For Eagles' Foles, upcoming season a very big deal

Posted: June 06, 2014

NICK FOLES' public persona is that of as grounded a star athlete as we have seen. He has learned the coach-speak well, and the we-not-I selection of pronouns, and the special athletic talent of unfurling many words that signify nothing. The next controversial thing he says will be the first.

So when he was asked last week about The Future, meaning The Big Contract - the elephant in the room that just grew even a little bit bigger, when the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick signed a 6-year, $126 million contract on Wednesday that included $61 million in money guaranteed against injury - he said All The Right Things.

As in:

"If you try to think about all that, it's hard to play. My goal is to get a little bit better every day and help the team get a little bit better every day. All that other stuff . . . if I focus on today and getting better today, it will all take care of itself."

It is an admirable worldview. But saying it is one thing and living it is another - and that will be Foles' biggest test this season. Yes, defenses have had a year to study both him and the Eagles' offense. Yes, finding a way to stay healthy will continue to be a challenge. But if he is a human being, and if he is on the verge of earning life-altering money, and if that life-altering money is dependent upon his ability to duplicate a reasonable facsimile of his 2013 season, the weight of all of those possibilities will be his biggest burden.

How could it not be?

The Kaepernick deal apparently is more complicated than was originally advertised, with only $13 million completely guaranteed for skill or injury. Whatever. The point here is not to negotiate Foles' deal in the newspaper, or to try to predict what he might get down to the second decimal place.

It is just to acknowledge that we are going to be talking about an enormous commitment by the Eagles if it comes to that. It must also be said that, if Foles can come close to putting up the same kinds of numbers as he did in 2013, and if the Eagles can make a significant playoff run - Kaepernick's deal will be borderline irrelevant to Foles. That is how much more Foles will get.

But it only happens if Foles performs.

Pressure? What pressure?

If the offense stalls this season, coach Chip Kelly will receive the most public blame - because he allowed wide receiver DeSean Jackson to leave, and it will be very hard to separate that decision from the runaway narrative of a disappointing second season.

But even recognizing all of that, if the offense stalls, Foles will pay the greatest financial price. The truth is, it would have to go really bad for the Eagles not to give Foles a new deal at a big dollar value - because that is just how the NFL works anymore. It is America's most popular sport, after all, so it only makes sense that NFL quarterbacks have a vanishing middle class, too. In many cases, pretty good is good enough to push a quarterback into the financial stratosphere - and how are you doing, Jay Cutler?

But what if it really goes bad? It is hard to see it happening - Foles' play last season, and the growth he showed in the offense, was not a mirage, after all. But if it were to go the wrong way, and in a big way, Kelly and the Eagles would be faced with a murderous decision. Pay him and hope? Draft somebody over him and start over? Have him play out the final year of his rookie contract and hope that he rebounds, acknowledging that he could leave as a free agent after the season?

Foles takes all of the angst out of it if he has another strong year in 2014. But in that interview with reporters last week, even he was quick to acknowledge that a year of Foles-on-film for NFL defenses significantly ups the challenge.

"There's a lot of guys who have a good year, and then it's tough the next year," Foles said. "I know that. For this team to be successful, I have to do well, and I have to help my teammates around me get better."

He says the right things. There is not a misstep there. If anybody can handle this great financial inflection point in his life, and handle it with equanimity, it is Nick Foles. We just can't pretend that the pressure on the eve of this decision isn't another challenge that the young quarterback faces.

On Twitter: @theidlerich


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