The decision had been made weeks ago, the announcement was a formality; still, with the uncertainty surrounding a rookie head coach and his decision-making one could not officially pencil in Nick Foles as the starting quarterback for the rest of the 2013 season until hearing it from Chip Kelly’s mouth. After weeks of using Michael Vick’s injury status as the official reason for Nick Foles starting games, Chip Kelly proclaimed he would discuss the position with all parties involved and that a decision would likely be made when the team started preparation for their week 13 matchup with the Cardinals.
Sure enough, in an announcement that was only surprising because it took as long as it did, Chip Kelly put an end to the speculation surrounding the quarterback position moving forward in 2013, naming Nick Foles the starter.
THIS JUST IN: Eagles coach Chip Kelly names Nick Foles team’s starting QB for rest of season.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) November 26, 2013
In the earlier stages of the team’s season, Kelly joked that Foles could earn the job outright if he ‘goes 100 for 100 passing and throws 27 touchdowns’. The first-year coach’s challenge was obviously a facetious one, but Foles’ statline in his time as a starter is probably far beyond anything what Kelly could have expected, joking or not.
With 16 touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a NFL-best 128.0 passer rating Foles has gone from local cult-hero with no shot at a starting job, to the hottest young quarterback in the league with a desperate Philadelphia fanbase thinking both long and short-term regarding the most important position on the roster.
Many felt that Foles would not have a place in Chip Kelly’s offense in the NFL. The assumption was that Kelly, whose Oregon teams shattered records during his tenure, would prefer a dual-threat quarterback whose running ability would prove to be just as important a weapon as his arm. Michael Vick’s early season success made the idea of Foles as a starter in his offense even more comical. However, with constant support from his head coach, Foles was up to the task when Vick went down. Since Vick’s injury during the first game against the Giants (a game won with Foles finishing the contest), the Eagles have gone from a meddling 1-3 team trying to get out of its own way, to an inspiring squad with an identical record to the division-leading Dallas Cowboys.
Foles has been able to display some functional athleticism that has allowed him to pick up decent chunks of yardage as well as keep the opposing defense honest in terms of acknowledging him as a running threat. That being said, Foles has the team where he is due to his pinpoint accuracy, underrated arm strength, and veteran-like decision-making. After finishing tied for last in the NFL in turnover margin (-24), the Eagles have done a 180 in terms of taking care of the ball, sporting a respectable +4 margin, tied for 12th in the league. While it is only speculation, had Foles (no interceptions, one lost fumble) been starting all season, you could argue the Eagles would be even higher on the list. Foles has been able to utilize all the weapons that have excelled for the Eagles in the past, and at the same time incorporate more weapons into the offense (Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz) allowing for more options in the passing game. The team is more efficient in the red zone with Foles, they have not lot their ability to run the ball effectively, and the offense appears to be getting better on a weekly basis. The Eagles final five games come against teams similar to them, in the thick of a playoff race. Foles has done everything asked of him and more up to this point, but the biggest challenge of the season remains ahead.
As far as week 1 starter Michael Vick goes, the future is very unclear. The veteran who remains as respected a member of the locker room as anyone on the roster was graceful and humble in his response to being told of his spot on the depth chart. As a competitor and a team player, Vick has seen what the team has been able to do with Foles under center, and he clearly realizes that arguing the decision could only hurt the perception of himself. Throughout the entire process, Nick Foles has stated, ad nauseam, how great a teammate Vick has been throughout the process. Not once from the start of the preseason to this afternoon has there been any sort of animosity between the two quarterbacks, and for Foles not to have the sort of pressure that comes with unseating an unhappy veteran is a huge benefit.
So through 11 games under Chip Kelly, the Eagles find themselves in a position where they’ll probably be able to determine the future of the quarterback position in roughly six weeks. It is clear that Michael Vick’s time as a starting, franchise quarterback in Philadelphia is done. Whether or not he manages to find another location to compete for a number one job is tough to tell. Vick was still able to demonstrate some of the talent that made him one of the most dynamic talents in the league in spots this season. However, he was once again sidelined by injury, and his reaction to Nick Foles being named the starter shows he knows his time in Philadelphia is up. In terms of Foles, he has done a great deal to put himself in a pretty enviable position.
The Eagles have five more games, only one of which is against a sub-.500 team (Minnesota). None of the teams are considered to be of the ‘elite’ class of the NFL, but certainly the Bears, Lions, Cardinals, and Cowboys each present a unique challenge that should ensure a memorable contest. At 6-5 on the season with a finale in Dallas against the Cowboys, many feel the Eagles can probably win the division with a 9-7 record and a win over the Cowboys. With no crystal ball at my disposal, it is hard to say that Foles’ future with the organization would be determined by the team’s postseason fate. As the team’s draft position continues to fall down the first round, the idea of drafting a quarterback in the first round has become more and more of an afterthought. Foles’ success has shown that Kelly does not necessarily need the dual-threat quarterback that ran his offense when he coached at the college level. Foles has earned a five-game audition with Kelly and the organization, without having to look over his shoulder.
If you are an Eagles fan, you should be rooting desperately for Nick Foles to succeed. The future of the division seems like it is much more up for grabs than it was a year ago, and with a solution at the most difficult of all positions to field, the Eagles could focus their energy on continuing to flesh out a surprisingly talented roster. If it were up to me at this point, it would take a colossal collapse by Foles to not at the very least return for the 2014 season. With how many teams that are looking for a quarterback that can lead them to wins, you do not just give up on one that has gone through a stretch like this. If Foles is just okay over the remainder of the season and the Eagles fall a game shy of the playoffs, it is worth giving him an offseason as the unquestioned starter to see how he responds to the benefits of a full year as QB #1. Obviously, if Foles continues playing the way he has, the organization has a whole new matter on its hands: when is the right time to pay your probable franchise quarterback? Finally, should Foles completely bottom out and struggle to keep the offense operating at a high level, the organization can take solace in the fact that they would be giving up on a 3rd round pick while other franchises are hamstrung by first-round busts.
For once, it seems like in years, the Eagles head into December with very little uncertainty surrounding their team. With Kelly announcing Foles as the starter, the last important bit of uncertainty was addressed. Now, the Eagles have five games to prove that what they did leading into the bye was legitimate and that they are just as dangerous a team in the playoffs as any other in the NFC. Outside of one hiccup against the Cowboys, Foles has looked like a player that could lead a team like that. If he continues to do what he’s doing without any more hiccups, the conversations around this team could get a lot more exciting as the winter months draw closer. For now, let’s shake out of the bye week slumber and shift focus to a very dangerous Arizona Cardinals team.