FOXBORO, Mass. – The multimillion-dollar questions facing the Philadelphia Eagles and new coach Chip Kelly are intriguing:
Do you keep quarterback Michael Vick around at least for a while to see how he might fit in Kelly's high-tempo offense? Do you fully commit to using Vick, a passer who seems to be at a career crossroads, because he happens to have enough running ability to add that extra bit of pizzazz to Kelly's attack? Or do you part ways right away with Vick, save a small amount of money and commit to either Nick Foles or somebody else to run your offense.
Vick's future just got cloudier with the hiring of Kelly, who shifted gears Wednesday on the NFL after previously turning down the Cleveland Browns earlier this month and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last year.
Kelly's top reason for changing his mind is not as much about money as some people will lead you to believe. According to a source close to Kelly, he was intrigued by the challenge of the NFL, but only wanted to go to a place where he could win and win quickly.
The Browns didn't fit the mold because the talent on the roster doesn't resemble what Kelly needs to run his up-tempo style. Kelly went along with the interview because he was curious about what Browns owner Jimmy Haslam had to say and didn't mind the idea of getting a little contract leverage against Oregon.
The Eagles, however, were always in the back of Kelly's mind as a perfect option. With running back LeSean McCoy and wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Kelly has a ready-made foundation.
"Yeah, DeSean, he might like that system just a little. I'll say that," former Oregon and current New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung said Wednesday with a knowing grin:
That's why when Kelly made the mildly surprising move on Wednesday, it wasn't all that shocking to people who know him.
"I really don't think Chip was manipulating the situation," the source said. "He was happy going back to Oregon. But when the Eagles kept calling, Chip was always thinking about it. It was like, 'That's interesting, I'm thinking about it.' "
Of course, the issue Kelly has to settle first and foremost is what to do about quarterback. Many people in Philadelphia have been under the assumption that Vick was out after this season. Vick committed 15 turnovers (10 interceptions, five lost fumbles) in 10 games this season and was sacked 28 times. He finished with a quarterback rating of 78.1, his lowest since returning to the NFL in 2009.
Still, Vick is the kind of quarterback who can be a perfect motor for Kelly's offense because of his running talent. Kelly can also modulate that style to fit more of a typical pocket passer. The best evidence of that is what New England and quarterback Tom Brady have done the past couple of years (and this season, in particular) in borrowing concepts from Kelly by playing faster and faster, particularly in the red zone. That's why Nick Foles could also work as the Eagles quarterback.
What Vick apparently fears is that Kelly will keep him around all offseason before making a final decision. Yes, there is a moderate financial danger to keeping Vick. According to a source familiar with Vick's contract, $3 million of Vick's $15.5 million salary for the 2013 season becomes guaranteed on March 11. Other reports indicate that date is in February. In either case, it's early enough that Kelly will have to make a decision sooner than later.
Then again, Kelly could just have the Eagles pay the $3 million and then measure the situation later. He could see how Vick fits. In addition, it's hard to believe that Kelly took this job with Foles as his dream option at quarterback. Any coach with any sense of creativity (and Kelly is extremely creative) would look at an athlete like Vick and think about the possibilities.
Moreover, Kelly might actually need Vick in the short-term to sell his concepts. One of the big issues that Kelly has in coming to the NFL is credibility. He has zero NFL experience and only a handful of friends in the league. Even those close to him worry that if he brings in a staff loaded with college assistants, players could be wary.
"You know how players are, if it doesn't work right away, they'll lose confidence in what he's teaching and they'll tune him out," the source close to Kelly said. "He needs to be good right away. Whether it's winning or just scoring points, he has to prove that the system works."
If you have that kind of burden coming in, who would you rather have at quarterback: Vick or Foles?
At the very least, you'd probably like to have a choice for as long as possible. From Vick's perspective, he would love to see the Eagles keep him, particularly at his scheduled salary. But if there is some wavering by the Eagles about the long-term plan, Vick might just want out, figuring he can get a better contract and a better situation now rather than by waiting. That's yet another difficult consideration.
In other words, welcome to the NFL, Coach Kelly.
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