A Starter from the Start
Although the Eagles officially named Michael Vick their starting quarterback in August, my strong sense is that the decision was actually made in February when incoming coach Chip Kelly surveyed the barren landscape of this year’s quarterback market, and when Vick renegotiated his contract to provide him less long-term security yet assure his starting job.
I was a consultant and negotiated contracts for the Eagles in 2009—when Howie Roseman was transitioning from the business side to the personnel side of the organization—and vividly remember Vick’s signing and his arrival. Even though the Eagles had Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, and even though Vick had served 23 months in prison for his connection to a dog fighting ring, he was someone coach Andy Reid clearly wanted.
But Vick and his agent’s request for only a one-year deal drew a roadblock. We did not want him to use the Eagles as a pit stop to rehabilitate his image while a free market developed elsewhere. After much haggling, we were able to add a second year to the contract and Vick became an Eagle. There was a palpable buzz the day Vick walked into the team’s facility. I remember hearing one player say to no one in particular, “Wow, we got Vick!” All the players knew of Vick’s scintillating play with the Falcons and many felt he had been treated unfairly. As one influential Eagle told me then: “There’s no way some southern white boy quarterback fighting dogs would have been sent to jail for two years.”
Vick was rarely used in 2009 but became an MVP candidate in 2010 after McNabb was traded and Kold was injured. The Eagles then re-signed Vick to a blockbuster contract after the 2011 lockout, making him the first player in NFL history to sign two contracts with a potential worth of $100 million (although neither approached that value). That was then, this is now.
Vick, who made $32.5 million in the first two years of that mega-contract, was beset by injuries and turnovers and became the face of a team in decline. When Reid was fired in January, the common sentiment was that Vick’s ouster would soon follow.
I do not dispute that Kelly is a fan of Nick Foles, that Kelly doesn’t need a mobile quarterback and that Foles may one day be Kelly’s starting QB. But that day is not today.
Kelly will be different from other coaches in many ways, but like all coaches, he is pragmatic and wants to give his team the best chance to win now. For that, Vick was the logical and obvious choice. Sure, the Eagles could have pursued a trade for Alex Smith or brought back Kolb, but Vick was there, he is still fast and Kelly needs him.
To secure Vick on the field, the Eagles did some cost-cutting to Vick’s compensation. Entering the third year of his bloated contract, he was set to make $15.5 million in 2013, $3.5 million of which was guaranteed—a guarantee that would be “offset” against money from a new team were Vick to be released. Despite the size of the number, there was no money due Vick until the season began.
Vick and the Eagles renegotiated to reduce Vick’s compensation from $15.5 million to $7 million, plus incentives, with half—$3.5 million—paid up front as a signing bonus. That structure, to me, insured that Vick would be the starting quarterback; the Eagles weren’t going to release a player who had just been paid $3.5 million. Owner Jeffrey Lurie may have substantial funds, but even he doesn’t give away $3.5 million that easily. And once the season started, it would have been very unlikely for Vick to be making $7 million as a backup to Foles, who is making $500,000.
Under the prior contract, the Eagles could have simply kept Vick through the offseason with no money down—salary cap room is not an issue—and then released him with an offset provision to cancel out any remaining obligation. Instead, they handed him $3.5 million as part of a new contract, tipping their hand on this year’s starting quarterback.
Although Vick secured his present, he put his future at risk. The other key aspect is that 2013 becomes the final year of his contract; the previous deal was to run through 2016. Yes, Vick will have one more bite at the free agency apple, available for bid next year after being “reborn” under Kelly’s tutelage. But the Eagles will have no further commitment to him beyond this season. The Eagles’ 2014 starter is anyone’s guess, but despite what we’re seeing in recent media reports, it’s clear that Kelly’s decision for this season was made in the winter.
Five Things I Think I Think about the Eagles
1. I think Chip Kelly is the biggest offseason acquisition in the NFL. He is a refreshing change to old-school NFL coaching methods. Kudos to the Eagles for their persistence and openness to new training and coaching methods.
2. I think Kelly had great leverage with the Eagles and used it to secure his desired environment. He ended up with a football operations staff—coaches, administrators, sports science crew, etc.—of roughly 30 people. There is no salary cap or roster limit on non-player personnel.
3. I think Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy are timely beneficiaries of the new system being installed by Kelly, who will be inventive and put them in positions to succeed.
4. I think Riley Cooper was a recipient of good timing. His racial slur was appropriately met with riotous outrage ... but only for a few days. Had the video showing his hateful words been released in June, soon after the concert, it would have lingered much longer than it did during the warp-speed training camp news cycle.
5. I think it was tough to see Jeremy Maclin suffer a season-ending injury in a contract year. But he may not suffer in free agency; there are two fans of his in leadership positions who traded up in the draft to get him 2009: Andy Reid in Kansas City, and Tom Heckert in Denver.
Your questions of the week
Why is the NFLPA taking a stance with Aaron Hernandez in suing the Patriots for his $82,000 workout bonus?
Hernandez, sitting in a jail cell, is not a model client to have, but the NFLPA is concerned about its greater constituency. They will not allow the Patriots to ignore an earned incentive (even a pro-rated portion) no matter the circumstances beyond the contract. This battle is a precursor to a potentially larger one between Hernandez and the Patriots over a deferred $3.25 million portion of his signing bonus coming due in March, a bonus the Patriots are expected to withhold. There will be lawyers.
Speaking of lawyers, what in the world is going on with HGH testing?
We have been waiting for implementation since testing was announced in August of 2011. We appear to be getting closer, as the NFLPA has now agreed to a population study after being previously unwilling to accept WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) testing protocols, believing NFL players would produce many false positives with different body types than Olympic athletes. The bigger issue at the moment appears to be the appeal process. While the NFL has agreed to an independent arbitrator for positive test appeals, they are adamant that Roger Goodell retain his authority on issues beyond positive tests, such as interfering with testing and collection, outside issues, etc. So we wait some more. Stay tuned.