There are just four teams still alive in the quest for the Lombardi Trophy. And after squandering a 14-0 lead in New Orleans, the defending Super Bowl champions aren't one of them.
Life comes at you fast in the NFL, though. There's no time to cry over spilt milk or to lick wounds. From the moment the final gun sounds on a season, teams have to switch gears. What was no longer matters. What will be becomes the focus.
And as the Philadelphia Eagles prepare to turn the page from 2018 to 2019, one question is going to loom above all others. One query is going to dominate the discussion online and on sports talk radio.
What the heck are the Eagles going to do with Nick Foles?
For the second straight season, Foles wound up taking over for an injured Carson Wentz at quarterback. Last year, after Wentz tore his ACL, Foles had a magical run that resulted in a world title and Super Bowl MVP award. In 2018, after Wentz suffered a stress fracture in his back, Foles led a late surge that got the Eagles into the postseason and past the third-seeded Bears in Chicago.
For a moment, it looked like this year's run was going to be every bit as improbable as the one in 2017. The Eagles raced out to a 14-0 lead in New Orleans, and had Foles engineered an upset of the NFC's top seed and gotten the team to a second straight NFC title game, the Foles conundrum would have become all the more compelling and confusing.
But the Eagles couldn't hold the lead, in part because Foles went cold after the first quarter, However, despite just 201 passing yards, two costly interceptions and a 61.4 passer rating, head coach Doug Pederson insisted after the game that he thought Foles played pretty well.
"There's always throws you'd like to have back in every game," Pederson told reporters in the postgame presser televised on the NFL Network. "But I thought the way he hung in there and battled and gave our offense a chance to go down and possibly win this football game. I thought overall he played pretty well."
That's being rather...diplomatic. After completing eight of his first nine passes for 113 yards and a score, Foles didn't play a good game against the Saints—there were far too many off-target throws or passes chucked up for grabs.
To be honest, Foles didn't play a great game the week before in Chicago either. Yes, the 29-year-old led the late drive that helped the Eagles stun the Bears at Soldier Field. But Foles also threw two bad interceptions and finished the game with a pedestrian 77.7 passer rating.
If there's a silver lining to those performances, it's that they all but certainly put the rest the notion that the Eagles might consider keeping Foles over Wentz—a notion that had picked up steam over this year's run to the playoffs.
There isn't a single statistical category in which Foles is markedly better than Wentz, either this year or last. In more categories than not it's the other way around—never mind that Wentz was the front-runner to be named the NFL's MVP in 2017 before he blew out his knee. Or that Wentz is three years younger and cheaper—at least in the short term.
Foles had a great run last year. And a good one in 2018. But he's not as good as Carson Wentz.
There is all of one potential scenario in which dealing Wentz and keeping Foles makes sense—if you are absolutely certain that Wentz is damaged goods. That these injuries are a pattern that's going to keep repeating in the future.
Otherwise, Wentz is the guy—and the Eagles face a very expensive potential fork in the road.
Foles has a $20.6 million mutual option with the Eagles for 2019. In other words, both the player and team have to agree for the option to kick in. If Foles wants to test the open market, all he has to do is return a $2 million signing bonus (per Zach Rosenblatt of NJ.com) and he's a free man. If the Eagles don't want to sink $20 million into a backup quarterback (a huge sum for a team with the least cap space in the NFL, according to Over The Cap), then Foles gets a handshake and maybe a gold watch and then he'll hit the open market.
In news that should surprise no one, the most likely scenario (by a country mile) is that one or both parties will decline the option. Keeping Foles would put a substantial strain on an already tenuous cap situation in Philadelphia, and there are any number of teams who will be willing to give Foles a chance to start—and pay him accordingly.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have cap issues of their own, but quarterback is easily the team's most pressing need in 2019. The Miami Dolphins, Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos could be looking to move on from their present signal-callers. And two teams in the NFC East, New York and Washington, could have openings under center this year.
If Blake Bortles and Case Keenum can land multiyear deals that average $18 million a season, it's not hard to imagine a quarterback in his prime with a Super Bowl MVP award to his credit doing the same. And while Foles likes playing in Philly, it's unlikely he likes it so much that he's willing to pass on both a chance to start and tens of millions of smackeroos.
Given this reality, it's no surprise that the "Thank You Nick" tweets started coming in as soon as Sunday's game ended.
It's possible that the Eagles could attempt to engineer a sign-and-trade that would net the team some compensation for Foles. Or that the Eagles could attempt to convince Foles to return for one more year if the team's worries about Wentz's back are substantial.
But it's hard to see where the upside lies in either for the player. Letting the Eagles control where Foles lands will affect his chances to win on his next contract. With Wentz heading into the fourth year of his rookie deal, the Eagles have a decision to make that's no decision at all regarding his fifth-year option.
It's going to be picked up. It would also be guaranteed for injury. Wentz…isn't…going…anywhere.
And so we're back to goodbye.
After the game, Foles said he was focused more on the flight back to Philly with his teammates than he was on his uncertain future.
"I'm not really going to worry about it now," Foles told reporters, via NFL Primetime on ESPN. "I'm just going to do what I can to enjoy this flight back with my teammates and we'll see what happens."
Foles may not be worried about it, but he's thinking about it. He's human. Pederson and Eagles vice president Howie Roseman are thinking about it too. So are fans of the team who will always hold a special place in their hearts for the quarterback that won the franchise's first Super Bowl.
But after the sting of Sunday's loss subsides and emotions cool, all those folks, from player to coach to GM to fans, are going to come to an unfortunate realization.
The best course of action for both Foles and the Eagles—realistically the only course of action—is to decline the option. The Eagles will move on with Wentz under center. Foles will move on to another team and the next chapter in his career. Fans will tell the story of that magical day in Minneapolis to anyone who will listen.
It's time for the Eagles and Nick Foles to hug it out and part ways.
Because like I said—in the NFL, life comes at you fast.