Nick Foles ready to take the Rams by the horns
The quarterback admitted he enjoyed his three years in Philly, but said St. Louis is my home now.
EARTH CITY, Mo. - Jeff Fisher took the St. Louis Rams' head-coaching job 3 1/2 years ago largely because of Sam Bradford.
He could have gone to Miami and coached the Dolphins. Tampa Bay and Jacksonville also were knocking on his door. But he wanted to coach Bradford.
"The reason I took this job and came here, there were two reasons," Fisher told the Daily News. "One was to work for [Rams owner] Stan Kroenke. The other was because of Sam. Because of the respect I had for him.
"Before I took the job, I talked to several people close to me in the business, one being Mike Shanahan and the other being Mike Martz. Both of them said the same thing about Sam. They had never seen a guy throw a football like Sam."
So, why, you're probably asking right now, did a guy who believed Bradford was The Next Great Quarterback, so willingly trade him to the Eagles in March for Nick Foles and second- and fourth-round draft picks?
There are two answers to that. One, of course, is Bradford's much-discussed left knee, which has had its ACL shredded twice in the last two years.
The other, which is linked to Bradford's knee, is Fisher's current job situation. He is entering his fourth season as the Rams' coach. Thanks in large part to Bradford's injury misfortune, the Rams have yet to win more than seven games in a season under Fisher. This season could be make-or- break for him.
While Chip Kelly, who is coming off back-to-back 10-win seasons, can afford to gamble that Bradford's left knee will stay intact this season, Fisher couldn't.
He needed a reasonably durable quarterback he could win with right now. And when Kelly offered up Foles - who recorded the third-highest passer rating in NFL history just two seasons ago - for Bradford and those two draft picks, the Rams took him.
"We experienced [Bradford's torn ACLs] twice," Fisher said. "It was tough. So, as we're building our team, do you want to go into next season wondering whether or not it's going to happen again?
"From a big-picture standpoint, there was a little unwillingness on behalf of Sam's camp to redo [his contract]. And [the trade with the Eagles] just ended up kind of being the perfect scenario for us."
Nick Foles is sitting in a leather chair in an office at the Rams' training facility in suburban St. Louis.
He welcomes an out-of-town visitor with a firm handshake and an unforced, long-time-no-see smile. He is happy, relaxed, content.
Foles admitted he was blindsided by the March trade. Never expected to spend just three seasons in Philadelphia, particularly after that incredible 27-touchdown, two-interception performance in 2013.
But playing behind an injury-ravaged line, Foles wasn't nearly as sharp last season. Had 13 TDs and 10 interceptions through eight games before fracturing his collarbone and missing the rest of the season.
Only Kelly knows when he came to the conclusion that Foles wasn't quite good enough to be the bridge from good to great. But he did come to that conclusion. Which is why he traded him to the Rams for Bradford, who he believes can be a franchise quarterback if he can stay healthy.
Rams general manager Les Snead said he was surprised but not shocked when the Eagles called about a Bradford-for-Foles swap. "The only reason maybe I wasn't surprised was because during the year, you heard talk about: Was Nick their guy? It seemed like that was bubbling to the surface.
"When they called, suddenly there was a quarterback [we could get] who had had both team success and individual success. We thought it could be a win-win for everybody involved."
Foles always has been Mr. Positive. He's the ultimate when-life-hands-you-lemons-you-make-lemonade guy. If you're looking for him to spew bitterness like LeSean McCoy and Brandon Boykin did after Kelly traded them, you're wasting your time.
"I did some media stuff during the Super Bowl and they were asking [about his future with the Eagles]," Foles said. "But it was all hypothetical. With me, I don't give much thought to hypotheticals.
"The day I was traded was the first time I heard from someone with the Eagles that it was even a possibility. You're expecting to go back [to the Eagles] and all of a sudden there's a dramatic change in your life.
"But my wife [Tori] and I, we feel everything happens for a reason. We definitely enjoyed our time in Philly. I'm glad I got to experience three years there.
"We made a lot of friends. You get attached to a city. You get attached to the fans. And then life changes. But we're in a new place now and we love it here. We've met new people, new fans. This is my home now. This is my family. I'm all-in."
On Friday, Foles, who was entering the final year of his rookie contract, signed a two-year, $24.5 million contract extension with the Rams. The second year (2017) can be voided if he makes the Pro Bowl this year or next year.
The Rams aren't coming off back-to-back 10-6 seasons. They are coming off a 6-10 year. A good-to-great plan is irrelevant to them right now. They first must make the jump to good. And they think Foles can help them do that.
"He makes all the throws," Fisher said. "He's athletic. He's tall and can see the field, which is important because we've got Tavon [Austin, the 5-8 wide receiver] and sometimes he's hard to find. I like the way Nick handles himself in the building and the huddle. He's demanding.
"The thing I like about Nick is, if there's a mistake made, it's over. For lack of a better term, I'll call it the give-a-[bleep] factor. It's low. But it needs to be that way for a quarterback. It's a 60-minute game. You've got 60 minutes to win the game. So if something happens early, it's OK. He just shrugs off things and goes on to the next [play]."
Before they made the trade, the Rams looked at Foles' tape, including both of his seasons under Kelly and his six rookie starts with Reid.
"The one thing I did notice last year was he got hit more," Snead said. "There was more pressure and more hits taken. And defenses had a year to prepare for Chip's offense."
According to Pro Football Focus, Foles' throws-under-pressure percentage was virtually the same the last two years - 34.1 percent last year (112 of 328 dropbacks) and 34.3 percent in 2013 (124 of 361).
In 2013, the Eagles' starting offensive line didn't have a single missed start. Last year, it wasn't nearly as healthy. Pro Bowl left guard Evan Mathis missed seven games with a knee injury. Center Jason Kelce missed four with a sports hernia. Right guard Todd Herremans missed the final eight games with a torn biceps.
Kelce and Mathis were both out for four of Foles' eight starts last season. In those four games without Kelce and Mathis, he had a 70.3 passer rating, including six TDs and seven interceptions. In the other four, his passer rating was 96.0, with seven TDs and just three interceptions.
Foles admitted that defenses were a little better prepared for Kelly's spread up-tempo offense last season, but added, "We needed to execute at times and didn't. We had opportunities to win [a few more] games when I was still playing and we didn't. We didn't capitalize."
The Rams finished 23rd in the league in passing yards and 22nd in passer rating (84.9), 0.1 point ahead of the Eagles.
They allowed 47 sacks, which was the tied for eighth most in the league. The Rams focused on improving their offensive line in the offseason, selecting four linemen in the April draft and another one - Isaiah Battle, of Clemson - in the July supplemental draft. They also spent their first-round draft pick on Georgia running back Todd Gurley, who should help take the pressure off Foles and the passing game once he recovers from a torn ACL in his left knee.
That said, the Rams' season-opening line in front of Foles is expected to include rookies at right guard (third-rounder Jamon Brown) and right tackle (second-rounder Rob Havenstein), a third-year center with zero career starts (Barrett Jones) and a left tackle who gave up a team-high seven sacks and nine quarterback hits last season (Greg Robinson).
If Foles is worried, he's not showing it.
"They've made a lot of progress just since OTAs," he said of his young line. "I know what it's like as a rookie. I told them just try to get a little bit better ever day. Don't worry about the big-picture things. The more reps you get, the easier it gets and the more the game slows down. They're going against a great defensive front right now [the Rams have five d-linemen who were first-round picks]. So that's going to help them a lot."
Philadelphia is a tough sports town, if only because of the immense size of the media pack that covers the teams and the, uh, intense passion of its fans.
Reid used to say that the reason he selected Donovan McNabb with the second overall pick in the 1999 draft over a few other quarterback possibilities was because he felt McNabb was "wired right" to play in Philly.
Some might disagree with that, but McNabb managed to survive and generally prosper in the 11 years he spent as the Eagles' under-a-microscope quarterback, even if he never did win a Super Bowl.
Foles really wasn't in town long enough for us to gauge whether he was "wired right." He started just 24 games in three years for the Eagles.
There were times before he got hurt last year when it seemed like all of the attention was starting to wear on the 26-year-old Texan. But he insisted that wasn't the case.
"I enjoyed playing there," he said. "I enjoyed being around the fans and the media. You learn to embrace it and not let it get to you. And that's what I did.
"You know you're going to get booed on the field. I never took it to heart because I knew where it was coming from. That was their pride. They were Eagles fans and they wanted us to win so bad. It was fun when you hear the boos, because then you go out and score a touchdown and the boos turn into louder cheers.
"I don't have a single bad thing to say about the city. It's a tough environment [to play in], but we're thankful we got to experience it."
A couple of weeks ago, Louis Riddick, a former Eagles personnel executive who now is an NFL studio analyst for ESPN, did a radio interview on 97.5 The Fanatic during which he said Foles didn't like to be "coached hard."
Riddick, citing people who were "with Nick every day and coached him," said the quarterback "was the kind of guy who behind the scenes didn't necessarily like being criticized, didn't necessarily like being coached hard. [Didn't like] being gotten on in the way some [other] quarterbacks and some players can take."
Last year, the Inquirer reported that Foles "occasionally butted heads" with Bill Lazor, who was the team's quarterbacks coach in 2013, when Foles came off the bench - after Michael Vick got hurt - and threw those 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.
Foles admitted he's "not a fan" of coaches who are constantly negative, but added, "I really haven't been around many like that.
"At times, I'll stand up for my teammates [with coaches]. But that has nothing to do with being coached hard.
"I am harder on myself than any coach could be on me. You can rip me all you want. You're not going to rip me more than I rip myself when I mess up. I want to work hard and play well so I can help my teammates be successful."
Foles said he got along fine with Lazor, as well as the Eagles' QB coach last year, Bill Musgrave. He said he and Lazor might have had a few animated sideline discussions during games, but nothing that any other quarterback around the league doesn't have with his position coach.
"I'm not going to deny [they occasionally had sideline disagreements]," Foles said. "But I don't see it as a big thing. Brothers fight, but they still care for each other.
"When you're in the heat of the moment, there's times where you say, 'Hey, I just need to go talk to my guys. I gotta go. I can't worry about this right now.' And those were the games we won.
"Bill and I had a great relationship. But sometimes people see something [on the sideline] and it's not what you think you see. Lazor is a great coach. We got along."
Fisher dismissed suggestions that Foles doesn't like to be criticized or ridiculed.
"Give me a list of players that like it," he said. "None of them like it. It's about teaching. It's about encouraging. It's about developing. It's not about humiliating them.
"Yeah, you're going to have moments on the field where a coach who has a relationship with his players is going to push. But from a big-picture standpoint, our world is about getting the most out of them. Human nature, you're going to get the most out of people by encouraging and teaching them."
Foles never will forget his three seasons with the Eagles. Never will forget 27/2.
But that was then and this is now. Now, he is with a new team, facing a new challenge.
"My time was just done in Philly," he said. "I was meant to come to this team for a reason. I'm going to give this team everything I have, just like I did in Philly. I want to impact the locker room, impact my teammates and create a culture where we can succeed."