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Foles remains great unknown

Eagles QB Nick Foles will be playing for real money this season.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles. (Michael Perez/AP)
Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and quarterback Nick Foles. (Michael Perez/AP)Read more

THE QUESTION: What to expect from Nick Foles?

You don't know. They don't know. Even he doesn't know.

Foles might lead the league in passer rating again and disprove Donovan McNabb's latest assertion (that Foles isn't a franchise quarterback) . . . or he might throw 10 interceptions in the first half of the season and get benched in favor of Mark Sanchez.

Nobody knows whether Foles is the real thing.

For one thing, he has never entered an NFL season as a starter.

That means he has never had the entire league spend the entire offseason preparing to target his weaknesses. He has never had a legion of defensive players poring over his habits and tendencies. He will have to adjust.

Also, the team has changed.

Discounting his performance with an injury-addled offense in 2012, Foles has never played a game without incendiary receiver DeSean Jackson softening defenses. He also has never played a game without veteran leader and tough slot receiver Jason Avant, whom the Eagles replaced with rookie Jordan Matthews - whom they really know nothing about.

More important, perhaps, Foles has never played a game without likely Hall of Fame left tackle Jason Peters protecting his blind side.

Least important, he has never played a game without first-round right tackle Lane Johnson, who will miss the first four games serving a PED suspension.

It might be tough to not be giddy over Foles' performance and his efficiency. He led the league in yards per pass attempt and completion, was eighth in accuracy (64 percent) and second in percentage of passes intercepted, behind Bears backup Josh McCown, who threw nearly 20 percent fewer passes than did Foles.

So, among QBs who passed at least 300 times, Foles was first.

All of which combined to make Foles the highest-rated passer of 2013 at 119.2, and the third-highest rated passing season in history. Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Steve Young and Joe Montana occupy the other top eight spots. All but Rodgers are unquestionable Hall of Famers, and, frankly, by the time he's finished Rodgers might be better than them all.

However, none of them hit the list before the age of 28.

Foles did it at 24.

However, precociousness does not always portend greatness.

Brian Griese compiled a league-best 102.9 passer rating for the Broncos in 2000. He was 25.

Griese broke 90 just once more in his final eight seasons.

Chad Pennington led the league at 104.2 for the Jets in 2002. He was 26.

Pennington broke 90 twice more in his final eight seasons.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of league leaders in this category tend to be veterans in their prime. They are right around 30 years old. Those quarterbacks have had offenses built around them; schemes that amplify their abilities. Usually, they are coached by men who understand what they cannot do.

Then again, Dan Marino was the league's highest-rated passer as a 23-year-old in Miami in 1984.

Entering his rookie NFL season, Eagles coach Chip Kelly might have known that Foles could play. Oregon and Arizona occupy the same conference, and Foles went 95-for-157 with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in their three games (all Oregon wins, by the way).

Kelly knew what Foles played like on Saturdays, but he didn't know what Foles acted like at practice coming off a tough loss.

Now, Kelly has observed Foles, after a lousy game against Dallas, come back the next game and have a record-setting day in Oakland.

Even with Michael Vick looking over his shoulder, salivating at the prospect of regaining his starting job, Foles' demeanor never changed.

Which, given human nature, is a change in itself. Foles didn't always have a poker face.

"It's something that's been developed through the years," Foles said. "You put me on a basketball court, I have no demeanor. I just go everywhere. I can't let myself do that."

Of course, Foles was still playing with house money then.

That is not the case today.

Now, he's playing for real money.

Foles is playing for a contract. He is making $615,000 this season. He won't be a free agent until after the 2015 season, and union agreements keep him from altering his deal through 2014, his third year in the league, but Foles can renegotiate after this season.

Do not underestimate the pressure on a player trying to get paid for the first, and possibly the only, time.

Yes, Foles wants to win, and winning usually takes care of contract issues, but playing poorly will limit his bargaining power and his worth regardless of the games' outcomes.

Remember; this is professional football.

The Chiefs and Andy Reid just extended Alex Smith for 4 years and $68 million, $45 million of which is guaranteed.

That would be a feasible target for Foles after this season. Then again, with another Pro Bowl trip Foles might get the sort of deal given to Jay Cutler, who got $54 million guaranteed, or Colin Kaepernick, who got $61 million guaranteed.

You just can't know. But you can guess.

Foles will play behind a solid offensive line, slightly depleted by Johnson's absence. He will throw to Jeremy Maclin, rebuilt for a second time; Riley Cooper, who is still big but who will receive more attention without DeSean; Matthews, the rookie; promising tight end Zach Ertz; and sturdy veteran tight end Brent Celek. He will have wild-card weapons LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles in the backfield.

He will have his coach pleading with him to be . . . less cautious?

"He wants me to let the ball go," Foles said. "I might try to place it. The ball might flutter a little bit."

So, let's say Foles lets the ball go.

He will throw 30 touchdown passes with 12 interceptions. He will miss one game, because he gets sacked too much, because he won't throw the ball away. He will lead the Birds back to the NFC East title and to the playoffs, where they will face a real team, again, and lose, again.

And guess what?

You won't know a lot more about Nick Foles in January than you do in September . . . but you're going to have to pay him as if you do.