The Eagles’ 2013 QB Connundrum


The 2012 Philadelphia Eagles have many problems. One of the ones that didn’t seem to be there at the beginning of the season, however, was quarterback. Recall, if you will, where the Eagles’ QB situation was in September: Michael Vick was firmly entrenched as the starting QB, coming off a disappointing year but looking to rebound. Rookie backup Nick Foles had just set the NFL on fire in his extended preseason due to Vick’s injury. Every Eagles fan saw one of three scenarios playing out: Either Vick would bounce back to his 2010 form and take a stranglehold on the QB job, Vick would get injured and Foles would step in and prove himself to be the QB of 2013, or Vick would play poorly and be released at the end of the season with Foles stepping into the starting QB spot.

Sept. 23, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (9) and quarterback Michael Vick (7) during the game against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Eagles 27 – 6. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-US PRESSWIRE

What has happened, however, is something not many were predicting. Vick struggled, then got injured, and was replaced by Foles. To describe his 8 quarters of game action as “underwhelming” thus far would be generous. He hasn’t given any signs to say that he can be the Eagles’ QB of the future, and therefore the Eagles face an unexpected, unwelcome decision under center this offseason. The way I see it, they have four different options from which to choose:

1) The Status Quo

Easily the least-likely and least-desirable outcome. The team could theoretically bring both Vick and Foles back, especially if Vick takes a pay cut. They could also cut Vick and go with Foles as the starter, with Trent Edwards and another veteran QB or late-round draft pick backing him  up. However, this doesn’t seem to be a feasible scenario. Vick’s production over the past two years makes it impossible for the Eagles to bring him back at his $17.9M cap hit, and the pay cut the Eagles would ask Vick to take will probably be too steep for his liking. The $13.7M the Eagles will save on the cap by cutting Vick can be used to upgrade the roster elsewhere. With Andy Reid likely on the way out, Vick should follow. Possible suitors for him could include Oakland, Buffalo, Cleveland, Arizona, Jacksonville, and Kansas City. One situation I could see Vick staying here, however unlikely it is, would be if the Eagles hired Oregon coach Chip Kelly as the new head coach and he wanted to run his patented “blur” offense with Vick as the QB. However, even if Vick is cut I doubt the Eagles will give Foles the starting job without adding any serious competition since he hasn’t shown much thus far. While this could change over the next 5 games, look for a strong competitor at the least brought in this offseason. This brings me to my next point.

2) Trade

This is my option of choice. There are two starting-caliber QBs who would figure to be available on the trade market this offseason: Alex Smith of San Francisco and Matt Flynn of Seattle. Smith has led the 49ers to a 20-6-1 record over the past 2 seasons, including a trip to the 2011 NFC Championship game. However, Colin Kaepernick has wrested the job from him with two spectacular performances as Smith’s replacement due to a concussion suffered against the St. Louis Rams. With Kaepernick looking to be the 49ers’ long-term QB, Smith and his estimated $9.75M salary would figure to be on the market. As evidenced in the past 2 years, Smith can win games as a starting QB. However, he’s relied on conservative, risk-free playcalling, an incredible running game, and spectacular defense and special teams units the past 2 years in San Francisco. Smith can only work in the right system. With Stanford coach David Shaw (a Jim Harbaugh disciple) and San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as two potential head coaching candidates, you would figure that they’d be happy to bring Smith in as the QB. The price for Smith would seem to be anywhere between a 3rd-5th round pick.

Oct. 29, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback (11) Alex Smith against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers defeated the Cardinals 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

The other trade option would be Seattle’s Matt Flynn. He’s only made 2 career starts, but what starts they were: in 2o10, he completed 24 of his 37 passes in a 31-27 loss to the New England Patriots for 251 yards, 3 TDs, and an INT. In the 2011 regular season finale, he torched the Detroit Lions to the tune of a 31-44 passing day for a whopping 480 yards and 6 TDs (both Green Bay records, by the way) with one INT. These two performances led the Seattle Seahawks to sign Flynn to a 3-year, $26M contract this offseason. The team, however, drafted Wisconsin QB Russell Wilson in the 3rd round of the draft and Wilson won the job in training camp. In 2013, Flynn is set to make an affordable $5.25M. I think Flynn can thrive in the right setting, and don’t feel he got a fair shake in Seattle. With some offensive weapons already in place for him in Lesean McCoy, Desean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Brent Celek, Flynn could produce some very good numbers in Philadelphia. He’s also got by far the most upside out of any QB available on the market. His price tag would probably be similar to the one for Alex Smith.

Aug 30, 2012; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Flynn (15) looks for an open receiver during the 1st half against the Oakland Raiders at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-US PRESSWIRE

If I had my druthers, the Eagles would trade for Matt Flynn. I really like his potential, and with all the guaranteed money on his contract already paid after 2013 it’d be a one-year experiment at the minimum that could extend to 2 or beyond if it goes well. While there’s a possibility that either or both of these QBs could be cut this offseason, I’d be surprised to see it because the demand will be there for both. The teams I mentioned earlier as potential landing spots for Vick would be the same ones that would be competing with the Eagles for Flynn and Smith.

3) Free Agency

In the free agent class for QBs this offseason, there is Joe Flacco and there is everyone else. Now, I’m not saying the chance of Joe Flacco leaving Baltimore is very high. But, I could see it happening if Baltimore believes that Flacco is more a product of the team surrounding him than a truly elite QB and gives him a lowball offer as a result. If that happens, one of the previously-mentioned QB-needy teams could step up and make him a big free agent offer.

Nov 25, 2012; San Diego, CA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) throws a pass against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 16-13 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

I’m not enthusiastic about the prospect of the Eagles signing Flacco. While he’s absolutely in the top half of NFL QBs, he has his clunkers  on the road fairly often and has relied heavily on a fantastic defense and good running game to rack up wins in Baltimore. And besides, the offer it would take to get him to leave his comfortable situation in Baltimore would probably be one that would pay him as one of the 5-10 best QBs in the NFL, something I’m not comfortable doing.

Other free agent QBs with starting experience who should be available to bring in as competition for Nick Foles include Chicago’s Jason Campbell, Buffalo’s Tarvaris Jackson, Washington’s Rex Grossman, and Pittsburgh’s Byron Leftwich. Yuck. The free agent class aside from Flacco is putrid this year, and should be avoided at all costs unless the team is simply looking to add depth at the 3rd-string spot.

4) The Draft

The Eagles are horrible this year. They will likely have a top-5 pick, and could potentially get to as high as the 2nd pick if they finish the season at 3-13. The top-2 quarterbacks in this year’s draft class figure to be West Virginia’s Geno Smith and USC’s Matt Barkley. the 6’3, 214 pound Smith has drawn comparisons to Washington’s Robert Griffin III, and for good reason. He’s completed 70.2% of his passes for 3.597 yards and 37 TDs with just 5 INTs. For his career, Smith has just over 11,000 passing yards with 93 TDs and 20 INTs. He’s athletic and can make plays with both his arm and his legs. The red flags for Smith are a pedestrian 6-5 record that has included subpar performances for him (2 combined TDs, 2 combined INTs, 28 combined points) against Texas Tech and Kansas State, the two best teams on his schedule. Though he’s not as dynamic of a runner as RGIII, Smith still figures to be an excellent QB in the NFL. He’s the likely 1st overall pick to the Kansas City Chiefs, but if he’s still on the board when the Eagles pick they shouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Nov 23, 2012; Ames, Iowa, USA; West Virginia Mountaineers quarterback Geno Smith (12) throws a pass down field against the Iowa State Cyclones during the second half at Jack Trice Stadium. West Virginia defeated Iowa State 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE

Matt Barkley is an interesting case. A consensus top-3 QB on the draft board entering the 2011 offseason (along with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III), he stunned the college and NFL worlds by going back to USC for his senior season. This season has seen his draft stock slip among USC’s struggles and a shoulder injury. Barkley’s thrown for 3,273 yards, 36 TDs, and 15 INTs this year and has 12,327 yards, 116 TDs, and 48 INTs in his 4 years as a starter. He’s a bit under the prototypical size for a QB, listed at 6-2, 230 (but allegedly shorter than that) and has also dealt with question marks about his arm strength and deep-ball accuracy. However, Barkley looks to be an excellent QB for the West Coast offense and a great pocket passer. He’s struggled in games where USC’s offensive line has given up pressure, which is a red flag for his NFL prospects. I personally wouldn’t take Barkley in the top-5 this year, but I could see why the Eagles would. There’s always the chance he goes off the board before the decision even comes to the Eagles as the #1 or #2 pick, especially if the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Chiefs both pick ahead of the Eagles.

November 17, 2012; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley (7) sets to pass in the first half of the game against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Other high-upside QBs in this draft class who might be available early in the 2nd round for the Eagles include Tyler Wilson of Arkansas and Tyler Bray of Tennessee. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s EJ Manuel might fit this category as well. All of them have their positives and negatives, with none of them looking to be a sure thing or even close to it. I’m not a big fan of drafting QBs after the 1st round. The vast majority of them, including ones chosen in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, don’t amount to very much in the NFL.

So there you have it. If I had my way, the Eagles would trade a mid-round draft pick for Matt Flynn and invest the money they saved by cutting Michael Vick in other parts of the roster. With the combination of Flynn’s upside and potential and his relatively cheap contract with the team figuring to have many needs entering the offseason, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, I believe it would be the best option for the Eagles.

Sound off in the comments. What do you think the Eagles will do at QB this offseason? What should they do?

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