Thanks to Cooper mess, count on Vick starting opener

Michael Vick throws a first-quarter pass against the Patriots in the Eagles' preseason opener Friday night.
Michael Vick throws a first-quarter pass against the Patriots in the Eagles' preseason opener Friday night. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 12, 2013

The Eagles quarterback competition will continue all season, and likely for several seasons to come, but the competition for the starting job on Sept. 9 when the regular season opens against the Redskins is over, and Michael Vick is the winner.

Vick and Nick Foles are an even match right now, based on the hundreds of snaps taken during training-camp practices and also on the limited sample of Friday night's exhibition game against the Patriots. There are things Vick can do well, and coach Chip Kelly can adjust the offense to take advantage of those. There are things Foles can do well, and the same goes for that.

Kelly said it didn't matter which of them got the first turn against the Pats. They would both get their chances, and so they did. What he hasn't added is that it really doesn't matter who gets the first turn against the Redskins, either. Whichever way he goes, the Eagles will certainly have more than one starting quarterback this season, and the team isn't going to win the Super Bowl regardless.

This is Year 1 of a multiyear process, and the quarterback who provides the desired match for Kelly's preferred system isn't on the roster yet.

So, it is a coin that has been tossed in the air, and it is up there revolving slowly. Everyone is waiting to see how it lands, and there is a sense that Kelly enjoys elongating the suspense. He has something behind his back. Can you guess which hand it is in? Sorry, got to look at the tape first.

What will make the coin flip come up Vick? That's the easy part. Riley Cooper.

Vick didn't win the starting job when Cooper's Def Fence-Climbing Jam became public. He won it when the team handled the situation so abysmally that the organization risked losing the respect and trust of every African American on the team. At last look, that was quite a few guys.

It is impossible to tell who made the awful stew - the Eagles said Kelly, Jeffrey Lurie, and Howie Roseman were all in the kitchen - but absolutely no one was going to swallow the results. Cooper got off by losing some allowance money and disappearing for a few days while he found a Drive-Thru Counseling outlet. I don't know whom he consulted, but if they can cure racism in four days, they should switch up and go after cancer next.

Lurie, pained as always in these situations, left no doubt that he objected to Cooper's use of a racial slur against a security guard trying to keep a privileged wide receiver in the National Football League from reaching the sacred sanctorum of Kenny Chesney's backstage presence without the proper pass. In fact, like Demi Moore's Navy lawyer, Lurie strenuously objected and might even have stomped his foot a little.

But his words, and Kelly's words, and even Cooper's (later) words weren't going to erase that other word, bro.

Words are powerful. If we have been reminded of nothing else in the last few weeks, it is that. Actions, however, are more powerful, and the Eagles chose words over actions. That didn't go unnoticed in the locker room, and when Cooper came breezing back after a brief trip home to Florida while the reactor core cooled, things were supposed to go back to being the same.

They aren't the same. One veteran called the situation "the elephant in the room," and another quietly observed that Andy Reid would have handled things more sternly.

Hard to say if that is true. Every coach and every organization would have handled this differently, and there is no ready template for how to react when a white guy on your team, and not a very important one, gets caught tossing around the N-word. A lot of teams would have released him before the following dawn. A lot of teams would have suspended him for a significant amount of time. Very few teams would have set the bar for healing as low as did the Eagles.

It doesn't even matter if Reid would have done things differently. It does matter that the players believe he would have. If the locker room thinks Kelly didn't act strongly enough - or wasn't strong enough within the upper reaches of the organization to be allowed to do more - then he has lost some standing there. And everyone remembers who was also on stage with good ol' Kenny that night.

Players want to win games. They want the teammates on the field who give them the best chance to do so. They also want to trust their coach enough to run through the walls of pain for him that this game requires.

Vick is a popular player in that locker room, on both sides of the demographic aisle. It borders on hero worship with some of them, including the team's best receiver. And veterans, because they believe it should mean something, always pull for the veteran. A smart, new coach, one carrying the burden of an organizational misstep, will consider all of that.

Kelly has a choice to make, a coin he has to call in the air before it hits the ground Sept. 9. Both sides of the coin are the same to him, as far as he lets on. Is there any advantage to be gained by calling one instead of the other?

There shouldn't be, but there is.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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