The Philadelphia Eagles are in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2004 season. That, in itself, is an accomplishment. That they got there with backup quarterback Nick Foles and not Carson Wentz — an MVP candidate who was lost in Week 14 because of a knee injury — is remarkable.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, however, said he had faith in his backup quarterback all along.
“He’s a big-time, big-game player,” Lurie told reporters, including The Washington Post’s Mark Maske, on Monday. “That’s Nick. We utilized about $12 million to have a second quarterback by eating the contract of the quarterback we had before, our backup, and going out and getting Nick. It may have seemed irrational. I remember the phone call when it was [executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman] and I talking. And we said: ‘We have an opportunity to do this. Do you have any reservations of using this $12 million this way versus on other positions?’ And we both agreed this is absolutely the right thing to do. We never knew it would come to this, but we knew that Nick could win big games for us.”
Foles had a career year for the Eagles in 2013, throwing 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. He led the league in passer rating (119.2) that year, and ESPN ranked him the fourth-most-valuable passer per its Total Quarterback Rating (69.5 QBR), suggesting his team would be expected to win about 70 percent of the time given that level of performance. His third year in the league, 2014, didn’t go as well (81.4 passer rating, 63.6 QBR in eight games before an injury ended his season), and he spent the next two years with the St. Louis Rams (2015) and Kansas City Chiefs (2016) before returning to Philadelphia as Wentz’s backup in 2017.
If Foles is a “big-time, big-game player,” why did he make just four starts over the past two years? If Foles is a “big-time, big-game player,” why is his career completion rate when trailing 57 percent — lower than when the score is tied (59 percent) or his team is leading (67 percent)? Why is his career completion rate in the fourth quarter (55 percent) significantly lower than it is in the first three (63 percent)? You would expect a “big-time, big-game player” to be able to lead his team to victory in big moments, but when Foles is under center and his team is trailing with four minutes or less to go, his completion rate plummets to 46 percent with a 64.8 passer rating. The New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, by comparison, has a 56 percent completion rate and a 89.6 passer rating in that situation.
Foles’s passer rating under pressure was a woeful 23.8, more than 16 points less than the rating he would have gotten if he spiked the ball every time (39.6) instead of trying to make a play. By comparison, Wentz’s passer rating under pressure was 81.7, the fourth-best among qualified quarterbacks in 2017.
And let’s not forget: Foles was not good during his three starts at the end of the regular season. He completed 47 of 87 passes for 439 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions, producing a 77.7 passer rating and a 27.8 QBR. The Philadelphia offense was one of the worst in the league during that stretch, scoring 1.2 points per drive in addition to 7.4 fewer points per game than expected via passing plays after accounting for the down, distance and field position of each attempt. With Wentz under center, the offense scored 2.4 points per drive, third-most in the league, while scoring 7.9 more points per game than expected through the air. Foles’s 4.1 QBR in the season finale against the Dallas Cowboys — he was 4 of 11 for 39 yards and an interception before he was pulled because the Eagles had already locked up the top seed in the NFC — wouldn’t inspire anyone who invested $12 million in his services.
Foles did turn it around in the playoffs with his performance against the Minnesota Vikings, owners of the league’s fourth-best pass defense per Football Outsiders. It was nothing short of a masterpiece: 26 for 33 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. But that is so far removed from anything he has done since being let go by the Eagles in 2014 that it’s safe to say it was closer to the exception than the rule.
And that’s why the Eagles’ $12 million investment in Foles was “absolutely the right thing to do” only with the benefit of hindsight. It worked out, but it wasn’t the wise move to make at the time.
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