Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

Forget Draft Position: Nick Foles Defining Performance Gives Eagles Hope for the Future

There are going to be some folks who either can’t or won’t
enjoy the Eagles 23-21 victory over Tampa Bay. I feel sorry for them.

Was the win ultimately meaningless? Yes. Did it have a
negative impact on their rising draft position? Yes. But dammit, this was an
important win for Philadelphia.

It cemented Nick Foles as the future of their franchise.

No one can promise Foles will lead the Eagles to the
promised land. We’re not putting him on the next plane to Honolulu, nor planning
his enshrinement ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Long-term, nobody even knows whether
Foles will enjoy a lengthy run as a starting quarterback, let alone achieve
varying levels of greatness.

If the Birds are to ever win a Super Bowl though, the past
decade tells us they will most likely need an elite quarterback in order to do it.
Prior to Sunday, I would have said there wasn’t a player of that caliber on the
roster.

Now there is hope.

Down 21-10 with 7:21 to go in the fourth quarter, Foles led
the offense on back-to-back touchdown drives of eight and 13 plays, finally pinning the ball on Jeremy
Maclin in the end zone as time expired. Bet you didn’t see that coming.

Perhaps it is just as unfair to declare Foles’ career is
suddenly filled with tremendous promise after one great game as it was to say he wasn’t
necessarily ever going to become that player. It’s not as if there weren’t signs already.

The Eagles chose Foles in the third round with the blueprint
of grooming him to one day become a starting quarterback. He had an outstanding
preseason that suggested he was light years ahead of schedule. Since coming on
to relieve Michael Vick, he has made measurable improvements each and every
week.

But there is a difference between the athlete who is a
relative unknown, a preseason darling, or a young, developing quarterback, and the
player who proves on the field, when it counts, that he has “it.” By leading
the Eagles on that 64-yard touchdown drive with 2:44 remaining, Foles made the
leap from just another guy to legitimate prospect.

How good was Foles against the Buccaneers? Oh, he only had
the best performance by a rookie quarterback in club history. The kid
connected on 32 of 51 attempts for 381 yards (7.5 YPA) and two touchdowns, plus
added another score on the ground. He dropped back 60 times, but committed zero
turnovers.

Numbers don’t really do the outing justice. Foles made big
throw upon big throw during the comeback, especially on the final drive. 3rd
and 14? No problem. 4th and 1? He’ll take it himself. 4th
and 5? How ‘bout 22 yards. 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line with
two seconds left? Piece of cake. In fact, Foles accounted for all 136 yards on
the Eagles’ last two possessions.

All day long, Foles maneuvered around the pocket, faced the pressure, and delivered strikes down field. He had the look of a seasoned
veteran, which is quite possibly the best compliment you could pay a 23 year
old in the NFL.

Would we still be heaping all of this praise upon Foles had
Tampa Bay’s Danny Gorrer held on to an errant pass only three plays before Maclin
made a sliding grab by the sideline in the end zone? Maybe not to the extent
we are now, but a single poor throw would not have undone or erased the body of
work. This was a strong outing any way you slice it.

Besides, there are always bumps along the road. Foles has a
long way to go before anybody believes he is ready to put the football team on
his shoulders on a weekly basis. He is going to make mistakes, mistakes that are
the reason the Eagles taste defeat. It’s all part of the process.

Yet simply put, he is passing the eye test. There was an
increasing level of comfort setting in with the direction the Eagles are
heading at the position. Now that Foles has added a defining win to his resume,
there is going to be a genuine buzz over his next act. How does he top this?

At this point, Foles is a lottery ticket. He could fail
spectacularly, and the Eagles toss him aside. He could grow into a competent
quarterback that leads the team into the next era, and you enjoy it while it
lasts. Or, as we caught a glimpse of for the first time today, Foles might be
the next big thing, the grand prize so to speak.

Whether or not the Eagles picked a winner, we’ll have to
wait for the drawing to find out. We know now though that Foles was definitely worth the investment.

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Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

Eagles Stay or Go Part 6: Taylor Hart to Donnie Jones

In the sixth of our 12-part offseason series examining the future of the Eagles, Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro give their opinions on who will be and who won't be on the roster in 2017. We go alphabetically — part 6 is Hart to Jones.

Taylor Hart

Roob: No matter how hard the Eagles try, they just can't get rid of Taylor Hart. Chip Kelly drafted Hart in the fifth round in 2014 and then Hart began last season with Kelly in San Francisco before reappearing here later in the season. Hart is going into his fourth NFL season and has 15 games, 12 tackles and no sacks to show for it. He turns 26 next month and has never shown any signs of being a guy who can contribute in a 4-3 defense. I’m going to say he goes, but don't be surprised if he finds his way back onto the roster at some point. 

Verdict: GOES

Dave: Hart was with the Eagles last training camp but cut him on Sept. 4 and he was claimed by the 49ers and Chip Kelly. Then when the Niners cut him, the Eagles claimed him back and he spent the rest of the season watching the Eagles play football. He was inactive in all but the last game and in that one he didn’t play. Hart is a former fifth-round pick who just fits better in a 3-4. The Eagles already played undrafted rookie Destiny Vaeao over him, so it’s time to set him free. 

Verdict: GOES

Jordan Hicks
Cap hit: $796K

Roob: Whenever you blast Chip for getting rid of Shady, DeSean and Jeremy Maclin, you have to mention that he did draft Jordan Hicks in the third round. Hicks, in just 24 games, has become one of the most productive playmaking linebackers in Eagles history. With seven interceptions, he already has the 11th-most interceptions in franchise history by a linebacker, and he led all NFL linebackers with five INTs this past season. Only four linebackers in NFL history have had more interceptions in their first two seasons – Hall of Famer Jack Ham is one of them. But Hicks is more than a ballhawk. He’s a smart, heady linebacker who is stout at the point of attack and is already developing into a terrific locker room leader as well. The future is certainly bright for Hicks.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: He just finished his second year in the NFL, but Hicks is quickly becoming one of the biggest playmaking linebackers in the league. Through the first 24 games of his career, he has seven interceptions. In his first two years, he has 7 INTs, 4 FRs, 1 FF. He’s the fifth player in NFL history to do that in his first two seasons and he’s the only linebacker. That said, Hicks needs to get better against the run and he knows it. Now that he won’t have an injury to heal from this offseason, he plans on hitting the weight room to get stronger and better at stopping the run. He looks like a cornerstone of the franchise. 

Verdict: STAYS

Malcolm Jenkins
Cap hit: $7.5M

Roob: Jenkins had another good year in his third season with the Eagles, although not quite up to his Pro Bowl level of 2015. Jenkins, who turns 30 late next season, is on the books for another four years with some pretty high cap figures — $7.5 million in 2017, then $10 million, $9.75 million and $9.25 million. But as long as Jenkins continues to play at a high level, I don’t see him going anywhere until after the 2018 season at the earliest, when he would count just $3 million in dead money if he’s released. But Jenkins is a guy you'd like to see finish his career in Philly. Hope that happens. 

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: It’s hard to quantify just how much Jenkins means to the Eagles or how much he’s worth. But it’s a lot. The last two seasons have been the best of his career and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The best Jenkins stat is this: He’s missed just eight defensive snaps since arriving in 2013. Unreal. If the Eagles chose to play him at cornerback last year, he would have probably been their best one. 

Verdict: STAYS

Lane Johnson
Cap hit: $10M

Roob: If he goes, it’ll be because of a third positive drug test. Johnson’s play in the six games he was available to the Eagles was at an All-Pro level. But after two positive tests for banned substances and suspensions of four games in 2014 and 10 games in 2016, he’s now one positive test away from a two-year ban that would essentially end his Eagles career. My gut feeling is Johnson has learned his lesson and won’t take any more chances. That he understands what’s at stake here and isn’t going to risk his career by taking a supplement that hasn’t been pre-tested and cleared. Obviously there are other reasons the Eagles were 5-1 when Johnson played. Those five wins included games against the hapless Browns and Bears and a win against a Cowboys team that wasn’t trying to win. But that said, Johnson’s value is clear. He's a beast. It’s up to Johnson whether he becomes a Pro Bowl offensive tackle or a casualty of the NFL’s substance abuse regulations. I can’t imagine he’ll make the same mistake again.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: A lot was made about Johnson’s suspension voiding the guaranteed portion of his contract. And for a week or so, a bunch of fans were calling into talk radio saying the Eagles should cut him. That was laughable. Johnson is still the Eagles’ best offensive player and as long as he stays on the field and plays the way he did in 2016, he’s going to make most of the money in his contract. He obviously deserves plenty of blame for the way last season went, but he’s a big piece of the future. One more suspension and his career is basically over, so the Eagles just have to hope he doesn’t ruin everything.  

Verdict: STAYS

Marcus Johnson

Roob: Johnson is an interesting guy. Ran a 4.37 so he has wheels, but he didn’t have much of a career at Texas. Then again, Texas didn’t have a legit quarterback while he was there so maybe there’s a lot of untapped potential. The Eagles are so desperate for help at wide receiver they’ll take a good long look at everybody on the roster, even a guy who bounced off and on the practice squad last year. This Longhorn is a longshot to make the roster, but then again, if he catches the football consistently in training camp he’ll give himself a fighting chance.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: The receiver was with the Eagles during training camp and flashed some before getting hurt. He joined the practice squad during the season and was there at season’s end. He’ll be brought to camp but is a longshot to make the roster. 

Verdict: GOES

Donnie Jones
Cap hit: $1.25M

Roob: At 36 years old, the greatest punter in Eagles history (sorry Mat McBriar) showed no signs of slowing down. In his 13th NFL season, Jones averaged 45.8 yards per punt with a 40.7 net – both above his career highs. The most amazing thing about Jones is his knack for dropping punts inside the 20 without hitting very many touchbacks. He had 21 inside the 20 this year with just six touchbacks, and in four seasons with the Eagles he has 117 inside the 20 with just 26 touchbacks. When you don’t have an explosive offense, field position is critical, and Jones is a human field position flipping machine. The Eagles signed him to a three-year extension this year, and he’s now under contract through 2019.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: At times during the last two seasons, Jones has looked like the offense’s best weapon. That’s not a good sign for the offense, but it is for Jones. He’s already the best punter in team history. He’ll be 37 by the time the 2017 season starts, but he just signed a contract and will be the team’s punter for at least a couple more years if everything goes to plan. 

Verdict: STAYS