For some reason, my mind regularly connects movie quotes and real-life events. After watching Nick Foles’s miraculous Super Bowl performance, the first that came to mind was a moment from the great wedding-crashing montage in Wedding Crashers — when Owen Wilson’s character asks of Vince Vaughn, “What are you gonna do for an encore, walk on water?”
With a performance for the ages in Super Bowl LII, Foles established a spot in playoff lore. He’s the afterthought backup who took over for an MVP candidate and led the Eagles to their first Super Bowl win, outdueling Tom Brady in one of the most incredible offensive games in league history in the process. But Foles’s unbelievable, out-of-nowhere accomplishment is more than just a fun underdog story. His three-game playoff run — during which Foles completed 72.6 percent of his passes for 971 yards, six touchdowns, and one fluky interception, and earned a 115.7 passer rating — could add a new wrinkle to a quarterback-swapping offseason that was already due to be one of the most interesting in recent memory. Foles, who is under contract with Philadelphia for one more year, joins Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Blake Bortles, Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, and a handful of other starting-caliber signal-callers who could become available this offseason.
So what, exactly, will Foles do for an encore? And where will he even play? Here are several scenarios — some realistic, some not so realistic — that could play out over the coming months.
Scenario 1: The Eagles turn the starting job over to Foles
As Bill Simmons pointed out in his Super Bowl 52 Super Bag, there is some precedent to the “backup quarterback takes over for entrenched starter to win the Super Bowl and steal the job for good” series of events. It’s a group headlined, obviously, by Brady, who usurped Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady and Bledsoe were preceded by Kurt Warner and Trent Green (1999), Jeff Hostetler and Phil Simms (1990), and Jim Plunkett and Dan Pastorini (1980). There is, at least in theory, a case to be made that Foles’s postseason explosion trumps what Wentz did leading the same offense during the first 13 games of the year. Sure, Wentz was on a short list for the regular-season MVP award before he tore his ACL and LCL in Week 14, and sure, he was incredibly consistent, dynamic, and aggressive as a passer — but Foles is now a proven postseason winner while Wentz still has no playoff experience. Head coach Doug Pederson gave a vague nonanswer after Sunday’s win when asked about next season’s quarterback situation:
Interpret it however you want but asked directly if Carson Wentz is still his starting quarterback, Pederson said, “We’re just going to enjoy this moment.” He also said earlier he hopes they get back one day with Wentz “leading us.”— Mark Craig (@markcraignfl) February 5, 2018
Likelihood: There’s no chance that the Eagles will turn to Foles, at least not in any scenario in which Wentz is healthy. Wentz is younger and (slightly) cheaper. He’s more athletic as a runner, more aggressive as a passer, and most importantly, he proved he could run Doug Pederson’s college-style offense just as well as Foles, but over a larger sample of games. Wentz should be the clear starter, but if he were to falter, Foles’s performance could cause critics to give the young quarterback less slack.
Scenario 2: The Eagles keep Foles as insurance
Foles is relatively cheap and experienced, and is a proven option that the Eagles now know they can rely on should Wentz suffer any setbacks in his recovery. If Wentz’s status for the start of next year is in any doubt, the Eagles could keep Foles, knowing the trade deadline isn’t until late October. Those early-season games could be crucial to the team’s championship defense in 2018.
Likelihood: I’ll put it this way: If there’s any doubt about Wentz’s recovery, this is an option the Eagles should consider. Wentz got hurt very late in the year (he had surgery December 13), and while one report said that he had a “realistic” chance to be back at the beginning of next season, that’s still an optimistic projection. Athletes are coming back from ACL injuries faster than ever, but every case is different, and Wentz’s LCL injury complicates matters. Let’s assume the recovery timetable for Wentz is, best case, six to nine months: That means the 25-year-old signal-caller would be lucky to be healthy by the beginning of the preseason (set to kick off in August). This time frame also leaves Wentz little room to prepare for the season in earnest.
While his peers will spend the offseason running, lifting, and participating in OTAs, Wentz is going to be concentrating on building strength around his knee and easing himself back into a full workload. He’s going to miss a lot of reps, practices, and opportunities to redevelop chemistry and timing with his pass catchers. Also, that six-to-nine month time frame is just for a return to the field. For many players, a return to full strength and pre-injury performance can take more than a year. Quarterbacks don’t have to make the same types of cuts as running backs, receivers, or defensive backs, but the Eagles should want to bring Wentz back slowly in order to protect him in the long term. As Wentz continues to recover, Foles will give the Eagles continuity and security.
Scenario 3: The Eagles willingly trade Foles
Pederson just proved that he can run his offense with two separate quarterbacks who utilize contrasting styles, and he managed to get more out of Foles that any other coach had over the past three seasons. The power of Pederson’s RPO-heavy offense is that it could be quarterback-friendly enough to make the team comfortable with a lower-tier free-agent quarterback — a guy like Geno Smith, Tom Savage, Austin Davis or Matt Barkley — third-stringer Nate Sudfeld, or an incoming rookie to be Wentz’s backup and insurance policy. Before the Super Bowl, there were reports that the team would at least entertain the idea of a Foles trade for the right price.
There are few trade chips more valuable than a starter-quality quarterback, though, and while Foles’s postseason performance is only a three-game sample, he’s also got one of the most incredible statistical seasons in quarterback history on his résumé. The 2013 season under Chip Kelly, in which Foles threw 27 touchdowns and just two picks, has long felt like an extreme outlier, but after watching Foles re-create some of that magic again over the past three games, it feels inevitable that some team is going to talk itself into Foles: Offensive Centerpiece. Because of that, Philly could fetch a second-rounder and more from a team that thinks it can emulate what the Eagles did with Foles down the stretch, be it the Browns, Cardinals, Broncos, Bills, or Jets. In turn, Philadelphia GM Howie Roseman could use the draft picks and/or players he gets in return to fortify the team’s already-formidable roster. Plus, the team is already at its limits, cap-space-wise, and could avoid cutting a veteran contributor by trading Foles and his contract to another team.
Likelihood: This feels like the most probable scenario. Philly is built well for a title defense and has an established franchise quarterback, a young nucleus of playmakers, a strong defense, and a reliable coaching staff. The team made waves in 2017 with its haul of mid-tier free-agent signees and trade targets (Chris Long, Jay Ajayi, Ronald Darby, Patrick Robinson, LeGarrette Blount, Timmy Jernigan, and more), but the draft remains the lifeblood of a roster, and Roseman needs more ammunition in April’s draft to build depth and continue to stock the team with young impact players on rookie contracts. Right now, the Eagles are low on draft capital: Philadelphia traded this year’s second-round pick to the Browns as part of the deal that allowed them to move up and take Wentz in 2016, and they sent their third-rounder to the Bills in August for Darby. Trading Foles would give the Eagles a much better chance at getting a good haul from this year’s class.
Scenario 4: Foles asks the Eagles for a trade and they comply
Even if the Eagles want to hold on to Foles in 2018, he could request or demand a trade. The team could deny that request, of course, but in doing so, they’d run the risk of alienating their Super Bowl hero, sowing discord in the locker room, or at the very least, creating a distraction. So, this scenario assumes they’d grant Foles his wish.
Likelihood: High (assuming the Eagles won’t trade Foles during the offseason). Foles likely won’t want to back up Wentz all year again, and at 29, is likely aware of his waning prime. It would surprise no one if Foles looks to strike while the iron is hot and find a new team instead of waiting until 2019 to hit free agency. Considering that Foles will likely have multiple suitors, the Eagles could fetch a strong return — leaving the potential for both sides to walk away happy.
Scenario 5: No major market develops and the Eagles are forced to keep Foles
There is a scenario in which the Eagles try to trade Foles but find a lack of serious interest. A bevy of starting-caliber quarterbacks is set to flood the market (via free agency or trade), and other teams may prefer the long-term prospects of Cousins, Keenum, Bradford, Bridgewater, Taylor, or even Bortles. Teams may also look at what Deshaun Watson did for Houston this year and decide to take a chance with one of the draft-eligible quarterbacks, such as Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, or Lamar Jackson.
Teams may look past Foles’s absurd postseason performance and see the guy who played like a borderline replacement-level player for much of the past two seasons. They may assign to him the “system quarterback” label, deciding that Foles’s performance was more an indication of Pederson’s excellent play-calling and quarterback-whispering than the quarterback’s overall talent level.
Likelihood: This feels like the least likely scenario. Foles made too many big-time throws over the past few weeks, and he was too poised, too accurate, and too savvy to get passed over in this year’s quarterback carousel. There will be plenty of teams that will see a starting quarterback in Foles, and with free agency set to kick off well ahead of the draft, only the Browns (who hold the first overall pick) hold a guarantee for getting the signal-caller they like most.