Most of you can probably guess that I was shocked and disappointed at yesterday’s announcement that the Eagles have restructured Vick’s deal for a year. To be abundantly clear: I think it’s a bad move. However, there are a lot of different aspects to this decision, which I’ll endeavor to discuss here, some of which may be quite positive/hopeful.
– Chip Kelly clearly isn’t enamored with Foles. Not a huge surprise, due to Foles’ relative lack of mobility, but I was hoping Chip would value the accuracy and poise more highly than he apparently has. Also, I’m not buying the whole “open competition” comment. Foles and Vick could not be more different as quarterbacks. As a result, whichever “system” Kelly puts into place will tilt heavily towards one of them. If the offense relies on the read-option, I don’t see any way Foles would win a competition for the starting job, he’s just not a fit for that scheme.
Also, the rumored discussions with Dennis Dixon should be added to the puzzle here. In total, it’s clear that despite Chip’s professed flexibility, he really does want a truly mobile quarterback that can threaten defenses with his legs.
If I was Andy Reid, I would already be calling the Eagles and making an offer for Foles (or waiting to see if I could sign Alex Smith, then making a play for Foles).
– That doesn’t mean he’s in love with Vick. My current belief is that Kelly doesn’t like either Vick or Foles as his permanent QB. However, he has a specific system that he wants to install, and Vick was as close to a “fit” as there was on the market. The fact that Vick wanted to stay here and was willing to rework his deal made that option very attractive. Under this scenario, Kelly gets to fully install his system year 1 with Vick as the caretaker, rather than adapting it to suit Foles’ skills and then restarting when he finds “his guy”. This makes some sense to me, though it suggests Kelly is heavily invested in his scheme, which makes me nervous considering he’s never tried it in the NFL. In this case, it’s also possible the Eagles have their eye on a couple of QBs in the draft, and if they get one of them, can cut Vick before the season starts. Vick gives the team insurance and means they don’t have to reach or overpay in the draft for a rookie.
– Maybe Chip is reading this blog. Over a number of posts, I’ve explained why this past season the Eagles, in all likelihood, underperformed their “true success rate”. The team was beset by injuries that decimated the OL, arguably the most important position group behind the QB. Additionally, the Eagles had terrible luck when it came to turnovers (both giving/receiving and recovering). Add in the near-historic special-teams ineptitude and it’s quite possible Chip reviewed last season and decided the potential is there for a much better football team than we saw this season. For those of you looking for hope, this is the theory for you. Predictions, for the most part, are worthless, especially when it comes to sports. However, I’m going to make a couple here that I am extremely confident in, each of which bodes well for the team (I’ve mentioned them before):
1) The Eagles will not lose 22 fumbles next year or have a TO Differential of -24. I’ve explained that fumbling the ball is largely random, and this year the Eagles caught the tail of that distribution. Of the last 320 NFL team seasons, the 2012 Eagles had more lost fumbles than 99.4% of them (only one team had more). THAT WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN NEXT YEAR.
2) In a related note, the Eagles recovered just 35% of all fumbles last season. This number is almost completely random and over the long-term should be around 50%. Though it’s certainly possible for the team to be unlucky again next year, I’m going to predict that the Eagles will recover MORE THAN 35% of all fumbles next year.
3) The Eagles this year had the worst relative field position BY FAR at -6.67 yards (a result of turnovers and terrible special teams). A previous post of mine showed little persistence in this measure from year-to-year, therefore there is no reason to believe the Eagles will be that bad again next year. So…the Eagles will have SIGNIFICANTLY BETTER average field position next year.
I apologize for repeating these, but they are vital pieces of evidence towards my most hopeful Chip Kelly/Vick/Eagles scenario. None of these predictions require any great insight, just a cursory exploration of recent historical statistics and basic analysis. It is quite possible (likely in fact), that Kelly and/or Roseman has reviewed these numbers and arrived at the same conclusions.
If so, it is entirely reasonable for Kelly to believe that combining better luck with a healthier OL, the #4 pick in the draft, and a few positional upgrades to the defense (hard not to find upgrades since they were so bad last year) will result in a significantly better team and one that can compete for both a playoff spot and a division title.
– Grace-period utilization. Due to the performance of the team this year, it’s clear that Chip Kelly is not expected to perform a miraculous one-year turnaround. He knows he has, in essence, a free year. I mentioned early on in the coaching process that regardless of Kelly’s motives, he had to be salivating at the thought of Shady and Bryce Brown together in the back field. Add in a healthy D-Jax, and you’ve got the type of speed Kelly prized at Oregon (and is VERY difficult to collect in the NFL). In light of this, Chip might be thinking he has nothing to lose by trying to shoot the moon by adding Vick to this line-up. I’m seeing a few people talking about Vick losing a step, but I don’t agree with it. I’ve been pretty clear about Vick’s shortcomings as a QB, but speed is one area I am not concerned about. Even at 85% of his prime-speed, Vick is fast enough to devastate defenses.
If Kelly has been given explicit guarantees of his job security (i.e. low expectations for this year) from Lurie, and I bet he has, then he really has nothing to lose by trying to go for it with Vick for 1 year. The only cost here is impeding Foles’ development, but as I mentioned above, I don’t think Kelly cares about that and wouldn’t be surprised if Foles gets traded.
– Run-heavy option offense. The biggest problem with Vick, outside of his fragility, is his propensity for turnovers. However, Kelly might believe he can solve that problem fairly easily. How? Don’t throw the ball. Shurmur has already alluded to a run-heavy attack, and with Shady and BB, that should be the strategy. It’s possible, though, that he’s underselling just how run-heavy the offense could be. Could the Eagles try to run a Georgia Tech-style triple option in the NFL? Why not? Kelly has already stated that the only reasoning he won’t accept is “that’s the way it’s always been done”, which BTW is my absolute favorite thing about him. With the speed in the Eagles backfield, a healthy OL (a healthy Peters especially), and perhaps a stud OT with the #4 pick, Kelly might believe he has the necessary ingredients to make an extremely run-heavy option offense work in the NFL.
If Vick doesn’t throw the ball, he can’t throw interceptions. Fumbles are another story, but IMO they are much less of an issue than interceptions (both more random and easier to fix).
Concluding – Hopefully the thoughts above have given you a few new things to consider. In any case, the Eagles will be interesting and entertaining, which at the end of the day is why the team exists. We can complain all we want about not having a Super Bowl, but at least the team isn’t boring. Would you rather be a Bucs fan? If I was in charge, I would have already cut ties with Vick, but in exploring the situation, I can see a few strands of logic in the decision to keep him. The fact is Kelly is coming into the league with such a good reputation, that anything he does right now deserves the benefit of the doubt. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to tear him up later.