PHILADELPHIA — To the growing faction of recency-biased Eagles fans:
You might think you want Nick Foles to replace Carson Wentz and be your quarterback forever and ever. You don’t.
Worse, you’re a lightweight.
You’ve become inebriated by just seven career starts out of 47.
There were two big ones in 2013, against Oakland in November and Dallas in December. There were those three last winter, when he trounced the Giants in December, destroyed the Vikings and beat Patriots on Feb. 4, Philadelphia’s favorite local holiday. And, most recently, there were the last two weeks. We can’t blame you for getting a little high after watching his off-the-mat, fourth-quarter drive Sunday.
But just because a guy can take a punch in one game doesn’t mean he can succeed over a 16-game season. Foles will opt out of his current contract, which would pay him $20 million, and he will land as a starter next season. Maybe Miami. Maybe D.C. Not Philadelphia.
So, by all means, enjoy this trip with St. Nick, but don’t fool yourself. The Wentz Wagon will be a better ride.
What about the Super Bowl, you say? Foles threw for 373 yards – against the Patriots’ 30th-ranked pass defense.
What about those 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions in 2013? Those came as a 10-game backup starter, with LeSean McCoy in the backfield and DeSean Jackson at receiver. And those seven TDs in Oakland that year? The Raiders had the 28th-best pass defense.
Several chances to prove worth as starter: Foles has had several chances to prove himself a worthy starter. He was unimpressive in six starts as a rookie in 2012. He lost a preseason competition to Michael Vick in 2013. Vick got injured and Foles replaced him that season, which ended with Foles as Pro Bowl MVP. But Foles didn’t deliver Pro Bowl-caliber play in 2014, when he started the first eight games and broke his collarbone. In fact, he threw eight interceptions versus seven TDs in his last five starts. The Eagles traded him to St. Louis that offseason for Sam Bradford. Yes, Foles landed in a bad situation with Rams coach Jeff Fisher in 2015, but Fisher didn’t throw 10 interceptions in 11 starts. Foles did.
Fast-forward – past his contemplation of retirement after 2015, past his season as a backup for Andy Reid in Kansas City in 2016 and last year’s sprint to Super Bowl glory after Wentz blew out his knee – and find yourself at the 2018 Eagles preseason.
Terrible in preseason and early in regular season: Foles played terribly in the preseason. He played just as badly in his first two starts. Suddenly, Foles had fallen out of favor. Wentz was wearing an industrial-strength brace on his left knee, and he was nowhere near 100 percent recovered, but most people didn’t care if Wentz was riding a rascal.
You were drunk then, too. Drunk on desperation.
We love Nick, too – but we love him for what he is, not for what we want him to be. In a handful of games, preferably against opponents he’ll only face once, he will succeed. Foles has enjoyed that advantage at the end of last season and this season. The opposition has no relevant film of him, so they cannot predict his preferences and tendencies.
“You have to study the concepts, not the quarterback,” Eagles linebacker Nigel Bradham agreed, when asked specifically about Foles’ situation. “You can’t really go back and study last season, or even the first two games. The personnel has changed. The offense changes.”
Rare backup: This is true of all second-string quarterbacks, but it is amplified exponentially in the case of Foles. He is a rare backup: tall and talented, fearless and free-wheeling, smart, respected, and just athletic enough. There is no situation that he cannot handle … short-term.
The league agrees. There’s a reason no team offered the Eagles a first-round pick for Foles before the trade deadline. He’s not Carson Wentz. His arm isn’t as strong. He’s neither as fast nor as agile.
Certainly, Wentz has his shortcomings. He sometimes forces the issue. He doesn’t throw deep as well, or as willingly, as Foles. His footwork and mechanics deteriorate as the season progresses. He’s been hurt each of the last four years.
But Wentz’s ceiling is unlimited. He’s 26, and he could win multiple league MVP awards. At 29, can you say that of Foles? Can you honestly say that, even after what you’ve seen recently?
In 2017, Foles finished a win against the Rams after Wentz went down, and then he destroyed the Giants, but the Giants had the 31st-ranked pass defense. The Raiders then made Foles look so bad in Game 15 that, solely to boost Foles’ confidence, Doug Pederson started him against the Cowboys in Game 16, a meaningless finale. Foles looked even worse. Suddenly, the conversation shifted: Would third-stringer Nate Sudfeld be a better option? That conversation didn’t diminish two weeks later, after Foles threw for just 117 yards and an interception in a playoff win over the Falcons.
Becoming St. Nick: Nick Foles only became St. Nick after he blew out the Vikings the next week then destroyed Bill Belichick’s Malcolm Butler-free game plan.
Certainly, Foles is every bit the gunslinger who won the Super Bowl MVP. He also is every bit the everyman who plodded through the first 101 minutes of the 2018 season, in which he was 41 for 63 for 294 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. The Falcons muzzled him in the opener. The Buccaneers shut him down through the first 41 minutes of Game 2, at which point they held a 27-7 lead, so they softened their defense.
Nick Foles is a good guy, a great teammate, and clearly among the 32 best quarterbacks in the NFL. But that doesn’t mean he’s better than Carson Wentz.
Of course, the same sorts of things were said in 1999, when Rich Gannon joined Jon Gruden in Oakland. Who would’ve thought – at 34, with a first-time head coach – that Gannon would go to four straight Pro Bowls, make a Super Bowl appearance and win a league MVP award?
Foles isn’t Carson Wentz, but he might, indeed, be the next Rich Gannon.
In the meantime: Take it easy on the Nick-nog.