ST. PAUL, Minn. – When they all lined up on stage Monday at the Super Bowl’s media night, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback juxtaposition remained unthinkable. Even now. Even in the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles was standing at center stage and absorbing all that came with it: A Super Bowl team captaincy; a Q&A session alongside the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady; and top podium honors, drawing a four-deep layer of cameras and microphones. On that same platform – far from central orbit – you almost missed Carson Wentz. Largely because he was so far away that he was almost completely off the stage. Tucked behind injured left tackle Jason Peters, he was squarely on the margins of this moment.
It was a crazy reality. But let’s not assume it’s going to get any crazier because there is one unavoidable reality of this week: Even if Foles throws for 500 yards and five touchdowns and wins Super Bowl LII, his final perch next season is destined to be beneath Wentz on the depth chart. As far as it goes inside the Eagles, even a title won’t be a dynamic changing feat. Not like Brady permanently unseating Drew Bledsoe. Not like Kurt Warner putting away Trent Green. And not even Jeff Hostetler upending the career of Phil Simms.
Whatever Foles does with this Super Bowl spotlight – no matter how great the feat – his spotlight is a rental. And the keys to the franchise will remain in the hands of Wentz.
In that regard, we can dispense with any delusions of grandeur. Especially including those akin to what former NFL kicker Lawrence Tynes rolled out Sunday morning on Twitter:
“You can’t tell me if Nick Foles wins the Super Bowl for the #eagles that there won’t be a QB controversy. It may not be Montana/Young level but you can bet there will be one.”
Actually, we can tell you that. Accurately. There won’t be one for a multitude of reasons. Start with Wentz’s talent at barely 25 years old, which is considerable enough to have made him a league MVP candidate in Year 2 of his career. Then move on to the steep draft investment the Eagles made to get Wentz, which now looks like well-spent roster collateral. And finally, there’s the matter of team owner Jeff Lurie, who would be chairman of the Carson Wentz fan club, if that were actually a thing.
None of this implies that Foles doesn’t have a future as a starting quarterback. It’s simply not in Philadelphia following the recuperation of Wentz’s injured knee. But that raises at least one interesting qualifier in all of this. We’re now learning the full severity of Wentz’s knee injury on Dec. 10, which not only included a torn ACL but a ruptured LCL.
It’s hard to say what that does to the team’s nine-to-12 month rehab timeline, in spite of Wentz’s confidence that he’ll be ready for the season-opener. But it suggests two things. First, the team will likely be extremely cautious with Wentz’s rehabilitation, lest he become the next cautionary tale of coming back too soon … a la Robert Griffin with the Washington Redskins. There’s a chance that Wentz not only doesn’t make it back for the start of the 2018 schedule, but that he continues his rehab process well into the slate.
This leaves us with our second point – that Foles is a strong possibility to open next season as the team’s starter. As much as general manager Howie Roseman loves to trade players and picks who have value in the offseason, even he will have to consider the risk that comes with dealing Foles without knowing if Wentz will be ready by September. It might not be the worst thing for Foles, as it gives him added time to rebuild his career under head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich, who are both seeing shades of the 2013 player who looked like a potential cornerstone.
“A couple years ago he was a starter and had a Pro Bowl year,” Pederson said. “He had 27 [touchdowns] and two [interceptions]. Those are pretty good numbers for a starter. I think he’s getting back to that. The one thing with Nick, you’ve got to remember, he missed all of training camp with the [first-string] guys. He missed the regular-season reps with the guys. Now he’s had a month and a half of practice and you’re seeing now what Nick is capable of doing.”
“I just know this – he’s one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the NFL,” Reich added. “I don’t want to lose Nick. I’m being selfish here. We want two starters on our team.”
Foles has steadfastly avoided revealing potential thoughts of how this latest run might have hit the reset button for him as a starter in the NFL or perhaps changed perceptions. But whether he’s admitting it or not, he has to know that the aura around him has already begun to change. And it would alter significantly if he could win a title as an instrumental piece on Sunday.
“When that time comes, I’m signed for another year with the Eagles,” Foles said. “I know that. That’s all I’m focused on. I’m focused on this game. … When those times come when you have to make career decisions, then you tackle them.”
That time is coming. A Super Bowl win could draw it closer than ever, cementing the coaching staff’s belief that Foles is at least one of the best 32 quarterbacks in the NFL and may not be far removed from that 2013 Pro Bowl edition. With one more victory this season, Nick Foles might have some significant opportunities ahead as an NFL starter.
But once Wentz is healed, they won’t be in an Eagles uniform. And nothing can change that.
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