The numbers for Nick Foles in 2013 were staggering. After losing a training camp battle with Michael Vick and missing a game due to a concussion, Foles’ second half put him in the record books.
He started with a seven-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders and walked off the field in the playoffs with the lead. Foles threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, finishing with a 119.2 passer rating that ranks as the third-highest mark in NFL history.
He led the league in yards per attempt. He set an all-time record with 10.54 adjusted yards per passing attempt. He went 8-2 in games he started, bringing the Eagles back from a 3-5 midseason record. Foles didn’t even play dink-and-dunk football; he led all quarterbacks by throwing a deep pass (20 or more yards) on 17.4 percent of his passes, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Foles helped coax a career season out of DeSean Jackson, but he also turned Riley Cooper into a bona fide downfield playmaker. The offense will change its outlook for 2014 with Jackson gone, and expect a much higher percentage of short passes to Cooper and Jeremy Maclin, plus tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz—and don't forget about running backs LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles.
It goes without saying that Foles won’t duplicate his ’13 numbers; mathematically, that’s like asking a running back to repeat a 2,000-yard season. Foles will enter training camp as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his NFL career, and he will have to show the world that he’s more than just a one-year wonder.
He’s not a physically gifted quarterback, lacking mobility and a cannon arm. But he’s still on his rookie deal for two more seasons, which means the Eagles can afford to spend money to surround him with top-tier talent for 2014 and 2015.
Foles doesn’t have to match last year’s statistics to be considered successful. Here’s what he does need to do in 2014, and here’s how he can do it.
Stay Healthy for 16 Games
To be a top-tier NFL quarterback, Foles will need to stay healthy for a full 16-game schedule. That hasn’t yet been the case.
As a rookie in 2012, Foles broke his hand in the second-to-last contest, missing the season’s finale against the New York Giants. Last year, he suffered a concussion against the Dallas Cowboys and also missed a game against the Giants.
Fortunately for Philadelphia Eagles fans, Foles doesn’t play a particularly reckless style of football. He’s not a runner. He doesn’t take chances. And he started 35 of his final 36 games in college, meaning he doesn’t have durability issues.
The Eagles have a tricky backup quarterback situation behind Foles. Mark Sanchez is a former first-round pick who flamed out in New York after winning a handful of road playoff games. Sanchez is too turnover-prone, and he hasn’t had a particularly strong training camp with Philadelphia.
Matt Barkley, a 2013 fourth-round draft pick, has questionable arm strength and struggled vastly when he played as a rookie. Barkley turned the ball over nearly every time he touched it, and the Eagles would be in serious trouble if he had to play meaningful snaps.
Last year, Foles ran the ball 57 times, which put him in the middle of the pack among quarterbacks. Prorate that to 16 starts, and he’s a runner. Running quarterbacks frequently get injured, and the ideal scenario for head coach Chip Kelly is that he limits Foles’ rushing attempts. That, in turn, should keep Foles healthy as much as possible.
The four best quarterbacks in the game—Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady—have started 121 of the past 128 contests (since 2012), with Rodgers missing all seven due to last year’s clavicle injury. The next tier has been largely healthy as well.
Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Matthew Stafford, Andy Dalton and Eli Manning haven’t missed a game since 2011 (or ’12, in the case of Luck and Wilson), except for Romo’s Week 17 absence last season.
Simply put, effective quarterbacks do not get hurt.
There are occasional injuries, like Brady’s ACL in 2008 or Peyton Manning’s neck surgeries that resulted in his missed 2011 campaign. But if Foles cannot stay healthy, he’ll be mired in the class of Jay Cutler—a good quarterback who hasn’t been able to take the next step, largely because of his inability to stay healthy.
Rank in Top 8 Quarterbacks in Passer Rating
It’s impossible to pinpoint a touchdown-to-interception ratio for Foles to attempt to match in 2014. He’s not going to repeat last year’s insane interception percentage. He’s (hopefully) going to play all 16 games, which will lead to more passing attempts.
Kelly is a run-oriented head coach, and Philadelphia thrived off of McCoy last year. The team finished fourth in rushing attempts and first in both rushing yards and rushing yards per attempt. McCoy is back, the offensive line is back (minus Lane Johnson for four games) and Sproles was added.
That means Foles won’t have to throw the ball 40 times per game, as Brees does for the New Orleans Saints. Minimizing Foles’ passing attempts will keep his efficiency at an all-time high. This worked like a charm for the Seattle Seahawks, who didn’t ask Wilson to throw the ball much more than 25 times per game.
Foles should see a spike from last year’s completion percentage (64.0) because the focus should be more on high percentage passes to tight ends, running backs and intermediate receivers. His yards per attempt (8.5) will likely drop, as he won't have the deep threat in Jackson, and his passer rating (119.2) will go down because that’s simply unsustainable.
If he can finish in the top eight quarterbacks in passer rating, that’s a successful season. Last year, that would have been the 96.7 mark put up by Tony Romo. Romo’s statistics included a 63.9 completion percentage, 3,828 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Few Eagles fans would likely be disappointed with those numbers.
The previous season, the eighth-rated quarterback in passer rating was Brees at 96.3. Brees (in a ridiculous 670 passing attempts) put up a 63.0 completion rate, 5,177 yards, 43 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. That’s a lot of interceptions, but if Foles put up that rating, it would probably be more like 35 touchdowns and 13 interceptions because he would be throwing fewer passes.
Win a Playoff Game
Do the Philadelphia Eagles have to win a playoff game in 2014? It’s tough to think of how the season could be successful if they didn’t.
Kelly set the bar awfully high in year one, winning 10 games and the NFC East crown before losing a home playoff contest to the New Orleans Saints. Losing a postseason game to a future Hall of Fame quarterback is nothing to be embarrassed about, although the outcome could have been much different had Alex Henery converted a makable field goal.
This year, the NFC will be a tough conference once again. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers are likely assured of playoff spots. An early look at the NFC North and NFC South suggests the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints are the favorites, especially since it is a quarterback-dominated league.
Winning the NFC East shouldn’t be too difficult for Philly.
The Washington Redskins made some strides, adding Jackson and getting a healthy RGIII back, although their defense still allowed over 470 points in 2013. The New York Giants may be a sleeper, but they were outscored by nearly 100 points a year ago and will need a complete resurgence from Eli Manning.
The Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s perennial 8-8 team, and that may be a stretch this year considering the losses they’ve undergone on the defensive side of the ball.
At the least, Foles should be starting a home playoff game. With the talent the Eagles have on offense, they need to take the next step and win the contest. If it’s a first-round bye and Philadelphia hosts San Francisco or Seattle in the NFC Divisional Round, that may be the only plausible scenario in which Foles is let off the hook.
In all fairness, though, quarterbacks are judged strongly by playoff performances. That’s what will likely put Ben Roethlisberger in the Hall of Fame and keep Rivers out. For Foles to be considered one of the game’s best, he needs to avoid an 0-2 start to his postseason career.
Earn a Long-Term Contract Extension
Great quarterbacks get paid. If the Philadelphia Eagles are really committed to Foles, they’re going to have to dish out a six-year, nine-figure deal after next season. That’s the going rate for successful quarterbacks. After all, it’s the most important position in professional sports.
There are 32 starting quarterbacks in the National Football League. Fourteen of those quarterbacks are making at least $10 million per year, per Overthecap.com. Luck, RGIII, Wilson and Newton are going to be making $15-20 million in no time. Long-term deals are also (possibly) on the way for Alex Smith and Dalton. That means 63 percent of the NFL’s quarterbacks are being paid handsomely.
If Foles goes into 2015 and hasn’t yet received an extension, that tells you how the Eagles feel about him. Call it the Dalton/Smith dilemma; the quarterback is good, but not good enough.
Maybe it will pay off for Philly as it did for Baltimore with Flacco; he was playing for his future and turned in a postseason for the ages, which earned him a six-year, $120 million deal. The Eagles may be in a difficult salary-cap situation for the 2015 season, as they’ll have to extend a number of their ’12 draft picks.
Then again, general manager Howie Roseman is a salary-cap genius. He will likely work out a long-term extension for Foles similar to the one the San Francisco 49ers gave Colin Kaepernick. It will be a five- or six-year deal with much less guaranteed money than the initial eye test reveals. It may not give Foles too much long-term job security, especially if the team can essentially re-evaluate him after just a few seasons. But still, a long-term deal for a former third-round pick is rare.
So what are the odds that this all happens?
It would take another strong showing from Foles, but if he responded to the challenge a year ago, he should be able to do it again in 2014.
Every quarterback Kelly has touched has produced phenomenal numbers. It’s a terrific offensive system with a top-tier offensive line and a slew of playmakers. The expectations are high for Foles, but he’s good enough to come through.