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Eagles’ top priority is to give Foles an extension

First and foremost, the Eagles need to retain the quarterback.

Nick Foles was hamstrung by the collective bargaining agreement from getting a new deal this season, but that should not be a problem now.
Nick Foles was hamstrung by the collective bargaining agreement from getting a new deal this season, but that should not be a problem now.Read moreYONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

AND NOW, to the most important task of the offseason:

Extending the contract of quarterback Nick Foles.

Foles was a revelation in 2013 as a backup who stole a starter's position. He was a kid playing a game, a fearless gambler playing with house money.

In 2014, as a starter charged with leading a division champ back to the playoffs and beyond, Foles was a reluctant and cautious game manager, unwilling to risk too much, scared to lose.

"Not being afraid to make an error," Foles said, is paramount in successful quarterback play.

He said it yesterday while reviewing his own performance. He was 6-2 as a starter but he was a much less efficient passer. His season ended in Game 8, when he broke his collarbone. Mark Sanchez replaced him and the Eagles missed the playoffs.

It would be foolish to let Foles enter another season haunted by the specter of financial insecurity.

He will make nearly $3 million in his first four seasons, and that's not a bad start in life.

It is not as good as, say, $10 million, guaranteed, over the next two seasons.

Foles yesterday refused to address his financial future.

"I'm not going to comment on it," he said, tersely. "That's why we hire agents."

Actually, no; players hire agents and instruct the agents to do their bidding. That said, perhaps Foles unwittingly offered a glimpse of his mindset.

Maybe he doesn't want to accept a modest offer. He might believe he will play wonderfully next season and be able to cash out on a larger scale after 2015.

That would be an unwise gamble. He wouldn't be likely to take home much more than $10 million in the first year of any new deal. Besides, if Foles played well enough in 2015 to warrant a big payday, the Eagles surely would renegotiate again and make sure he is locked up long-term.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly and owner Jeffrey Lurie would not even guarantee that Foles will remain an Eagle, but rest assured: Foles will be the starter in 2015.

"I expect to be back out there leading them, winning some games," said Foles, 14-4 as a starter the past two seasons. "I'm excited to come back better than I ever have been."

His confidence is logical. Sanchez clearly played himself out of contention, and handing the reins of a 10-win team to a quarterback unfamiliar with Kelly's unique system would be dangerous.

The Eagles almost assuredly will return franchise back LeSean McCoy and No. 1 recevier Jeremy Maclin, who are in the prime of their careers. Fourth-year center Jason Kelce will make his first trip to the Pro Bowl this season. Left-side linemen Jason Peters and Evan Mathis will both be 33 next season, and tight end Brent Celek will be a hard-worn 30.

A quarterback change could waste a precious year for this excellent core.

Besides, the financial risk is moderate. Even if Foles bombs out next season and loses his starting job, $5 million for a viable backup in 2016 is not overpayment, not for a player who knows the system and the culture.

True, the average rate for a backup is about half of that, but if Foles approximates the form he managed in 2013, he will be a bargain at $5 million per season.

Quarterbacks are the most precious commodity in sports. They control the fate of the franchise. More than any other position, they risk career-ending injury on every play.

They last thing they need to worry about is their paycheck.

Certainly, the Eagles face other important tasks.

The Eagles need to re-sign Maclin.

They need to restructure the deal of outside linebacker Trent Cole (who is due $10 million next season), if only because neither backup Brandon Graham nor rookie Marcus Smith displayed the capacity to replace him. Perhaps they should restructure the deal of McCoy (due $9.75 million).

They need to add two defensive backs. They need depth at inside linebacker, if only to ensure the position. The Eagles fully expect DeMeco Ryans - who will be 31 in his 10th season, getting $6.8 million - to return from a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

They need an answer at right guard, whether they retain versatile veteran Todd Herremans at his reasonable, $4 million salary; push young Matt Tobin into the spot; or acquire a player to play there.

None of these issues has higher priority than settling things at quarterback.

Foles has 1 year remaining on his rookie deal. A third-round pick in 2012, Foles signed a 4-year, $2.7 million deal. He is due just under $800,000 next season.

This was unavoidable, since the collective bargaining agreement prevented the Eagles from renegotiating Foles' deal until his third season was completed.

It now is completed. It was not satisfactory. He has a long injury history, but he was hurt for the second straight year simply because he holds the ball too long.

This is fixable. Remember, he has started only 24 NFL games; or, 1 1/2 seasons. He will be 26 next season.

He is still learning. This year's lessons were painful.

Foles threw 13 touchdown passes, but had 10 interceptions in his eight starts this season. He was fortunate to keep it under a dozen, so poor were his decisions and some of his deliveries.

"I know how to make smart decisions. I made some mistakes this year, but I can work on those," Foles said.

Those picks underscored how much of a mirage Foles' 2013 stats were. He threw only two interceptions in 13 games. He threw 27 touchdown passes.

Still, he believes he was a better quarterback in 2014.

"My comfort level was definitely better," Foles said. "The interceptions - that's something I can fix. And I will."

Most of Foles' success in 2013 stemmed from having the same five offensive linemen start every game. Three of those linemen have Pro Bowl credentials, and a fourth, right tackle Lane Johnson, was the fourth overall pick in 2013.

Some of that success was traced to the deep-ball threat of DeSean Jackson and the record-breaking running of McCoy, who is a half-season from becoming the best back in team history.

Beset by injuries, Eagles used nine different offensive-line combinations in front of Foles. They also cut Jackson in March, so teams focused on flooding the area close to the line of scrimmage with blitzers and run-stoppers to pressure Foles and limit McCoy.

Teams will play the Eagles the same way next season until Foles throws caution to the wind and makes them pay.

Want him to be less cautious?

Pay him.

On Twitter: @inkstainedretch