There's been a lot of hand-wringing over the Matt Barkley pick and what it means for the Eagles, what it means for the other quarterbacks on the roster, and what it implies about Chip Kelly's offense. I've gone through all those same thoughts in my head over the last few days, trying to make sense of the whole thing.
My initial reaction was mostly shock. I had been operating under specific assumptions regarding Kelly's needs at quarterback -- based on his own actions -- and the Barkley selection didn't fit neatly into any of them. Tim McManus said it best:
Kelly has stated on numerous occasions that he is not married to a specific scheme and will cater to his players’ strengths. But a golden rule when reporting on a team is to watch what they do, not what they say. Up until this point, everything Kelly had done was pro-mobile quarterback. He made the decision to keep Michael Vick. Signed G.J. Kinne and Dennis Dixon. Released Trent Edwards. Nick Foles was on an island. And when word got out that the Kelly had already implemented the read-option, you wondered how Foles could compete and survive.
Eventually you get beyond that shock, though, and start to rationalize why Kelly would like Barkley. Maybe we were wrong about what he really wants for his NFL offense. Maybe he really values "repetitive accuracy" more than anything else. While Barkley was undoubtedly a value pick (the team passed over him 3 times), Kelly says the USC quarterback was in their top 50 players overall. This isn't the same as Mike Kafka being selected explicitly as a backup (also see: the Dennis Dixon signing). In fact, we have reason to believe that Barkley is more desirable to Kelly than either Michael Vick or Nick Foles -- both of whom he inherited.
This is where Chris Brown's interesting piece over at Grantland comes in. He posits that Kelly might not be trying to bring his Oregon offense to Philly, but rather import the New England Patriots offense:
In addition to drafting Barkley, among the major moves Kelly made was signing tight end James Casey in free agency and drafting Stanford tight end Zach Ertz, two movable chess pieces to go along with Philadelphia’s other multipurpose tight end, Brent Celek. These moves might be an indication that Kelly’s focus is shifting from the roster of speedy running backs and dual-threat quarterbacks he had at Oregon. Instead, Philadelphia may be looking to mesh the fleet-footed receivers already on its roster with a group of dynamic tight ends. As part of that group, Kelly is likely hoping Barkley can be an extremely accurate, intelligent, intangible-heavy quarterback who can efficiently operate his lightning-fast no huddle.
Brown's take is smart and logical. If Barkley does win the starting job, the offense would certainly cater more around his strengths and the read-option would be relegated to a side show. But the one thing that's tough for me to accept is that there was that much foresight in the selection of a fourth round player. To suggest that the Barkley pick -- which Kelly himself admits he didn't expect to make -- speaks some broader truth about the planned direction of the offense may be reading too much into it.
This is where Kelly's own words come in. Check out what he said on WIP the other day:
Obviously if you can get a quarterback that has great size, is really smart, can run, and do all those things, then yeah, let's go get him. But you don't always get the ideal guy, where in every category he's a ten. You have to value some categories more than other categories. There have been some unbelievable athletes that have played quarterback both at the collegiate level and the NFL, that can throw the ball and run 4.5 and do all those other things. But really, for a quarterback you have to be a great decision-maker first and foremost. Now, if the fact that we can run -- I think of that as a bonus, not as a prerequisite.
This is the most complete answer I've ever seen Kelly give about the quarterback position. He likes to throw around phrases like, "We'll start whichever QB can get us to the endzone." But here he is talking about his ideal quarterback -- big, smart, fast, good decision-maker. These are traits that most teams look for, but Kelly admits that it's tough to get all of them. There's an implicit assertion herein that Barkley is not the whole package, the way someone like EJ Manuel could have been.
Kelly talks about trade-offs, and I think that's a better way to look at the Barkley pick -- as well as his stance on quarterbacks in general. Neither Barkley nor Foles is his ideal starter, so any assumption (like Brown's) that rests on a plan to abandon the read-option is flawed. However, it's clear that Vick's poor decision-making and ball skills put him at a disadvantage as well. Kelly will evaluate the trade-offs with each player and make a choice based on that. If Vick's experience, athleticism, and arm strength trump the strengths of his non-mobile brethren, he'll start and the read-option will certainly be a part of the offense. Or it will go the other way.
Shifting your offense to match your quarterback's strength isn't some foreign concept. Andy Reid went through a bunch of dissimilar quarterbacks over the years: Donovan McNabb, AJ Feeley, Jeff Garcia, Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles. He had a base system predicated on the West Coast offense, but play calling adapted based on who was taking the snaps. Kelly's offense will the be the same way. Doubtless he will start with spread concepts, translating Oregon ideas for use with playmakers like DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Bryce Brown. His no-huddle offense (and its unique play-relay system) will be a major factor, especially coupled with versatile weapons that allow the Eagles to take what the opponent gives them.
After those core strategies (a "specific scheme" I believe Kelly is married to), the rest is detail. Without (yet) an ideal all-purpose quarterback like Robert Griffin III or Andrew Luck, the offense must make trade-offs. An up-tempo spread can be effective with the read-option or without, with Barkley or Vick. The question isn't who fits best into some mythical version of Kelly's offense -- it's who is the best, period. And we won't know that until training camp.
Photo from Getty.