Feb 082011

By Justin Adkins:

With Michael Vick winning the AP Comeback Player of the Year award and fumes of the latest Partygate controversy fading away, the Eagles need to buckle down and decide once and for all the future at the quarterack position, lockout be damned.

The team is in the nearly unheard position of having two possibly championship-level starting quarterbacks in Vick and Kevin Kolb.  Kolb, the anointed chosen one, picked out of nowhere to the consternation of a caught-off-guard fanbase, a player who then morphed into a rallying point for the masses tired of the same old, same old from former starter Donovan McNabb.  Vick, the fallen star looking to redeem his past misdeeds and crawl out of the bowels of bankruptcy.  Both could potentially lead this team effectively for a good part of this new decade.

Now, faced with the uncertain future of both quarterbacks’ contract situations as well as labor unrest, the Eagles are in position to cement their commitment to the next era of Philadelphia football.

The likely choice is Vick, who rocketed back to superstar status this past season with performances that were both jaw dropping and unprecedented.  His absolute destruction of the Washington Redskins was a thing of beauty, and those last few minutes that set up DeSean Jackson laying the final smack down on a dazed New York Giants team represented one of the greatest comebacks in Eagles history.

Vick is scheduled to become a free agent at the start of the new league year this March, and assuming that the league and players are smart enough to know that a lockout will hurt all involved, a new collective bargaining agreement will be made before time is up.  As a free agent, Vick is likely to want a contract valuing north of $100 million with probably around $40 or $50 million of it guaranteed.  But before he hits the open market the Eagles will likely have use of the franchise tag, the mechanism that will allow the team to control Vick’s rights for the year while paying him the average of the top five annual quarterback salaries in the NFL.  The risk would be that another team could sign him away but would then have to give up two first-rounds picks for him (highly unlikely considering Vick’s age and injury risk…more on that shortly).  After tagging Vick, the Eagles would also be able to continue to negotiate on a long term deal while they listen to trade offers for Kolb — or they could trade Vick himself.

Despite all of his incredible talents, it’s time to take advantage of Vick’s paramount value and move him to the highest bidder, for both reasons off as well as on the field.

The number one factor against Vick right now is simply his age.  Vick will be 31 this June.  While some may argue that the years he spent in prison for his dog-fighting conviction prevented his body from taking NFL-type abuse, that won’t really matter as nature takes its course, especially when combined with Vick’s roughneck playing style. 

Vick’s phenomenal game is defined as much by his legs as by his arm.  One of the reasons no one expected Vick to succeed this past season was his lackluster performance in the previous one.  Most people recognized that Vick lacked the same burst and explosion that made him elite running the ball, figuring either that he was out of football shape or that possibly Mother Nature had started taking her toll on Vick’s 30-year old body.  The 2010 season proved it was the former, but Mother Nature will not be held at bay too much longer. 

Most quarterbacks can handle losing a step or two as they play into their 30’s, but that’s generally because they didn’t have that many steps to begin with.  A player like Vick whose speed and athleticism define his game cannot afford that same dropoff.  Put it this way — if Vick were a running back, his best hope for a contract would be something in the three year range with minimal guarantees (with bogus dummy years and non-guaranteed dollars added to the end to make it look less crappy).  Really, he’d almost be LaDainian Tomlinson, once the best of the best and now in danger of getting cut by the Jets despite being just 31 and only due about $2.5 million this coming season.  The mighty fall quickly at the NFL’s skill positions.

Even if Vick were 5 years younger, his style of play ensures that he will be getting injured regularly.  The plus side is he’s always looking to make plays and gain maximum yardage but the down side is that he constantly leaves himself open for at best debilitating, game changing collisions and at worst hits that could end his season or even career.  The cracked ribs he suffered in the first Washington game put him on the shelf for two games.  The repeated hits he took late in the season led to him playing with injuries that some claim robbed him of effectiveness. 

Vick himself admits he refuses to slide.  At face value this can be seen as a kind of tough guy badge of courage, but ultimately it’s just poor judgment, something Vick has always been known for.  A slide in the face of a crushing hit is not a sign of weakness, it’s smart football, something Vick has never been known for.

The Eagles could be better served going with a younger, if less dynamic, option overall in Kevin Kolb.  In limited starts, Kolb has flashed signs of brilliance, becoming the only quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300+ yards in his first two starts and overall demonstrating the ability that Reid recognized back in the 2007 draft when Kolb was selected as McNabb’s heir apparent.  Yes, the Eagles would be giving up the added dimension of incredible scrambling ability (not to mention the cannon arm) by going with Kolb over Vick, but the tradeoff to youth and durability (fluke concussion aside) is worth it — Kolb is no clipboard holding jobber with no talent, skills, or future.  And while Kolb may never outrun a secondary or overthrow DeSean, he’s quick and agile enough and has plenty of arm strength.  His best years are right now, and his playing style will likely keep him on the field more consistently than the reckless Vick.

Vick’s looming mortality, brought on by both age and the rigors of playing football, should be enough to convince most that signing him long term is a potentially back-breaking risk, but those aren’t the only factors at play here.

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