The suspense is over. So is the Eagles' quarterback competition.
Michael Vick outperformed Nick Foles and will start for the Eagles on Sept. 9 against the Redskins, Eagles coach Chip Kelly announced Tuesday before practice. After nearly 40 practices between the spring camps and training camp, Kelly said Vick emerged in a competition between two quarterbacks worthy of leading an NFL offense.
Yeah, he's our starter for the season," Kelly said. "It's not a one‑game trial basis."
"I think Mike is ahead right now and I think Nick made it very difficult on him. It wasn't where one guy went north and the other guy went south. I think both of them upped their games, but at this point in time, Mike's ahead and we want to go forward. And this is a one-quarterback operation. This isn't going to be [where] someone's got to look over their shoulder or we're going to alternate by series. Mike is ahead right now."
The 33-year old Vick, who completed 80 percent of his passes in four full preseason drives, will start the season opener for the third straight year and should square off against Redskins star Robert Griffin III when the NFC East rivals clash before a national audience on Monday night.
Vick will get most of the first-team offense snaps in practice for the rest of this week as the Eagles prepare for their Saturday night preseason game against the Jaguars. Kelly said Vick would likely play the first half, and possibly longer.
The announcement came as somewhat of a surprise as Kelly had said he would use all four preseason games, if necessary, before picking a winner. Kelly opted to end his competition before the third preseason game, an exhibition that most teams use to play their starters for at least one half. Throughout the spring camps and training camp, both quarterbacks had split reps about evenly and took turns opening practice as the first-team QB.
"We had 16 opportunities in the spring with them with voluntary minicamp, mandatory minicamp and 10 OTAs. We had 20 practice opportunities here while we were here at the NovaCare, plus two preseason games, so that gave us 38 opportunities, along with walkthroughs, along with meetings," Kelly said. "And actually Phase 2 [of the offseason program] we were with those guys, so we felt like we had a good amount of tape, a good amount of us seeing them on the field and us seeing them in a lot of different situations and wanted to put a guy in place if we could in enough time to get us prepared for the season."
Kelly's decision to go with Vick, who struggled over his past two seasons and hasn't played 16 games since 2006, raises questions about the future of the franchise under the first-year coach. Vick came back on a one-year deal after struggling the past two seasons under Andy Reid, especially with ball security. After a breakout 2010, Vick had accounted for 33 turnovers in the past two years and posted a starting record of 10-13.
If he maintains the starting job all season, the organization will face the difficult decision to either sign him to another long-term extension at 34 or let him walk in free agency as Kelly moves onto another starter. Some will theorize that Vick is merely a bridge to Matt Barkley or someone now playing at the college level.
The decision also provokes questions about the future of Foles, a second-year pro whose name came up in trade discussions this past offseason. Foles went 1-5 last year after taking over for Vick, but he completed 60 percent of his passes and averaged 240 yards per game. Kelly said both quarterbacks would be on the 53-man roster this year, slamming the door on the suggestion that Foles would be traded before the opener.
He also pointed to Monday night's preseason game between the Redskins and Steelers -- with Redskins starter RG3 sidelined as he recovers from knee surgery and backup Kirk Cousins forced out of the game with a foot injury -- to illustrate the importance of having more than one option.
"In this league, you better have a couple of quarterbacks ready to go," he said. "I mentioned that again to Nick today. He's going to approach it that he's the starter because that's got to be his mentality going into this and prepare like he's' the starter. Mike was great. Mike said, 'I'm still going to look at this like it's an open competition because I've got to go out and continue to get better every day.' I think both of those guys, and really the entire quarterback room in meeting with all those guys, I think their attitude has been outstanding."
Foles completed 78 percent of his passes this preseason, but he also turned the ball over in each game. He fumbled on his first drive against New England and threw a first-series interception last Friday against Carolina. Each time, he came back on his second series and led the offense to a touchdown. On the flip side, Vick's lone preseason turnover came on a Hail Mary interception at the end of the first half against Carolina.
Vick, who said Kelly's offense helped him rediscover his passion for the game, played within himself all preseason. He didn't force the issue or try to exploit his natural athleticism and running ability in a scheme catered to a mobile quarterback. He gained an early leg up in the preseason opener against New England, connecting with DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard touchdown bomb in his first series.
"It was a healthy competition," Kelly said. "I think they both made each other better. I was really happy with how both guys handled the situation because it can get at times testy, it can at times be one guy competing against another. But it was a healthy competition and I thought it brought out the best in both those guys."
Earlier this preseason, Kelly had said he would pick his quarterback before the team started to prepare for the Redskins. Even with his decision made, Kelly said the team isn't yet in full preparation mode for the season opener. Right now, the staff is picking out certain plays and formations that certain players are comfortable executing and starting the early stages of devising their season playbook.
It was important, Kelly said, that he first let the competition decide which quarterback to start building around.
"We wanted to let it express itself," he said. "I know people asked Mike the question back in the spring, 'Would you like to name a quarterback then?' I would have liked to name a quarterback back then, too, but it wouldn't have been a fair evaluation. We felt through what we did in the spring and then 20 practice opportunities here plus two games that we had enough to go on. Obviously, you always want to get a guy in place, we didn't want to let this linger, but I think it also expresses itself on the field."