NEW ORLEANS — All along, the Philadelphia Eagles have been clear that Carson Wentz is their franchise quarterback. They have maintained consistently that Wentz is their quarterback of the future and, when healthy, their quarterback of the present. They have been delighted to have Nick Foles around as an insurance policy and, as it has turned out, one of the most successful understudies in NFL history.
But now the time has just about arrived to make those decisions for keeps, to lock Wentz and Foles irreversibly into those roles. The offseason arrived Sunday night for the Eagles; their defense of the Super Bowl title fell short, and another Foles-led postseason run ended with a 20-14 defeat to the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome in an NFC divisional-round game.
This will be an offseason in which the Eagles could say farewell to Foles, the backup quarterback who became the Super Bowl MVP last season and then led a charge to the conference semifinals this season. Foles’s contract contains a $20 million mutual option for next season that, if not exercised, would make him eligible for unrestricted free agency, with the promise of a lucrative long-term deal and a more permanent starting job elsewhere.
“I’m not really going to worry about it right now,” Foles said after the game. “I think I’m just going to do what I can to enjoy this flight back with my teammates, and we’ll see what happens. I do know that we went out there and gave it everything we had tonight. Everyone’s got to keep their heads held high because that’s what it’s about. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But ultimately if you give it everything you have, that’s what it’s about.”
If it was Foles’s final game with the Eagles, he exited by giving a scare to the NFC’s top seed. The Eagles, who lost by 41 points in the same building during the regular season, built a 14-0 lead Sunday on a touchdown pass by Foles followed by his score on a quarterback sneak. They then surrendered 20 straight points, but they had their chance to craft a game-winning drive at game’s end until Foles threw an interception on a pass that squeezed through the hands of wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and into the arms of the Saints' Marshon Lattimore.
The question now: Should Foles’s tenure with the Eagles be at its end? Maybe, just maybe, the Eagles should rethink allowing him to leave.
It’s not clear-cut either way. Yes, Wentz was drafted to be the franchise centerpiece and, for the most part, he’s on course. The Eagles traded up to get the No. 2 selection in the 2016 draft and used it on Wentz. He was a starter as a rookie and an MVP candidate last season before suffering the knee injury in December that gave Foles a chance to become a postseason hero. Wentz did not play poorly this season — 21 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a passer rating of 102.2 — before exiting the lineup with what the Eagles called a stress fracture in his back.
Foles is about to turn 30 this weekend, and he has been a journeyman for much of his career. He had a brilliant second season for the Eagles, with 27 touchdown passes and only two interceptions, while playing under Chip Kelly in 2013. But he had less-than-memorable stints with the St. Louis Rams and Kansas City Chiefs before returning to the Eagles last season.
Put all of that aside for a moment and consider only this: The Eagles have been a better team with Foles than with Wentz.
They had a 5-2 record this season, including the two playoff games, with Foles starting, compared with a 5-6 mark with Wentz. They are 4-1 over the past two postseasons with Foles. They won the championship last season with Foles and came close this time around to knocking off the NFC’s No. 1 seed. Sunday’s opportunity came after the Eagles regrouped with three straight victories to close the regular season just to reach the playoffs, plus a road victory at Chicago in the opening round.
There is one Super Bowl-winning quarterback in Eagles history. It is Foles, not Wentz.
There is one quarterback with a statue at Lincoln Financial Field commemorating the famed “Philly Special” play call, along with Coach Doug Pederson, in the Super Bowl. It is Foles, not Wentz.
This is not to demean Wentz. He could turn out to be a great NFL quarterback. But now he’s a quarterback with a back problem who has failed to remain healthy for two straight seasons.
This is not to say that the Eagles should trade Wentz and keep Foles. The Eagles could afford to keep both for another season, with Wentz still on his original rookie contract. Maybe they could convince Foles to stay for another season for $20 million, and then each side could make a long-term choice after that. Even if the Eagles want to exercise the option year, Foles could use his $2 million buyout to become a free agent and land a big deal elsewhere.
The bottom line is that Wentz over Foles is not an automatic choice. Allowing Foles to walk should not be a foregone conclusion. There at least needs to be a sincere discussion — among Pederson, front office chief Howie Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie — about attempting to keep both or potentially trading Wentz and retaining Foles for the long term.
As of Sunday night, Foles was not speaking like someone desperate to leave.
“I think the big thing is what the city means to me,” he said. “It’s always welcomed me and my family. It’s really been a joy to live there and be a part of everything, wear the green and wear the jersey. No matter what, you can’t ever take that away. We were able to do some really special things. We’ll see what happens. But I’ll tell you this: I’ve enjoyed every single moment, and it’ll always have a special place in my heart — the city, the fans, the people, everything about it.”
Pederson was not making any immediate pronouncements.
“I just told him I appreciate everything he’s done and everything that he’s done this season for him to come in and step in the way he has,” Pederson said after the game. “I just told him I loved him and we’ll probably visit in the next couple days.”
For the Eagles, there was much to digest as the season ended.
“Your emotions, you’re trying to figure them out right now,” Foles said. “There’s a lot going on. . . . I know we wish we were continuing on, but that’s part of this game.”
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