Sooner rather than later, the Eagles are going to have to take another shot at drafting a franchise quarterback - perhaps the most difficult task in the NFL - and you wonder if sooner will arrive Thursday night when the 2012 draft begins. There is speculation, tamped down consistently from within the walls of the NovaCare bunker, that the Eagles are seriously considering moving up in the first round to take Texas A&M quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a 6-foot-4 converted wide receiver with a wealth of tools.
If the Eagles do that, which would be risky on several levels, and certainly costly, it would imply that an organizational referendum on Michael Vick has already been completed. Vick has been alternately great and ordinary in his two seasons as a starter and his most consistent attribute has been his ability to get hurt. How long do the Eagles think this can continue?
Vick missed time in 2010 with a rib injury and suffered a hand injury, two broken ribs, and a concussion in 2011. The Eagles insist that Vick has accepted their advice to become more of a pocket passer, but the spots on this particular leopard run pretty deep.
"We have so much confidence in Michael Vick, and in him leading our team. We're all-in with Michael," general manager Howie Roseman said last week. "He's healthy and he's determined and we feel very lucky to have him as our franchise quarterback."
Taking that at face value, the Eagles will be rolling the dice in 2012 and beyond that Vick stays on the field and doesn't continue the turnover binge that crippled the Eagles offense last season. The team added Trent Edwards as a backup and he's an upgrade over the egregious Vince Young miscalculation, but nothing more than a guy who can manage a game quietly and look reasonably enough like an NFL quarterback while doing so.
Should Vick go down, so do the Eagles. Roseman rightly pointed out that every NFL team is in trouble without its starting quarterback. Not every team, however, has a Michael Vick, a quarterback whose unique talents and mind-set also make him an extremely high-risk commodity.
Regardless of the organizational spin, the Eagles would be foolish not to plan beyond Vick's tenure. Edwards is a stopgap and Mike Kafka's star has set before it ever rose. That leaves a bare cupboard for the future, unless the Eagles have a big surprise in store.
Tannehill's stock has risen sharply since the college football season ended, and that's always a little scary. He's been a star at the combines and workouts and, according to Roseman, the words usually attached to Tannehill's evaluation sheets are "big, strong, athletic, smart, great character."
"Everyone wants to find a quarterback. It's a passing league and you don't feel very confident that you can win over the long term if you don't have that guy," Roseman said. "So, quarterback's going to rise [on draft boards]. It's just the natural evolution of this game . . . and the importance of the position."
The Eagles pick No. 15 in the first round, and the draftniks believe Tannehill will fall between the fourth and the eighth picks. Roseman isn't wild about taking projections with a high pick - Tannehill played just 19 games at quarterback - and it would be painful to trade away some of the other selections the team has stockpiled in order to move up in the first round.
If the gamble doesn't take place this time, that does leave another question: When will it happen, if not now? Vick is entering the last year of big guaranteed money in his contract. The Eagles can get out painlessly after 2012 if they so choose. Should Vick perform badly or suffer further injuries this season, he would be gone.
And then what? The Eagles either don't know or aren't saying. The past indicates they are probably capable of both.
Contact columnist Bob Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.