IF ONLY THE NFL world was as Chip Kelly depicted it Monday.
In his season wrapup news conference, the Eagles' coach brushed aside a question about the importance of finding a quarterback you could "hitch your wagon to" by indicating it was just as important to find a linebacker or a safety who was wagon-hitching-worthy.
But the list of Super Bowl winners over the past decade-plus suggests it isn't. The guy who becomes Chip's quarterback is likely to define his tenure here. Right now, the needle swings toward Nick Foles, because he's under contract and because he clearly has some of the traits of a top-notch QB - intelligence, size, a decent arm, selflessness, coachability, a relentlessly positive outlook. Other key traits, such as decision-making, accuracy, setting his feet, not needlessly backpedaling away from imaginary pressure - Foles' 7 1/4 games worth of work in 2014 left huge questions about his mastery of those.
Kelly keeps talking about the evaluation process he needs to go through before making a QB decision, going back and looking at every snap, every throw. I don't doubt that he'll do that. I do doubt he will see anything that changes what he thought when he began the process. The film isn't a video game, in which if you keep playing it you unlock a secret portal to the next level, or something. It's the same film you already broke down after each game, and the things the film depicts are the things you saw unfold with your own eyes. Foles' 10 interceptions won't look any better upon further review.
What Kelly really wants to know before he plights his troth is what his alternatives to Foles might be. Are the early draft projections correct, which tout Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston as the only franchise-level QB talents in the 2015 draft class, or is there an underappreciated Russell Wilson-type guy who might fall within the Eagles' grasp? Is there any useful NFL QB who might pop loose from somewhere, who could at least compete with Foles?
In the long run, missing the playoffs might not have been the worst thing that happened to the Eagles this season. When the campaign began, we all said it was about Foles, more than about winning the Super Bowl. Scintillating in a 10-game trial in 2013, he was going to get a full 16 games, after which the Eagles would know whether he was really the guy, worth a big-money, long-term deal. They even started clearing cap space toward that goal.
Behind a ragtag, injury-ravaged offensive line, Foles didn't prove much of anything, beyond resilience. Then he got hurt. All we learned from the second half of the season was that, no, Mark Sanchez was not a better alternative. And here we are, looking at 2015, the aging offensive line a year older, another 312 carries on LeSean McCoy's odometer. If the Eagles somehow do find a developmental QB in the draft, do they sacrifice another year to have him develop behind Foles while they try to make the playoffs?
Foles emerged Monday and vowed to fix his faults. Of course, he made the same vow after every game in the first half of the season.
Kelly is often compared with his predecessor, Andy Reid. Unlike Reid, Kelly produced a winning record and a playoff berth in his first Eagles season. But unlike Kelly, Reid was able to find a franchise QB in his first draft, taking Donovan McNabb second overall. Kelly's first draft produced right tackle Lane Johnson, fourth overall. There was not a franchise QB to be had in the 2013 draft; the first five quarterbacks taken were EJ Manuel, by the Bills, Geno Smith, by the Jets, Mike Glennon, by the Bucs, Matt Barkley, by Kelly and the Eagles, and Ryan Nassib, by the Giants.
Then Kelly made the playoffs his first year, with Michael Vick and Foles, meaning the Birds got the 22nd draft position, before they traded down to 26th. They could have drafted Johnny Manziel, yes. He's off to a wonderful start.
When people speculate about Kelly returning to college coaching, they often cite Nick Saban, the Alabama coach who spent a fitful 2 years in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins. In the offseason after Saban's first year, Saban and the Dolphins had an opportunity to sign Drew Brees, who was coming off a shoulder injury in San Diego. They went for Daunte Culpepper instead. A year later, Saban was coaching at Alabama.
Eagles fans had better hope Foles can deliver on the maturation he promised in his Monday media address. Or that Kelly, general manager Howie Roseman and player personnel vice president Tom Gamble can put their hats together and produce a rabbit. Otherwise, you can run plays as fast as you want, mix up enough smoothies to fill the Delaware, and manufacture the greatest culture since Babylonia, but it won't ultimately matter.
An NFL source confirmed a Phillymag.com report that Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur will interview for the Raiders' head-coaching position. Shurmur was the Browns' head coach in 2011 and 2012.
Meanwhile, another league source confirmed the New York Daily News report that the Jets will interview Eagles director of pro personnel Rick Mueller for their general manager opening. Generally, Tom Gamble is considered the top GM candidate in the Eagles' stable, but he interviewed with Jets owner Woody Johnson in 2013, before Johnson hired now-fired John Idzik, and they did not see eye-to-eye.
Marcus Smith, the little-used 2014 first-round Eagles rookie, said he will work in Atlanta with pass-rush coach Chuck Smith, a former Rex Ryan assistant in Baltimore and with the New York Jets. "I am going to have a bigger role. It all depends on me," Marcus Smith said . . . The Eagles signed nine of their practice-squad players: offensive linemen Kevin Graf and Josh Andrews, running backs Kenjon Barner and Matthew Tucker, wide receivers Will Murphy and Quron Pratt, quarterback G.J. Kinne, defensive lineman Wade Keliikipi and safety Ed Reynolds.