. But, for better or for worse, this is the outcome of that decision. Chip Kelly took these risks because he wasn't afraid to fail, and that is exactly what happened.
So now Lurie will have to decide what to do with Kelly at the end of the season. If the locker room has turned on him, then the choice is obvious: he has to go. There's no way a coach rebounds from that. But, for the sake of the argument, let's take the players' remarks at face value and say they still believe in him. From there, the decision is not as simple as, "Well, I'll give him a mulligan and see if he can turn it around." Far from it.
The only date that should matter now to Jeffrey Lurie is April 28. That is the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and it might be the day the Eagles select their next quarterback. Now, this draft class isn't exactly loaded with sure-fire quarterback talent, but just because one risk backfired doesn't mean you stop taking them. As long as you make enough calculated risks, the odds of taking one that pays off begin to increase. The best route for the Eagles to take is to avoid the fallacy of sunk costs and begin to look elsewhere for their signal caller. If the Eagles are to grab a passer in the next draft with a high pick, who the guy is on the sidelines with the headset is going to be an immensely important detail.
Should Kelly keep the job, he might go after an accurate - but raw - passer with good mobility, like Paxton Lynch. There isn't much reason to doubt that he could be successful in Kelly's offense. Say what you want about Chip's attitude or game planning, his system (on paper) is very quarterback friendly when things are working. It doesn't need Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, or Ben Roethlisberger to operate. This is what I personally prefer to see in offensive systems, because designing the offense around the quarterback is all well and good until that player goes down with injury. When Aaron Rodgers went down in 2013, the Packers had to pick up Matt Flynn off the street to save their season. When Nick Foles went down last year, Mark Sanchez was actually able to keep the team competitive until the crushing loss to the Redskins in Week 16. Yes, I'll take the offense that can stay afloat with a backup quarterback, please.
So if Kelly chooses the next quarterback, Lurie is gambling that the team will at least see some progress in 2016. Should it fail, Kelly will almost certainly be fired and now the Eagles are stuck looking for a new head coach who will be willing to work with someone else's quarterback. If that fails, the team will be in the market for a quarterback again, and will start the rapid descent into becoming the NFC's version of the Cleveland Browns.
The other option, then, is to clean house in January and give the next regime the option to pick the quarterback. Obviously there is no guarantee that this will yield results either, but at the very least the coach will not be tied to a quarterback he did not select. But are the quarterback options for 2016 worth picking a new coach over? Are the prospects of Lynch, Goff, Hackenburg and the like really the type of players you make that risk for? Overhauling a coaching regime just to watch them pick the next Blaine Gabbert in the draft is not really a smart move. It's really only possible to judge decisions like that in hindsight since we don't know how the 2016 quarterback class will pan out, but it is nonetheless a decision that Lurie will need to make at the end of the season.
So that is really the question Lurie needs to ask himself, and the question I'll ask you: "Do I have more faith in Chip, or in the next class of quarterbacks?"
If the fates of quarterbacks and head coaches continue to be linked as they are now, it might be the hardest question Lurie has ever had to answer as the owner of the Eagles.