With the exception of Jim Plunkett and Earl Morrall, Nick Foles is likely the greatest back-up quarterback of all time, and I would argue the best back-up quarterback of the twenty-first century. For whatever reason, the Philadelphia Eagles of 2017 and 2018 played tremendously well when he was under center, but his natural talent and skillset as a quarterback pales in comparison to incumbent starter Carson Wentz. Because of this, Foles will probably test free agency this offseason, much to the chagrin of hundreds of thousands of Eagles fans who adore him as a hero for defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
And to those looking to bid for his services, I would advise taking a trip down the recent years of NFL lore.
Prior to the 2015 NFL season, Nick Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams for quarterback Sam Bradford. In hindsight, this was a somewhat baffling trade, as neither quarterback seemed astute to the offenses they would be implemented into at the time. This showed more aptly so for Foles, who had his worst year as a pro with only seven touchdowns to ten picks in eleven starts. One could argue that this has more to do with the quality of the team itself (coached by the infamously average Jeff Fisher), but it’s precisely because of this that I believe that Foles can’t be “the guy” for anyone at the drop of a dime.
Nick Foles did not play tremendously well for Andy Reid during his rookie year, as the team went 4-12 and Foles was responsible for a single win in six starts relieving for incumbent Michael Vick. In 2013, Chip Kelly was instated as head coach and Foles had his best season by far, throwing for twenty-seven touchdowns and only two picks in ten starts, winning eight games. Kelly’s revolutionary offense of… going really fast… swept the NFL, and it was a hard offense to stop at the same pace as a defense. In 2014, defenses caught up somewhat to this style of offense, limiting Foles to thirteen touchdowns to ten picks in eight starts before an injury would force him to sit out the rest of the season. (Despite this, he was still 6-2 as a starter.)
By 2015, Chip Kelly’s offense didn’t have the same potency to it, as the team went 6-9 with Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez before Kelly was fired as a head coach. Had Nick Foles been at the helm, I doubt this would change, but one will never get the chance to know. Foles struggled with the Rams in 2015, going 4-7 as a starter before Case Keenum would step in and bring the Rams to a 7-9 overall record. I actually think Keenum and Foles are similar, but that’s for another post. In 2016, Foles was signed as a back-up to Alex Smith with the Kansas City Chiefs, showing flashes of what he’s capable of in a good offensive scheme by destroying the Indianapolis Colts in his only start that season.
What he was able to do with a great team in 2017 was phenomenal, though I would argue that what he managed to do with a fringe playoff team in 2018 was even more impressive. He gets the most out of his players in big moments, which is an important aspect to have as the leader of an offense. History has shown, however, that he falters without a good supporting cast. Many of the same players for Philadelphia were retained in 2018, as well as the addition of Golden Tate, who was productive for the Detroit Lions years before. What will happen when he doesn’t have the luxury of a good cast of receivers, an all-pro tight end, and an offensive line consisting of pro bowlers?
The early-favorite landing spot for Foles is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who struggled at the quarterback position for a large majority of the 2018 season. The same Jacksonville Jaguars whose offensive line allowed fifty-three sacks, featured a lead running back that managed 3.3 yards per attempt rushing, and had a receiving attack that managed fifteen touchdown receptions altogether—all during the 2018 season. One could easily blame this on the poor play of the quarterbacks, which is fair, but I believe even Tom Brady would struggle with that team. I really do not think putting Foles into the mix will make things much better, either. One would have to add a lot of great pieces to accompany him.
In defense of the Jacksonville pairing, with wording intentional, the Jaguars’ defense is certainly talented. With the likes of Calais Campbell, Yannick Ngakoue, Jalen Ramsey, and Telvin Smith, the defense is definitely capable of making up for the mistakes of an offense. This is likely what makes the claim that this is the best option for Foles as a landing spot credible, because the team is more complete than any other team he could end up with (other spots include the Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, and Washington Redskins). All that concerns me is the offensive capabilities of Jacksonville, which (in 2018) seemed like a far cry from what he was used to running in Philadelphia.
One other scenario I like is signing him to start as a rookie back-up sits behind him in waiting. This is always something of a risky situation, but recent examples have shown that waiting on the bench can work wonders for development (Patrick Mahomes). Of course, not everyone has the luxury of picking the likes of Andrew Luck in the draft, with many experts chiming in that he’s a surefire hit (he’s lived up to it). To me, though, it has more of a chance to being a success than otherwise; Foles could work out, or the rookie in waiting could work out. Both could not work out, too, and that happens sometimes. With examples like Aaron Rodgers, Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, and Deshaun Watson (with varying degrees of how long they had to wait), I find it more safe than sorry.
At the end of the day, teams will do whatever they think is best. If a franchise thinks it’s best to sign a former Super Bowl MVP who’s spent a majority of his second stint in Philadelphia as a back-up to an immediate starting position, that’s their call. What I think would be wise is to analyze what exactly the team needs to improve the offense before looking at the big picture. Nick Foles came in at the right time for an emerging Eagles powerhouse, and essentially made them relevant again after 2018 almost saw them post a losing record immediately after a 13-3 record. What’s important to note is that it wasn’t just Nick Foles, but the talent around him and how he was able to get the most out of it. To whomsoever plans to cash that check, know what you’re getting into beforehand—for your own sake.