The late evening of Jan. 13, 2018, a divisional-round Saturday, stands as one of the most fascinating what-if moments in recent NFL history — a hinge point for two franchises and one of the league’s singular careers.
Trailing the Philadelphia Eagles by five points, the Atlanta Falcons faced fourth and two with barely over a minute left in the fourth quarter. It was clear that two seasons were at stake. In hindsight, there was so much more in the balance.
If the Falcons had scored a touchdown, what would have become of Nick Foles? He would have just put up 15 points in a home playoff game on the heels of producing a 77.7 quarterback rating over three regular season games. He would have been the journeyman backup who couldn’t replace Carson Wentz and who couldn’t prevent the early termination of a dream season. Maybe Foles would have never been heard from again.
The Falcons, of course, did not score a touchdown, and a Philadelphia folk hero was born. In the next two games, Foles would throw for more than 700 yards combined, top the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII and be named the game’s MVP. After another late-year injury to Wentz in 2018, Foles saved Philadelphia’s season again, leading an implausible December charge and a magical, last-minute drive in a playoff victory over Chicago.
And so here’s what became of Nick Foles: On Monday afternoon, as had been expected and reported for several days, he agreed on a new contract to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ starting quarterback. Foles is guaranteed to make $50.1 million. If he remains Jacksonville’s starter for the duration of his four-year deal, he’ll make $88 million. And if he hits every incentive, Foles could crack $100 million.
What a country.
Even if Foles duplicates his highest peaks from Philadelphia in Jacksonville, the Jaguars today stand as an example of how to mismanage a quarterback situation. Last offseason, coming off an AFC championship game appearance, Jacksonville signed 2014 third overall draft pick Blake Bortles to a three-year extension that guaranteed him $26.5 million.
Bortles had managed the Jaguars’ offense the year prior while their defense — which had an all-time season — made them a contender. They believed, foolishly, they had found a formula. Last season, when the Jaguars’ defense was merely one of the five best in the NFL, Bortles was benched midway through a five-win debacle.
Rather than pursuing a quarterback last year, when the market was flooded with passers, or even taking a stab at, say, Lamar Jackson in the draft, the Jaguars doubled down on Bortles. It left them in position to chase the only quality free agent quarterback available, at an exorbitant cost, especially given Foles’s peculiar career. The price showed their desperation.
The deal is a complete win for Foles. For his career outlook, he now has his own team to run without question, a position he has never been in. Financially, he did far better than many in the league expected. This weekend, one rival agent said Foles’s agent had one of the most difficult jobs in football. The limited number of teams in clear need of a quarterback, and not in prime position to draft one, had already shrunk when the Denver Broncos traded for Joe Flacco and the Washington Redskins acquired Case Keenum. But Foles still secured a deal that gives him the 10th-highest average salary among quarterbacks.
The Jaguars can put their bungling and wild spending at quarterback behind them if Foles succeeds. Maybe he will. He has shown excellence and poise at the highest level. Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman said Philadelphia internally rated Foles as a top-15 NFL quarterback, and that was after he publicly declared the Eagles would let Foles become a free agent, so it wasn’t simple trade posturing.
But Foles can’t be considered a slam dunk to replicate his success outside Philadelphia, where he had the benefit of an elite offensive line, a strong receiving core and smart coaches who catered to his strengths in innovative ways. Foles’s late-season excellence made it easy to forget that, when he filled in for Wentz at the outset of the season, he wasn’t very good: The Eagles scored 39 points in two games as he averaged 5.5 yards per attempt.
The Jaguars made Foles’s transition easier, in theory, when they hired John DeFilippo as offensive coordinator. DeFilippo was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach during the Super Bowl run, becoming a rising coaching star before he flamed out calling plays in Minnesota last season. Can DeFilippo get the same performance out of Foles in Jacksonville, with lesser talent around him and without Doug Pederson and Frank Reich calling plays? That’s the bet the Jaguars have made.
In Philadelphia, Foles will be a legend forever, an odd thing to say about a quarterback who started eight regular season games in his second stint with the franchise. At his best, few quarterbacks were better than Foles. It may never have happened without one play in Philadelphia on a January night. But here Foles is, a Super Bowl MVP and a wealthy man, starting his next chapter.
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