As the 2021 NFL season approaches, the thirty-two teams around the league will soon have to announce their full 53-player roster to start the year. And, as it usually comes about in the National Football League, some of the cuts that have occurred could have domino effects. In other words, there will be intrigue regarding the clubs’ squads even after the Tuesday deadline.
This statement already materialized when the New England Patriots released Cam Newton earlier. Unsurprisingly, Newton is not the only high-profile quarterback to face avid uncertainty. That group also consists of the likes of Drew Lock and Jimmy Garoppolo. However, no asset at this post might experience a more eventful couple of weeks left before the kickoff of the season than the Chicago Bears’ Nick Foles.
The Full Story
Fifteen months ago, the atmosphere surrounding the nine-year veteran was starkly contrasting. The Chicago Bears entered the 2020 offseason eager to add drastic upgrades to their underwhelming offense. That, accompanied by one of the most stacked defensive units in the league, would make the Bears a strong contender for the next three years. Meanwhile, arriving was a former Super Bowl MVP and a passer with decent numbers. However, the lack of sample to give credibility to the latter was noticeable. Still, Chicago had made the deal of the early part of the spring. Or at least that was what they thought.
Now, Foles’s career seems at crossroads. Firstly, the figures he turned in across half the season he played last winter were unsatisfying. This then prompt Bears general manager Ryan Pace to search for alternative solutions. That was despite the huge financial commitments that carried on from the contract Foles signed with Jacksonville in 2019.
But things would only get worse. Chicago drafted Ohio State playmaker Justin Fields in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Furthermore, he was not the only competition to Foles for the starting QB job within the Bears, who also brought in a solid veteran asset in Andy Dalton. Those names turned in out to be a difficult training-camp matchup for Foles, whose reputation had already been shaken. Fields received the most playing time over the preseason. At the same time, Dalton has been named the starting quarterback for the Bears’ Sunday Night Football game against the Rams in Week 1.
What is left for Foles? He surely does not fit in the plans of the Bears’ staff, whether it concerns coaching or the front office. The former Eagle is rumored to be available for business on the trade block. However, there’s a catch. Foles has been given the NFL equivalent of the widely-used professional wrestling term “creative control/freedom” in a potential deal. That, in turn, is thought to be staying in the way of a quicker and more beneficial trading session.
Five hundred and thirty-two days after the infamous Foles-to-Chicago trade, the future of the former Super Bowl champion looks all but uncertain. However, as indicated by his track record and other factors, his path going forward is not very promising.
What Went Wrong?
As already mentioned, the perception of the direction Foles’s career has situationally taken is an interesting one. The short version is that he hit his peak in 2017 and 2018. First, Nick Foles led the Eagles to the first Super Bowl title in the history of the NFC East franchise. Moreover, the following campaign saw him take over the quarterback spot for an injured Carson Wentz and win a playoff game.
The other free-floating theory is that the downfall that then ensued was monumental. That statement is a difficult one to refute. In 2018, Foles turned in a passer rating of 96.0 in five starts as a replacement for Wentz. Furthermore, this figure roamed around the 80.0-85.0 range in each of the next two campaigns. The Austin native has had eleven combined starts since the beginning of the 2019 NFL season.
However, what a significant portion of that crowd is missing is a crucial detail. Nick Foles has never been a regular quarterback for a full year in that span. His only two campaigns with more than ten starts before the 2017 season – 2015 (Rams) and 2013 (Eagles). Also, his heaviest workload in the last five years is 202 passing attempts (2020) and he made fewer than 100 throws in three of those five campaigns.
Not one but three teams opted to overlook the importance of his sample in that span. That proved to be costly under disappointing results and financial burden. Two comparisons perfectly show the lack of clarity his situational brilliance brought. Or, at least this is how Tom Coughlin and Ryan Pace should have reacted.
Firstly, Philadelphia made a minor mistake compared to what would follow for Jacksonville and Chicago. After its inaugural championship year, the Eagles rewarded solely Foles’s playoff success, adding a $2 million signing bonus, among other incentives and a mutual option for 2019. Although a low price, that would not pay off – Foles started just five games, amounting to less than half of the team’s production. Moreover, Carson Wentz had two times more throws and a passer rating of over 100.0 – for the second campaign on the spin. If anything, the Eagles would have been better off had Wentz not suffered a back injury.
Despite that, Nick Foles’s 2018 outing turned out to be remembered with impressive numbers. The former third-round Philly draftee had a passer rating of 96.0 and a completion percentage of 72.3. If the sample over which they are accomplished (141 attempts), these numbers make Wentz a must-own asset for years to come. However, the devil’s in the details, which should have been alarming to the rest of the league.
Yet, the Jaguars were the club to take a gamble. Their bet did not pay dividends – Foles again missed more than half of the 2019 campaign with an injury he suffered in Week 1 against the Chiefs. In just 77 attempted passes across four starts, his rating plummeted to 84.6. According to Spotrac data, this cost Jacksonville $11 million in cap space and $30 million in total payments.
The Bears must have hoped his performance was not capable of falling even further, heavily trusting his resume. However, a workload half of what he had in 2018 (not the most indicative itself) should have been even more deceptive. This is precisely what it turned out to be. Free of the pressure of his current competition, Foles registered a weak passer rating (80.4) on what was his biggest sample since 2013 (202 attempts) – and the second-biggest in his pro tenure.
The lesson of that story is that taking a portion of what would otherwise be a full-year workload provides fruit for false conclusions. The reason, of course, is that no type of statistical metric (or any average, for that matter) is consistent over the entirety of the span it includes. This was exactly the case with Foles on two occasions – when his salary with the Eagles soared and when the Jaguars threw a fortune at him. Furthermore, the Bears’ mistake might have been even more dramatic as Nick Foles had already started going downhill. That would mean Chicago primarily relied on his Super Bowl victory, which is egregious when you are seeking an effective full-time solution.
Status and Direction
The encouraging part for the state of player evaluation is that the Bears and the league, in general, are waking up to that shortcoming. However, that is tied to the frightening part when it comes to Nick Foles, who was reportedly placed on the trade block by Chicago last week. There has not been a sea of suitors and rumors, which perhaps could speak of his value.
The notable exception was the Indianapolis Colts. Indy was looking into a temporary answer to the inconvenient situation that arose at quarterback. However, that was at a time when Jacob Eason topped the club’s depth chart at QB. Now, Carson Wentz is back on Indianapolis’s roster and is positioned to start when the Colts welcome the Seahawks in Week 1, per the team itself.
Between Foles receiving the fewest chances across preseason and the insufficient market interest, the high opinion many within the industry once had seems to be history. With a burden of $10 million in dead cap, Wentz is unlikely to be unemployed this year. That provides him final opportunities to stick around as a highly-regarded passer. However, the expectations seem to have cooled off and it would take a miracle for Foles to solidify himself as a regular starter in the NFL any time soon.
Main Credit Image
Don’t forget to check out the OTH Football Podcast on both Spotify and Youtube!