Eagles have a lot riding on Nick Foles' start against Redskins

Posted: November 19, 2012

When quarterback Nick Foles takes the field for the Eagles on Sunday against the Redskins, his start will be a welcome novelty to fans longing for something different, an oasis of change in the stagnant desert of this 3-6 season.

For the Eagles organization, however, Foles' first start is freighted with much more than that. The afternoon of work against the Redskins is a hold-your-breath game for everyone from owner Jeffrey Lurie down to the assistant dispenser of wristbands.

The organization has to decide about Nick Foles. It has to decide about Michael Vick. It has to decide about its approach to the 2013 draft, and - from the vantage of the owner's box - Lurie has to decide who will do the deciding.

One game isn't a career, and Foles will be judged on more than what happens against the Redskins, but one full game will tell the Eagles brain trust more than they already know. The organization will begin to lean in one direction or the other depending on the results.

Nothing matters so much for an NFL franchise as the identity of its quarterback. No one position in professional sports - with the occasional exception of an elite goaltender in hockey - is as important to the success of his team. Right now, there are 14 teams in the NFL with winning records. Ten of those teams have their quarterbacks ranked among the top 14 in the league. This is no coincidence.

If the Eagles are to become competitive again, they will need a quarterback capable of joining that list. In the last two seasons, it has become increasingly clear that Vick, regardless of whatever tinkering with his style takes place, is not that guy. If Foles is not the answer, either, then the entire organization is starting over.

It is fine to wish Foles well, and he could become a great NFL quarterback, but it wasn't an accident he was available in the third round with the 88th pick in the draft. There is some indication the Eagles preferred Wisconsin's Russell Wilson, but he fell earlier in the third round and they selected Foles, the seventh quarterback taken.

His attributes are obvious. He is big and has a strong arm. His drawbacks, at least as he emerged from college, were that he wasn't very agile at avoiding the rush, and needed considerable work on his mechanics and footwork. Beyond that, there is the side of the game that isn't predictable. How well will he read defenses? How good will his decisions be?

It is all unknown as the Eagles send him out and hope for the best. Marty Mornhinweg said Thursday it was exciting to have a rookie starter, but this is far from a lark for the organization.

If Foles isn't good at all, in this game and whatever games follow for him - taking the state of the offensive line into account - then Lurie will have little choice but to dismantle the football operation. That goes beyond just changing the head coach and staff. Another miss on an important player would call into the serious question the player-personnel department constructed by general manager Howie Roseman.

If Foles is very good, eye-openingly good, then everything suddenly looks rosier. Make no mistake, Andy Reid might remain as head coach if Foles makes it seem the Eagles could have a competitive run in 2013.

The tough part will be if Foles, as he was in relief against Dallas, is neither good enough to anoint nor bad enough to dismiss. What then? The Eagles will get a decent first-round draft pick (they currently sit seventh), but the quarterback crop is thin. Can the player-personnel department be trusted to choose, say, between Matt Barkley of USC and Geno Smith of West Virginia? Does the team bring back Vick for $16.5 million? And who the heck is the new coach?

Yes, that will be the tough part. The decisions will be difficult unless Foles makes them easier for the organization. One way or the other, he could do that. And that is why everyone will lean forward and watch very closely.

It is only one game, after all, but somehow it feels like much more.


Contact columnist Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com and follow on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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