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We'll find out if Foles is a franchise QB

Nick Foles was 13 years old on Feb. 3, 2002, the day that the standard of excellence was established for a quarterback in his situation.

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and head coach Chip Kelly. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and head coach Chip Kelly. (David Swanson/Staff Photographer)Read more

Nick Foles was 13 years old on Feb. 3, 2002, the day that the standard of excellence was established for a quarterback in his situation.

He said he doesn't remember much about that NFL season or that day, beyond the basic details: Drew Bledsoe had been the New England Patriots' starting quarterback, and then he got hurt, and then he wasn't starting anymore. Tom Brady was.

"The rest is history," Foles said Tuesday.

He was talking a few hours after Chip Kelly had told him what everyone around the Eagles expected to hear soon enough: that even though Michael Vick's hamstring had healed, Foles would remain the team's No. 1 quarterback, barring injury, for the rest of the season.

Vick had been the Eagles' starting quarterback, and then he got hurt, and then Foles got hurt, and then Vick got hurt again, and here we are, finally.

This was not a difficult decision for Kelly. It could have been. But Foles pretty much made it for him.

Over his last three games, Foles has completed 71 percent of his passes and thrown for 932 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception. He leads the league in passer rating, at 128.0, ahead of Brady and Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers and a host of quarterbacks with more experience and better pedigrees than the third-round draft pick in his second NFL season.

Comparing Foles to those players in any serious sense still seems too wild to contemplate, even to him. "Those guys have done it," he said. "They have such a bulk of work. . . . I'm a younger guy. I haven't played enough. Those guys are pretty darned good."

But the numbers are what they are, and of the six games this season in which Foles has seen significant playing time, the Eagles have lost one. They are 6-5 entering their game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, in the thick of the NFC playoff chase - a surprising change of fortune for a team that won four games all of last season.

So there was an obvious question to ask Foles: What does he think he'll have to do over these next five weeks to remain the starter next season?

"Just win. That's it," he said. "You can do all the stats you want or do everything, but the most important thing is winning the games and putting your team in the position to win games. That's why quarterbacks play the position. That's why I play the position."

Foles' answer strikes at the heart of an everlasting debate about a quarterback's legacy and importance.

How does one measure his value? What factors should determine whether a franchise ought to place its future in a player's hands? If Foles continues performing at this level and the Eagles either lose an early postseason game or don't make the playoffs for reasons other than his play - injuries, defensive breakdowns - would their disappointing finish disqualify Foles as a possible franchise quarterback?

The answer can be found only along a sliding scale that takes into account all the tangible and intangible ways to judge. The recent history of the NFL offers several examples of teams who bet big on "winning quarterbacks" and came to regret their gambles: the New York Jets and Mark Sanchez, the Houston Texans and Matt Schaub, the Kansas City Chiefs and Matt Cassel.

So in that regard, Foles is wrong. The statistics matter, to an extent. The wins matter, to an extent. Circumstance matters, to an extent.

If there's an appropriate link at the moment between Brady (who'd been a sixth-round pick of the Patriots) and Foles, it's there. It's in acknowledging how chance, how events out of a quarterback's control, can change everything for him.

Remember: Drew Bledsoe was a franchise quarterback, too, and if the "Tuck Rule" and Adam Vinatieri hadn't bailed out the Patriots in the 2002 AFC divisional round against the Oakland Raiders, how different might things have been for Brady?

The question hardly seems relevant now. All these years since Feb. 3, 2002, since the day he won the first of his three Super Bowls, Brady remains the standard for a quarterback's storybook rise from obscurity to greatness, and doesn't it make Foles wonder whether he could pull off the same trick?

"We're all different," he said. "Definitely, some paths follow other similar ones."

He paused.

"But no, I don't worry about it."

@MikeSielski