I give credit to the coaching staff here for taking it day by day, game by game. They know that they have a young talent in Nick Foles who is still very much a work in progress. And they know they have an offensive line that could have its sixth starting combination of the 2012 season on Sunday night should Dallas Reynolds (ankle) not play because of an ankle injury. They understand that minus wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back LeSean McCoy, the level of potency is challenged.
So they are trying to help Foles, who is in line to make his third start Sunday (8:20 p.m.) at Dallas, by giving him quick reads and options and the chance to get rid of the football quickly. It hasn't resulted in a lot of big plays down the field, but at least Foles is able to have time to get the ball out and move the chains.
We don't know how many starts the Eagles are going to give Foles. The situation at quarterback is this: Michael Vick is recovering from the concussion sustained the first time the Eagles played Dallas. He is in Phase 4 of the five-stage recovery program, and has recently been unable to pass the imPACT test, an exam that requires him to return the baseline neurological levels at which he tested in the summer. He's not there yet.
When he reaches those levels and then is given the green light by an independent neurologist and then by a team physician, Vick will be able to return to practice. Beyond that, there's no telling when Vick will be ready to play in a game again.
For that matter, we don't know if the Eagles plan to insert Vick back into the starting lineup at any point this year. Head coach Andy Reid has said that, when healthy, Vick would be the starter, but he said that weeks ago and the situation at 3-8 is one that places more emphasis on the big picture -- the future -- than on winning a particular game of the five that remain.
We all know that there is a lot of potential change in the air ahead for this franchise. There is no need to go into detail here. One area to talk about, however, is the quarterback position and the understanding -- hopefully, you all get it -- that it is the single most important spot on the football field and that a team's championship hopes depend more on who is under center than anything else.
With that said, then, what is the Eagles' picture at quarterback as we know it now? There's Foles, whom the coaches say is making good progress, tangible progress, and who has a very strong upside. There is Vick, the electric playmaker who has been plagued by turnovers these last couple of seasons but who is still an undeniable talent.
I wouldn't even be able to hazard a guess as to which way the Eagles might go at quarterback as they look forward to 2013. There are just too many unknowns. Foles' development over the final portion of the season is critical, of course, and that's why the Eagles need to give him as many snaps as possible in the weeks ahead. Vick's health is a conversation piece, as is his uneven play in the last two seasons (I know, I know, the offensive line has been inconsistent as well) and a salary that jumps to a reported $16 million in 2013.
There are a lot of variables, no doubt, but the bottom line is this: As the Eagles look to rebound from the struggles of 2012, they need to get it right at quarterback. I look at a franchise like Indianapolis, which struck gold by drafting Peyton Manning in 1998, had great success for the next 12 seasons, stunk it up in Year 13 with Manning sidelined with an injury and then had the opportunity to draft Andrew Luck last April. Now the Colts are a playoff-contending team with an incredibly bright future.
Once a team has the quarterback who can compete at the highest level, it has a chance to win every game.
We were fortunate to have Donovan McNabb for much of the previous decade. From 2000 through 2004, the Eagles were Super Bowl contenders. A rash of injuries stymied McNabb's progress after that and he really only enjoyed deep playoff success again in 2008 when the Eagles advanced to the NFC Championship Game, but it was a good, solid cycle of victories and Super Bowl contention for this franchise.
What Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning and even Drew Brees have done is the goal. Every franchise goes into the valley, and the best organizations rebound quickly. More often than not, they emerge much faster when they are able to add a quarterback who provides instant credibility, not to mention victories.
So who is the quarterback of the future here? It could be Foles, who is looking for his first win in Dallas on Sunday night. It could be Vick, still a talented player with a lot of skills as a quarterback.
It could be someone who isn't on the roster right now, a player the Eagles add through the draft, or free agency, or a trade.
Whoever it is, he has to be the man. He has to be a top-shelf quarterback. Not until the Eagles have that quarterback will the team be back as a true contender, a situation that seemed so common a decade ago.