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More accurate? Check.
Better at making quick decisions under duress? Check.
Tons of upside? Check.
The initial reaction when the Eagles re-signed Michael Vick back in February was that the new contract meant Vick would go into the 2013 season as the starting quarterback.
But right from the start, Chip Kelly promised this would be an open competition between Vick and Nick Foles. Contracts wouldn’t matter. Experience wouldn’t matter. Background wouldn’t matter. The number of Pro Bowls on your résumé wouldn’t matter.
No, what they do on the practice field and in the preseason games is all that would matter.
Simple. Best guy wins.
And the best guy -- for this team, for this system, for this offense -- is Nick Foles.
This isn’t a knock on Vick. Not at all. I’ve been a Vick guy since he got here four years ago. For that team and that coach and that offense, he was the best option once it was clear that Donovan McNabb was done and Kevin Kolb couldn’t stay healthy. For most of 2010, Vick played MVP football. It was great drama, great theater, great action.
And who knows how different things might have been had Vick not tried to squeeze that pass to Riley Cooper in the end zone on first-and-10 with 44 seconds left in the wild-card game. Tramon Williams picked him off, the Packers won the game and the Super Bowl, and the Eagles haven’t sniffed the postseason since.
But that’s all ancient history. Vick is 33, 10-15 in 25 starts since that baffling and devastating Vikings loss late in 2010 and nine years removed from his last playoff win.
If he’s going to win the Eagles’ QB job this summer, Vick is not only going to have to prove he can still play at a high level -- and he hasn’t exactly trended upward the last couple years -- he’s also going to have to prove he can produce in a system that demands quick decisions, requires accurate mid-range throws and places a premium on ball security.
And that’s just not his game. Never has been.
Foles, playing as a rookie without DeSean Jackson, without LeSean McCoy much of the time and behind a makeshift O-line featuring King Dunlap, Jake Scott, Dennis Kelly and Dallas Reynolds, still had a higher completion percentage last year than Vick has had in eight of his nine full NFL seasons.
He’s just more accurate. This isn’t an opinion. He was 61 percent last year with everything working against him, and Vick is 56 percent career.
Foles’ completion percentage last year was sixth best in NFL history by a rookie. Vick ranks 87th in accuracy among 111 quarterbacks over the past 25 years who’ve thrown 1,000 or more passes.
And quick decisions come naturally for Foles. The big reason he was able to deal with the ferocious pass rush he faced was his ability to drop back, read the defense and distribute the ball quickly.
Vick is at his best when he stands in the pocket till the last possible second -- and sometimes beyond -- and spins the ball 60 yards down the field on a line to a streaking wideout. And while the bomb has its place in a Kelly offense, it’s not the most important component. In Andy Reid’s offense, you looked deep first. In Kelly’s, you don’t.
Foles is nowhere nearly as gifted as Vick throwing deep, but in this offense, it doesn’t matter. Playing behind a truly awful offensive line, he still threw for 243 yards per game in about half a season, the fifth-highest figure ever for a rookie. So he can chuck it.
Then there’s the turnovers. The quarterback simply can’t afford to turn the ball over in Kelly’s offense. That’s true in any offense, but even more so in this one.
When you’re running a play every 15 seconds, a turnover could mean the defense has to come back on the field less than a minute after it left. Not in scoreboard time, in real time. This defense has enough issues as it is. It doesn’t need to get worn out, finally get off the field, only to be forced back out there just a few seconds later.
INTs? Foles’ interception percentage last year (1.9 per 100 attempts) was second-best in NFL history by a rookie throwing 250 or more passes (behind only RG3, also last year). He did commit eight fumbles, which is a lot considering how little he played, but behind a legit offensive line, that figure will drop.
Vick historically has been pretty good taking care of the ball, but his 1.82 turnovers per start over the past three years is third-highest in the league during that span, behind only Ryan Fitzpatrick (1.84) and Chad Henne (1.83).
Vick’s biggest advantage is his speed, his elusiveness, but he’s taken a beating over the past few seasons and doesn’t look nearly as fast as he used to be. His 5.4-yard rushing average last year, still good, was lowest of his career. After rushing for 33 touchdowns through 2011, he ran for just one last year, a one-yard dive. So even his greatest attribute, his biggest strength, isn’t quite what it used to be.
If this is a fair fight, if this is truly open competition, Foles will be the Eagles’ starting quarterback on opening day.
And the fact that Foles is still here when it would have been easy to trade him and the fact that he really did split the OTA and minicamp reps with Vick tells you it really will be a fair fight.
The wild card in all this is USC rookie Matt Barkley, who could ultimately be the perfect quarterback in this offense. And maybe that day isn’t too far off. But it’s an awful lot to ask a rookie fourth-round pick to step right in and start and play at a high level.
Don’t forget, only three quarterbacks in franchise history have survived 16 games as a starter: Ron Jaworski (five times), Donovan McNabb (four times) and Randall Cunningham (three times). That’s it.
The NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, which means it’s happened 12 times in 35 years and only four times in the last 22 years.
So the odds are Foles and Vick will both play. But the opening-day starter? Foles is the clear choice. In the next six weeks, Foles will show coaches, teammates and fans that any way you look at it, any way you measure it, he’s the best fit.