The Eagles’ quarterback competition, which took a major twist Monday when the team retained Michael Vick under a restructured deal, took another dramatic turn.
The team on Thursday added depth and another potential starting candidate by signing Dennis Dixon, who spent 2012 on the Ravens’ practice squad, to a two-year deal laden with incentives.
Dixon, a dual-threat quarterback, will compete with Vick, Nick Foles (and possibly Trent Edwards) to be the first starting quarterback of the Chip Kelly era. At least one will be the odd man out and could become trade bait down the road.
Dixon starred under Kelly at the University of Oregon and had his 2007 Heisman candidacy derailed by a major knee injury, then tumbled somewhat into obscurity after the Steelers picked him in the fifth round of the 2008 draft to compete as Ben Roethlisberger’s backup.
In reuniting with his former college offensive coordinator, Dixon hopes to have found opportunity knocking at the right time. His agent, Jeff Sperbeck, told CSNPhilly.com that Dixon believes “the sky is the limit” for him if Kelly sticks to his promise of equal opportunity for the starting job.
“That’s the thing,” Sperbeck said. “Chip has made it clear that there is an open competition, and I think Dennis fits into that open competition. That was a big part of the decision.”
Interestingly, Kelly had said Monday that he hadn’t spoken with Dixon since his former quarterback had visited him at Oregon during an open date on the Ravens’ calendar.
Perhaps through semaphore -- we hear Kelly is big on using as few words as possible -- Kelly signaled his interest in Dixon. CSNPhilly.com reported last week that the Eagles had contacted Sperbeck regarding Dixon and engaged in initial contract talks.
The Ravens had exclusive rights to re-signing for the first week after the Super Bowl and Sperbeck said Baltimore showed interest in bringing him back to compete for the backup job to Joe Flacco.
But the chance to finally reach his potential in the system where he once flourished made the Eagles’ offer more enticing. Part of what kept the deal from being done Monday were the escalators and incentives that needed to be massaged into the contract language in case Dixon outlasts the competition, a decision that won’t be made for several months.
“Nothing is being handed to him,” Sperbeck said. “He’s got to prove that he’s still a guy that can execute that offense at a very high level. There is no belief that he doesn’t have to compete. We know how hard he’s gonna have to compete to win it.”
Kelly on Monday had said the race has no lead horse. If Dixon is the natural fit that he hopes to be, or can at least cement the backup job, the Eagles might be inclined to deal Vick or Foles.
“There is an open competition. Michael knows that. Nick knows that,” Kelly said. “Nick knew every step of the way what we were doing. I wanted to make sure Nick was included in the plans, and I think both of them have outstanding qualities in terms of being quarterbacks in this league. Both of them have started in this league.”
Although he had denied talking to Dixon since being hired as Eagles head coach, Kelly admitted that he and the front office were scouring the market in search of potential upgrades.
“Any time we can upgrade our roster, I'll do so,” he said. “I haven't ruled anybody out of that, either.”
Dixon, who had emulated 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the scout team as the Ravens prepared for the Super Bowl, started just three games and played in four during his four-year stint with the Steelers.
Although he won a Super Bowl holding a clipboard in his first season there, Dixon completed just 59.3 percent of his passes, threw one touchdown and one interception while scrambling for 56 yards on 10 carries and rushing for a touchdown before the Steelers let him walk.
His pro career so far hasn’t mirrored his college career, in particular his senior season when Dixon led the Ducks to an 8-1 record and No. 2 rank in the BCS standings before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
Up to that point Dixon had completed nearly 68 percent of his passes, rushed for 583 yards and totaled 2,719 yards. He won the Pac-10 Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year unanimously despite playing in just 10 games.
Sperbeck said other teams had shown some interest in Dixon, which makes sense given the recent rise of read-option offenses and success of dual-threat quarterbacks like Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson.
Few locations offered the comfort and opportunity presented by the Eagles and Kelly’s familiar offensive blueprint.
“He had a lot of success in that offense at Oregon for the year Chip was offensive coordinator there,” Sperbeck said. “So we believe that all things considered that the opportunity in the long run would be great for Dennis.”