Eagles Need a Great Quarterback to Get to the Super Bowl

From Nick Foles to Alex Smith, a look at the possibilities.

While we wait for Chip Kelly to announce the remainder of his top-secret coaching cabinet, we are left to contemplate a zany Super Bowl that included power outages, big plays, and mercifully, limited camera shots of The Ray Lewis Football Revival Meeting.

Amid the mayhem of the Niners’ near comeback and the Ravens’ late-game defensive awakening is an NFL absolute that persists and will ultimately define whether your Philadelphia Eagles return to their former challenger status.

You must have a great quarterback.

A review of Baltimore’s win over SF demonstrated the high value of having consistent top-flight performances from the position. Forty-Niners QB Colin Kaepernick threw for 302 yards and ran for 62 more, while Baltimore’s Joe Flacco had 287 yards through the air and three TDs, good for MVP honors. The two combined for one turnover and made big plays throughout the game.

They were not alone. Only one (Minnesota) of the 12 teams to reach the post-season did so with a shaky quarterback. Although Flacco and Kaepernick are not considered among the “elite” players at their position, they certainly delivered throughout the playoffs and were highly productive Sunday. Their poise and playmaking ability were huge in their teams’ efforts, and they demonstrate that no matter how well Kelly stocks his staff—if he ever fills it out completely—the Eagles won’t be worth much until they get someone under center capable of delivering on a steady basis.

That person likely won’t be found in the upcoming draft, which features no one of the caliber of Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, not to mention Russell Wilson, all of whom played in the ’12 post-season. That precludes the Birds’ spending their fourth-overall pick on a QB, unless they want to waste it on someone like West Virginia’s Geno Smith, who lost favor last season after a great start, or USC’s Matt Barkley, who threw nine interceptions in his final four games.

Eagles fans are hoping Nick Foles can be that guy, although gambling with the franchise’s future on someone who had marginal success during his 2012 audition could be disastrous. Foles displayed many of the rookie faults we see on a regular basis, including difficulty reading defenses and some poor decision making. Maybe he can become a top-shelf QB some day, but there were few flashes of greatness during his first season, and the great ones generally show some of that, on the way to big things.

So, what to do? Keeping Michael Vick is not an option. He’s too expensive, too unreliable with his decisions, and as he proved after the season-ending flop against the Giants, prone to blaming everyone but himself for failure. There is talk that Kelly could enlist former Oregon spread savant Dennis Dixon, who spent the ’12 campaign buried on the Ravens’ practice squad. The reasoning is that Dixon at least understands Kelly’s scheme and could provide a bridge to the future, much the way Doug Pederson did for Andy Reid back in 1999. The difference, of course, is that there is no highly regarded prospect behind Dixon, as there was in ’99. Further, if Dixon couldn’t get past Tyrod Taylor, the overmatched backup on the Ravens’ roster, what makes anybody think he could win even one game, no matter what offense he was operating?

Then there is Alex Smith, who was passed over by SF coach Jim Harbaugh in favor of Kaepernick in the middle of the 2012 season. Smith ran a spread attack while at Utah and would appear to have the skills to handle it again. But there is one big problem: In the five seasons before Harbaugh took over the Niners, Smith was a poor QB and prone to interceptions. Even with Harbaugh at the helm, he had some difficulties, most notably his league-leading 44 sacks in 2011. He may be another stopgap candidate, but it’s unlikely he can be relied upon for long-term success.

In other words, fans, the Eagles are in trouble. Say what you want about Kelly’s nimble football mind, and ability to create a culture of winning at Oregon, but he won’t accomplish anything of note without a real, first-rate QB. The Seahawks got lucky with Wilson. The Redskins were bold by trading up to get Griffin. The Ravens made a great choice by selecting Flacco in the first round back in ’08, and the Niners look even better with their selection of Kaepernick in 2011. This draft doesn’t offer the same opportunities, so the 2013 Eagles season is likely in the hands of a question mark or an outright risky proposition. The Super Bowl proved how important the QB position is. Unfortunately for the Eagles, that is the toughest spot to fill in the NFL and the one that will likely preclude them from having any short-term success.

Kelly will announce most of his staff by the end of the week. The bigger issue—his starting passer—will be a mystery and a sore point throughout the summer and likely into the season. If GM Howie Roseman wants to prove his worth right away, he’ll find a legitimate quarterback who can lift the Birds to prominence. A good defensive coordinator is important. A top-flight QB is an absolute.

And things don’t look so good for the Eagles in that department.

• Oh, and by the way, Howie: Don’t even think about trading for Tim Tebow. It doesn’t matter whether he ran the spread, the Wing-T or the guards-back offense at Florida, he isn’t a full-fledged NFL quarterback, and we don’t need him.

• The Sixers are darn lucky they play in the Eastern Conference, where the number of legitimate playoff contenders is small, and winning two games in a row qualifies as a hot streak. The chance to earn a first-round playoff beating from Miami or the Knicks still exists, so local pro hoops fans can be optimistic.

Villanova’s loss to Providence Sunday was an absolute crusher and threw some cool water on the tournament fever that was growing among college faithful. The four schools with hope of at-large berths (Drexel needs to win the CAA tourney, and Penn must build for the future) can’t seem to build real momentum. With the season’s last month-plus looming, slip-ups like the ugliness against the Friars must be avoided.