NICK FOLES, invisible to fans and media since breaking his collarbone on Nov. 2, suddenly was front and center yesterday, large and live, ready to take his place as the face of the 2015 Eagles.
"I expect to be back here. I expect to be the quarterback," Foles said as the Eagles packed their belongings and headed into the offseason. "I love my teammates and I expect to be back out there, leading them and winning some games . . . I'm excited to come back better than I ever have been."
Foles was intercepted 10 times and fumbled the ball away three times in just 7 1/4 games this season, after giving up just two interceptions and two fumbles in 2013, when he made the Pro Bowl. Given that Mark Sanchez, playing on a 1-year deal, proved he wasn't the answer after Foles went down, and that it is unlikely the Eagles will uncover a surefire franchise quarterback through free agency or through drafting 20th overall, right now Foles looks like the most likely starter next season. He figures to at the very least be in the mix, given that he has a year remaining on his rookie contract.
"Statistically, [2014 was] not better, but . . . the comfort level was definitely better. Every game I continued to feel more comfortable," Foles said, after concluding his third NFL season. "The interceptions, I know y'all want to talk about that, I can fix that. That's something I can fix. And that's something I will [fix] . . . I know how to make smart decisions.
"You learn through times like that. We were winning games, and I wasn't playing my best football, but every week, I felt we were getting better and better as a team."
A questioner noted that neither owner Jeffrey Lurie, in his remarks following the season finale at the Giants, nor head coach Chip Kelly, in speaking with reporters yesterday morning, absolutely committed to Foles as the answer. Where was his assurance of being the starter coming from?
"It's coming from me. That's what I expect. If I came in here and told you I didn't expect that, what kind of player would I be? What kind of leader would I be for my teammates?" Foles asked. "It's coming from my heart. That's what I really expect to be. I'm going to work as hard as I can this offseason, to come back and be the best Nick Foles possible."
Kelly was asked yesterday if the Eagles got playoff-caliber quarterbacking, from Foles or from Sanchez. He noted that both QBs had some good numbers. Kelly said public relations director Derek Boyko "showed me something where we threw for more yards this year than the Eagles have ever thrown for. We had the highest completion percentage. But we also, in my opinion, had too many turnovers. I've never been on a team or coached a team that has had this many turnovers."
The Eagles led the NFL with 36 turnovers; they were among five teams with 30 or more, of which the Colts were the only one to make the playoffs. Similarly, the Eagles' minus-eight turnover differential was worse than that of any of the 12 playoff teams. Twenty-seven of the 36 turnovers were either interceptions or fumbles lost by Foles or Sanchez.
Asked if the Eagles would try to upgrade at QB, Kelly said: "We haven't made any evaluations of anything."
Asked what Foles needs to accomplish this offseason, Kelly was more encouraging.
Kelly said Foles "just needs to continue to work. One thing I do not fault Nick [on] is work ethic. He's been outstanding in that. I watched how he attacked his rehabilitation . . . what he did every day. He's been outstanding from that standpoint. I think he's continuing to grow as a quarterback. I think that's part of the maturation process in this league . . . you kind of almost need to do something, make that mistake and then learn from that mistake. That's the one thing I admire about Nick is, he processes things well, if he does make a mistake, rarely does he make the same mistake twice.
"I think he just needs to continue on the trajectory he's headed on right now."
Identifying a franchise quarterback might ultimately be the deciding factor in Kelly's tenure here, but he adroitly stepped around a question about that yesterday, Kelly pretending the QB position is no more important than any other, though he and his questioners both knew better.
"I don't look at it that way," Kelly said, when asked about finding a QB "you can hitch your wagon to."
"We're trying to indentify every single position we can hitch our wagon to," Kelly said. "Who's the outside linebacker we can hitch our wagon to? Who's the defensive lineman? Who's the free safety, who's the corner? . . . We're going to evaluate every single position, we're going to evaluate everything we do schemewise and personnelwise, and see what we can do to improve this football team."
Teammates seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of moving forward with Foles. Despite his struggles this season, he was 5-2 when he went down, a quarter into the sixth win. Right guard Todd Herremans noted that the Eagles were a play away from winning both games they lost with Foles.
"I played with one of the most special guys in the league in Andrew Luck," said tight end Zach Ertz, Luck's teammate when the Colts' QB played at Stanford. "I don't think Nick is necessarily on that level yet, but I think with his work ethic, that he can be one day . . . Nick can make all the throws, and he's a great leader, as well."
Foles, who turns 26 on Jan. 20, said he knows he has a lot to prove. When the season began, the assumption was that the Eagles would be reworking his contract by now, trying to lock him up long term, needing to pay him in line with what Pro Bowl quarterbacks make. Now it's assumed he will play 2015 for the scheduled $660,000, in the final year of his rookie deal.
"I'm just not going to comment on it," he said, when asked if he would like a new deal. "The business side of it, that's why we have agents. My focus is to be the best quarterback for this team, to be the best leader for this team."
If the team does trade for a QB or draft one, will that be OK with Foles?
"Absolutely," he said. "They can draft whoever they want to, they can bring in anyone. I'm going to compete. I'm going to be there. I'm not going to shy away from that . . . Nothing is guaranteed in this league . . . whatever happens, I'm going to be here, I'm going to be ready to compete, I'm going to be ready to play."