On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 22, 2013 at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., the Dallas Cowboys‘ franchise quarterback and most valuable player, Tony Romo, scrambled desperately from the pocket. During the play, he appeared to tweak his back or hip. The injury left him limping noticeably for the remainder of the Cowboys’ dramatic win over the Washington Redskins. The injury was soon revealed to be a herniated disc in his back. It ended Romo’s season, and a dark cloud descended on the Cowboys’ franchise.
Nineteen months earlier, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed free agent quarterback Kyle Orton to a three-year, $10.5 million contract, which included a $5 million signing bonus. It was a quiet signing by a characteristically unquiet owner. The contract made Orton one of the highest paid backup quarterbacks in the NFL, and it was also the team’s most important signing that offseason.
With Romo headed to injured reserve, the Dallas had no choice but to regroup for their upcoming win-and-you’re-in regular season showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles the following Sunday. In that game, Orton proved his worth by completing 30-of-46 passes for 358 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, but the Cowboys eventually lost to the Eagles 24-22 and missed the playoffs. Orton had an opportunity to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, but failed on a two-point conversion. With Orton, Dallas was competitive. Without him, they would have been demolished.
With the circumstances of their Week 17 victory still a vivid memory, it is no surprise that when Eagles head coach Chip Kelly was recently asked for his thoughts on the 34-year-old Michael Vick, he heaped compliments upon his high-profile second-string quarterback. Kelly’s praise surely indicates that the Eagles would prefer that Vick return to backup Nick Foles in 2014.
As an unrestricted free agent, however, it will ultimately be Vick’s decision. He will enter free agency at a time when the cupboard is historically bare at the quarterback position. The top five free agent QBs-to-be are as follows: 1. Michael Vick, 2. Josh McCown, 3. Chad Henne, 4. Josh Freeman and 5. Shaun Hill. For teams looking to add a playmaker at the position, Vick will have 100 percent of the leverage, and the Eagles should pay whatever price he commands.
Though NFL quarterbacks are protected from vicious hits like never before, the position continues to be highly volatile. The following signal callers were either knocked out with injuries or benched due to ineffectiveness in 2013: Michael Vick himself, Aaron Rodgers, Romo, Foles, Robert Griffin III, Jay Cutler, Jake Locker, Sam Bradford, Freeman (twice), E.J. Manuel, Jake Locker, Terrell Pryor, Geno Smith, Christian Ponder, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, Jason Campbell, Scott Tolzien and Thad Lewis. Second-string quarterbacks were called into duty more than 20 times this season, and in many cases, the backup QB was a significant downgrade from his first-string counterpart. More often than not, an injury to a franchise quarterback is the bellwether event in a lost season.
With the league becoming more tumultuous each year, it is critical that the Eagles re-sign Michael Vick at any cost. The alternative would be to rely upon the development of Matt Barkley, who finished 2013 with zero touchdowns, four interceptions and one lost fumble – a lost season waiting to happen.