Now Chip Kelly needs a quarterback

Posted: January 17, 2013

The spread offense that Chip Kelly developed in the piney hills of New Hampshire and perfected with the Oregon Ducks requires two things of the quarterback: He has to be very mobile, and he has to make good, quick decisions.

Fortunately for Kelly, the Eagles have both of those in their collection. His only challenge will be to decide which plays to give to Michael Vick, who can still run better than most quarterbacks, and which to give to Nick Foles, the rookie who graded out well on playbook wonkery, reading defenses, and calling audibles.

At the moment, the quarterback who combines the qualities isn't on the roster, and if Kelly is going to implement his system over time with the Eagles, the search for the most important player on the field has just begun.

Even if Kelly isn't totally married to the spread-option offense as a means to winning in the NFL, the Eagles quickly find themselves in the market for a quarterback immediately after getting out of the market for a head coach.

There's going to be a lot of talk in the next few days, particularly after Thursday's introductory news conference, about Kelly's big brain and his adaptability and his willingness to fit a scheme to the personnel at hand instead of taking a doctrinaire approach the other way.

That's all fine, and much of it is probably true, but Kelly also went 46-7 in four years at Oregon. He did it with his system, and while there are plenty of folks out there who say it wouldn't play the same in the NFL, you can be sure Kelly aims to find out.

And, who knows: He might be right. His vision might not be just another offensive wrinkle that is quickly ironed out by defensive coordinators around the league. Look around and see the strides that have been made by teams using a mobile quarterback and some form of an option offense. Washington, Seattle, and San Francisco all made the postseason with a variation of that, and even New England, with decidedly immobile Tom Brady, is having success using the hurry-up component of Kelly's offense.

No, this guy might be the greatest innovator in football. He might be exactly the right hire for the Eagles. But, as a wise old coach once said: "It's not the X's and the O's. It's the Jimmys and the Joes." Now the real work starts, because not only don't the Eagles have the right Jimmy or Joe at quarterback, they have a lot of other lesser names on the roster, too.

The most important dilemma, though, will be the quarterback, and the Eagles have only three weeks to decide about keeping Michael Vick around. They have to either vest a $3 million portion of his 2013 contract by Feb. 5 or cut him loose. The $3 million could be used to put Vick on layaway and delay the final decision on keeping him for his entire $15.5 million salary, but that's a pretty expensive, nonrefundable deposit.

Somewhere during the nine hours the Eagles interviewed Kelly after the Fiesta Bowl, the subject of Vick was thoroughly discussed. (Also, the subject of Foles, no doubt, who played three impressive games for Arizona against Oregon, passing for 1,160 yards and throwing 10 touchdowns and two interceptions.) So, the Eagles know exactly where the new coach stands on the current quarterback situation. The rest of us will know a lot more by Feb. 5.

Sorting that out is crucial, regardless of what offensive system is installed. Systems win games, but, except for the odd exception, elite quarterbacks win championships. There's a reason the last nine Super Bowls have been won by quarterbacks who were named Manning, Brees, Brady, Rodgers, or Roethlisberger. There's a reason that, of the eight quarterbacks in last weekend's divisional playoff round, seven were ranked among the top 10 in the league this season.

There's a reason Bill Belichick didn't succeed in Cleveland (Bernie Kosar, Mike Tomczak, Vinny Testaverde), but he has done just fine in New England (Brady). There's a reason Tom Coughlin was just another guy in Jacksonville (Mark Brunell) but has won two Super Bowls with the Giants (E. Manning). And there's a reason Tony Dungy struggled in Tampa Bay (Trent Dilfer, Shaun King) before finally getting his win in Indianapolis (P. Manning).

And, yes, Dilfer, in his later incarnation in Baltimore, became the classic exception to the rule. But if it happens only once every 20 years, then going with a mediocre quarterback isn't the road map to follow.

The point is that even genius needs some luck and some help. We'll see how much of each the football gods accord to Kelly.

In the meantime, it will be exciting to see a new philosophy being put into place and to hear a new voice explain it. In Chip Kelly's mind, he has an exact picture of the quarterback who will make it all come to life.

That's a good thing, because the guy in the picture can't be found hanging on the walls of the Nova Care Complex just yet.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports on Twitter. Read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns,

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