— Whether the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback of the future is on the roster now needs to be the No. 1 fact-finding mission in the second half of the season for head coach Chip Kelly and the powers that be upstairs.
The first half of the season, which is not even over, has already proved that. All three quarterbacks have taken meaningful snaps, to absolutely no sane observer's surprise.
And yet, the Eagles are right back where they started from: not even knowing who their man is for the short term, much less the long term.
The week leading up to today's game against the New York Giants provided a season's worth of intrigue on the position. Can Michael Vick and his cranky hamstring go? Will Foles be cleared from his concussion in time to practice and play? Does the staff really have the confidence to throw Matt Barkley out there for his first career start?
Seven games in, what they do have to know is that they have no chance to advance in the playoffs, should they get there. That turns the second half of the season into a discovery session. And it means Vick and his expiring contract should be relegated to emergency service only, regardless of the condition of his left hamstring or anything else.
Next year will be here in around 10 minutes. That's the way the NFL clock works. And it would help the organization immensely to know exactly what it has and, subsequently, what it needs at their most important position.
Rookie Barkley, whose debut last week could not have been any worse, cannot be written off yet. Neither can second-year man Foles, whose performance before suffering a concussion in the third quarter of a 17-3 loss to Dallas was enough to make everyone wonder if the injury didn't really happen in practice the week before.
Foles hasn't spoken publicly since inexplicably following up his NFC East Offensive Player of the Week award with an 11-for-29 outing against the Cowboys. Even that disaster only dropped his season numbers to 52-for-90 (57.8 percent) for 622 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Vick, by contrast, is 71 of 132 (53.8 percent) for 1,185 yards, five TDs and two interceptions.
Barkley has been in command for just three series, all of which ended with interceptions.
He was not expected to play, though, and only had scout-team quarterback reps in practice the week before.
Barkley was disappointed but certainly not shattered. Neither were his coaches.
"I think Matt can make the throws," Kelly said. "It's just a matter of him learning and learning the speed of the game. I think he's got a bright future."
No time like the present to find out if that future is in Philadelphia, and four preseason games (or less) next year is no real test.
Neither is one quarter of one regular-season game.
"It was unexpected and unimagined," Barkley said, "but it was lost."
On the bright side, the sore throwing shoulder he came to minicamps with is fully healed now.
"My shoulder felt great," he said. "It's been a while since I had that feeling. Even in the preseason, it didn't feel great."
Kelly might have risked losing the locker room if he had named anybody but Vick the starter near the end of training camp. The 33-year-old won the job fair and square in an open competition with Foles.
But Vick hasn't done enough and the Eagles (3-4) haven't won enough to warrant sticking with this charade of playing for this season any longer.
Ironically, one of Vick's greatest strengths, toughness, may also prove to be his downfall. He's a warrior and he's always at battle against an opponent and against his own instincts, which tell him to disregard hazards to his body for the good of the team.
"That's one of his truly good qualities and maybe a truly bad quality at times," Kelly said. "When you see him in the Redskins game trying to lead block on a play, you know what I mean? You want a quarterback with that mentality, obviously.
"I think he's done a better job from a decision-making standpoint on that. I don't think Mike has taken a lot of really big hits. I think, for Mike, it's frustrating. He runs out of bounds and does what he's supposed to do and hurts his hamstring. I know, probably in the back of his mind, he was like, `If I had just run that guy over, I wouldn't have hurt my hamstring.' I don't think he's taking the hits. He's really been conscious of trying to get down and trying to get out of bounds and do things the right way. That's why I think this is a little bit frustrating for him."
Vick probably still gives the Eagles the best chance to win this year, but is he the best choice for 2014 and beyond? The only way to get a better idea of that is to let the youngsters finish out, because everyone knows what you're getting from Vick by now.
Regardless of the level of play he provides, he just gets hurt too much, even when his head overpowers his heroic instincts. At his age, it can only get worse.
Kelly had a good plan in the preseason to give his starting QB candidates equal time. Well, he's essentially reached the 2014 preseason already and maybe should consider devising a similar plan for Barkley and Foles the rest of the way.
Better yet would be sticking with Barkley to better see what exactly he has, and if Barkley is worth putting into a similar competition with Foles in their next training camp.
This doesn't mean they don't try to stop winning games, contrary to the preposterous notion being floated that they should dump the season to improve their draft position. The NFL isn't the NBA. The Eagles won't be destroying the integrity of the game by seeing what their young QB(s) can do.
Furthermore, a team with the resources of the Eagles and dealing ability of general manager Howie Roseman should be able to move up into position to get one of the top players in next year's supposedly quarterback-rich draft.
But the Eagles will never know what their quarterback needs are until they can properly evaluate their own inventory. This is why the pecking order now needs to be turned upside down.
Next year is 10 minutes away, and Kelly and his staff have a lot of overtime they need to put in before it gets here.
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