The confetti barely had finished falling Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis when the question popped into the minds of some observers: What should the Philadelphia Eagles do with Nick Foles?
So much for the Eagles being given time to savor their first Super Bowl triumph and Foles being given a chance to bask in the glow of his MVP performance in the 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots.
Foles certainly made the most of his opportunity after taking over as the Eagles' starter in December when Carson Wentz, the team's standout second-year quarterback and a frontrunner for the regular season league MVP award to that point, suffered a season-ending knee surgery. And now, one way of looking at the situation goes, the Eagles should capitalize on the moment and get something valuable in return for Foles by trading him during the upcoming offseason, with his value at an all-time high, and then turn the team back over to Wentz.
But such thinking misses the point of what Foles just demonstrated: having him on the roster as an insurance policy is oh-so-important.
Wentz was drafted to be a franchise quarterback. The Eagles traded up to take him second overall in the 2016 NFL draft. And that's exactly what he has become. The Patriots' Tom Brady might not have won his third career regular season MVP award Saturday night if Wentz had remained healthy all season. The Eagles remain Wentz's team as soon as he comes back and shows that he's fully healthy and ready to go.
But when will that be? Wentz must work his way back after suffering torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee. The rehabilitation process will take an estimated 9 to 12 months, and the Eagles seem hopeful that Wentz will be ready for the opening of the 2018 season.
That cannot be regarded as a certainty, however. Opening Night will come less than nine months after Wentz's surgery. Wentz and the Eagles must take the longterm view. He should not play until he is really, truly ready. Remember Robert Griffin III and "All In for Week 1" in the 2013 season as he came back from his knee injury? Look how that turned out. The Eagles and Wentz must be all in for whenever Wentz's knee has properly healed.
Foles's presence on the roster next season would make displaying such patience easier for the Eagles, and could keep the team winning early in the season if Wentz's return does not come as soon as hoped.
Last week, even before Foles threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the Patriots, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie referred to Foles as the team's "other starting quarterback," not its backup. Lurie spoke of being willing - in consultation with Howie Roseman, the team's executive vice president of football operations - to make what amounted to a $12 million decision, in their minds, last offseason to sign Foles and release Wentz's rookie-year backup, Chase Daniel.
"He's a big-time, big-game player," Lurie said last week. "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 Howie 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 is under contract through next season after signing a two-year, $11 million deal. He is to make $7 million next season, including a $4 million salary and a $3 million roster bonus, and he is to count $7.6 million against the Eagles' salary cap. The contract contains additional seasons that are designed to be voided for cap purposes, making Foles eligible for unrestricted free agency following the 2018 season.
What could the Eagles get for Foles by trading him this offseason? That's debatable. The Patriots dealt Brady's prized backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, to the San Francisco 49ers during the season for a second-round pick. The Washington Redskins have agreed to send a third-round choice and cornerback Kendall Fuller to the Kansas City Chiefs for Alex Smith, the league's top-rated passer during the regular season; that deal cannot become official until the new league year begins March 14.
Foles also was superb when the Eagles overwhelmed the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC title game. He amassed 725 passing yards, with six touchdown passes and one interception (plus a "Philly Special" touchdown catch in the Super Bowl) in the two biggest games of the season. He beat the greatest quarterback ever, Brady, on the sport's biggest stage. He certainly has a new-found stature as a Super Bowl MVP. He once had a 27-touchdown, two-interception season playing for Chip Kelly with the Eagles in 2013.
The problem is, the rest of his career has been rather ordinary, outside of that one brilliant season with Kelly and this otherworldly postseason run. He had unremarkable stints with the Rams and Chiefs. Take away the '13 season, and his career regular season numbers are 34 touchdown passes and 27 interceptions. He is capable of playing very well. But it hasn't happened consistently during his career.
There will be other options this offseason for quarterback-needy teams. The free agent market could include Kirk Cousins, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater. Garoppolo is eligible for free agency but probably will be re-signed or franchise-tagged by the 49ers. Drew Brees is a potential free agent but seems likely to remain in New Orleans. A quarterback-rich NFL draft includes Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield.
"It's hard to guess what they could get" for Foles, a front office executive with another NFL team said. "To me, he's still worth more to them than to anyone else."
Getting Foles turned out to be a great idea for the Eagles.
Keeping him now would be just as prudent.