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Improved Foles would be Eagles' best hope next year

The good news coming out of the NovaCare Complex the day after the unceremonious end to the season was that Nick Foles is ready to return as the Eagles' starting quarterback.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)Read more

The good news coming out of the NovaCare Complex the day after the unceremonious end to the season was that Nick Foles is ready to return as the Eagles' starting quarterback.

That, of course, would have been much better news if Foles had made the same declaration a few weeks ago, when the once-promising season started to unravel with three straight losses to Seattle, Dallas, and Washington. Instead, Mark Sanchez finished out the season, going 4-4, while Foles recovered from the fractured collarbone he suffered during Week 9 in Houston.

Sanchez had nine turnovers - six interceptions and three lost fumbles - in the four losses. Those negative numbers were so reminiscent of his dark, butt-fumbling days with the New York Jets that he eliminated himself from being the starting quarterback for the Eagles when the regular-season games resume in September.

Oddly, Sanchez may have played well enough to garner interest as a starting quarterback elsewhere. He does, after all, play a position in which there is a severe talent shortage, even though NFL passing rules have become friendlier than Casper, the friendliest of cartoon ghosts. Sanchez definitely played well enough to remain in the league as a backup, and the Eagles could do a lot worse than keeping him around in that role.

Foles, meanwhile, had an assertive demeanor in his first public comments since his season came to a premature end. As his teammates packed their belongings in plastic bags, Foles talked about how he believes he will be the man behind center again when the Eagles return to work next season.

"I expect to be back here," he said. "I expect to be the quarterback. I love my teammates, and I expect to be back out there leading them and winning some games. Right now, it's the offseason, and I expect to come back better than I ever have been."

He will need to be if the Eagles hope to improve on consecutive 10-6 seasons and advance to a level at which they are a Super Bowl contender. Absence does a lot of things, and dulling memories is one of them. Foles was every bit as big of a turnover machine as Sanchez during his eight starts. He swore that his mistakes can and will be corrected, but such pledges ring hollow the day after the season is over, and Chip Kelly was not promising anything to anyone.

Perhaps the best news coming out of the NovaCare Complex was that the Eagles' head coach was noncommittal when asked about his quarterback situation and, predictably, he was asked about it a lot. In fact, 23 percent of the 61 questions directed at Kelly in his final news conference of 2014 were about the quarterback position.

"We haven't made any evaluations about anything," Kelly said. "We're still in the process of breaking down the film of the last game, and then we have a long evaluation process. Time is on everybody's side here. We don't have to make any decisions today."

That's a stark contrast to a year ago, when Kelly said, "Obviously you've got to have that one guy," and "right now Nick is that guy." Foles earned that distinction by throwing 27 touchdowns and committing just four turnovers in 2013.

He lost the right to be the absolute man in 2014, although he remains the guy most likely to be in the starting role next season.

"We don't have to make any decisions until we get close to free agency," Kelly said, expanding that concept beyond the quarterback position and to the entire roster. "So, you take a long look at anything and everything you can. Our goal is to win this thing, and, to do that, you have to look at everything no matter what it is. You don't know what presents itself, so you have to take a look at everything and say, 'Hey, what do we think?' "

The Eagles' two quarterbacks combined for 27 touchdown passes and 27 turnovers this season. The first number is good, but not great. The second number is a season killer.

"I think . . . we threw for more yards this year than the Eagles have ever thrown for," Kelly said in defense of his quarterbacks. "We had the highest completion percentage - Sanchez's 64.1 completion percentage was a team record - "but we also . . . had too many turnovers. I've never been on a team or coached a team that has had this many turnovers, so that is something we have to clean up."

Does Kelly attempt to clean up the turnover mess by turning over the men who played the quarterback position for him this season? You get the impression he'd love to try, but when you look at the free-agent market and what may be available with the 20th pick in the 2015 draft, you come to the conclusion that the best hope for the Eagles is that Nick Foles makes good on his promise to be better next season.