What a long, strange trip it's been for Nick Foles

What a long, strange trip it's been for Nick Foles
January 29, 2014, 1:15 pm

Including the regular season, playoffs and Pro Bowl, Nick Foles threw 30 touchdowns and two interceptions. (AP)

Honolulu is a long way from Philadelphia. It’s longer still from where he started his year: Nowhere.

Nick Foles finally finished his season over the weekend in Hawaii. Palm trees and the Pacific and endless possibilities. Foles went to the Pro Bowl as one of the last quarterbacks to make the roster. He left the Pro Bowl as the offensive MVP.

All the jokes about the Pro Bowl have already been made, but what Foles managed this year wasn’t a gag. It wasn’t something to dismiss. Each time you had that inclination, to doubt the lanky 25-year-old, he threw for more yards and more touchdowns and won more games, and you were left thinking he was better than you thought after all.

Whether the Pro Bowl is, in execution, a transparent exercise in faux competition matters less than what it represents. Before you can get there and pretend to play, you have to actually play -- and play well -- during the season.

There was no guarantee of that for Foles. The betting public would have wagered large sums against it if Vegas had put up a line around this time a year ago. Remember how far he had to go. The odds were long.

When the Eagles hired Chip Kelly, the working assumption was that he would reach into the Eagles’ quarterback container, sniff the product, and then discard Foles and Michael Vick as sour and unpalatable. A lot of people thought the Eagles would target a young quarterback early in the draft. They were wrong.

Instead, the Eagles brought back Vick. They drafted Matt Barkley in the fourth round. And they declared an open competition. It was Vick and Foles who battled for the gig, but through OTAs and minicamp, it felt as though Vick would have to spontaneously combust to not get the job. He did not spontaneously combust. He did get the job.

Foles went to the bench. Foles waited. Foles got an opportunity when Vick went down with an injury. Foles played well at first -- then not so well against Dallas before suffering a concussion.

That could have been it for Foles -- an opportunity missed. Second chances are as hard to come by in the NFL as long-term careers. But Foles got another shot, and that time he held on. That time he didn’t let go.

Foles completed 64 percent of his passes in the regular season for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and two interceptions. He went 7-3 as a starter and had a 117.9 passer rating (which includes the playoff game). He had some of his gear sent to Canton after throwing for seven touchdowns against the Raiders. That’s worth thinking about some more: The guy who was on the outside looking in before the season is now inside the Hall of Fame. He defied all expectations, didn’t he?

“No, and I don't look that way,” Kelly insisted after the season ended. “I don't have expectations of this has to be this. Our evaluations are based upon demonstrated abilities, and he demonstrated in the time that he was in there that he deserved to be the starting quarterback.”

Um, OK. Except Foles demonstrated it after the guy he initially lost the job to got hurt a second time. That’s not so much demonstration as attrition. Kelly made it sound like he knew the whole time, but if he did -- if he or anyone else knew Foles would perform that well -- the open competition likely would have come to a very different conclusion. Or it never would have been open in the first place.

But we’ll forget for now who knew what and when they knew it. How it unfolded matters less for the Eagles than the fact that it happened. They’ve been gifted a solid starting quarterback, which is the only present any NFL team ever really wants.

Kelly called Foles a “great decision-maker” and lauded him for being “extremely accurate.” And he is, but it doesn’t guarantee Foles anything. As good as his season was, Foles knows his job security has nothing to do with his last pass and everything to do with his next one.

“You have to keep playing well,” Foles said. “You see a lot of quarterbacks that get these contracts. If you don’t play well in this league for a certain amount of games, you probably won’t be the starter.”

All that is for later. For now, Foles just wrapped up a successful and surprising season. He began on the bench. He finished in Hawaii. That’s an awfully long journey.