Eagles

2017 Nick Foles much different than 2013 Nick Foles

2017 Nick Foles much different than 2013 Nick Foles

Nick Foles' first career with the Eagles ended abruptly in a heap just outside the painted Texans logo near midfield in NRG Stadium. 

On Nov. 2, 2014 Foles dropped back to pass on the last play of the first quarter in Houston, when outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus came from behind and slammed Foles to the ground with his full 250-plus pound frame landing on top of him. 

Mercilus ran off the field, receiving high-fives from his teammates, as Foles laid on the ground in the fetal position. His collarbone was broken. Unbeknownst to him, he had already played his last snap as an Eagle.

Even without the injury, 2014 just didn't have the magic from the year before. The Eagles were 6-2 heading into that early November game, but Foles wasn't having the same type of Pro Bowl season everyone saw in 2013. He just didn't seem like the guy who amazingly threw 27 touchdowns and two interceptions the year before and earned the starting gig. In 2014, Foles had already thrown 10 interceptions and just 13 touchdowns through those first eight games.  

As it turns out, the play in Houston wasn't Foles' last snap as an Eagle. He returned this offseason as the team's backup quarterback, but thanks to Carson Wentz's torn ACL, it's his job from here on out. 

Just don't expect Foles to be the same guy he was in 2013. Or in 2014, for that matter. 

He's a completely different quarterback and man these days. 

"I think with experience and age, you gain knowledge and wisdom," Foles said on Tuesday, the day after the Eagles announced Wentz was done for the season. "Obviously, life changes. You just sort of see the game more clearly. Even stepping into the game the other night (Sunday vs. Rams), you're in the fourth quarter, you're on the road, it's a big game. You really just go back to your training, you go back to your experiences in life. You know how to live in that moment, how to execute the plays to help your team win. 

"Since that moment in Houston, where I fractured my collarbone, I've experienced a lot more experiences in the NFL than I had up to that point. A lot of them great, some of them not so great. But they all go together to create this moment in time. I'm excited for this opportunity."

Foles didn't end up being the Eagles' starting quarterback for the "next thousand years" as Chip Kelly quipped in December of 2013. 

Foles was traded to the Rams in March 2015 as a part of the Sam Bradford trade and then signed a two-year extension with St. Louis. But things didn't go swimmingly with the Rams. In St. Louis, he played just one poor season, during which he was actually benched for Case Keenum. 

When the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, Foles was unhappy and wanted out. The Rams granted that request, releasing him in July 2016. Foles then signed with the guy who drafted him. He spent last season with Andy Reid's Chiefs as their backup. Foles played in three games and started one. And he actually played fairly well, but the Chiefs declined the second-year option on his contract, which made Foles a free agent for the second time in two years. This offseason, he came back to Philly. 

So, yeah, a lot has happened since the last time Eagles fans really saw Nick Foles. 

"I think he's definitely matured as a quarterback [in terms of] his leadership ability and his understanding of our offense and of defenses," said head coach Doug Pederson, who was gone by 2013, but was Foles' QB coach during his rookie season in 2012. "We always knew he was a very smart, intellectual quarterback and could process information. But he's been able to take it to the next level in his preparation. And just how he responds to the guys and how the guys have responded to him. A great example was in the fourth quarter of that game the other day. He comes in and nobody blinks. Nobody bats an eye. There was no hesitation and that's just the confidence that the guys have in Nick."

Perhaps one of the most important things to happen to Foles came this summer. Foles and his wife Tori welcomed their first child into their family. Daughter Lily was born in late June and there's just something about becoming a parent that seems to put everything into perspective. 

"Having a child, that's huge," Foles said this week. "I get to go home and hug my daughter. That's the greatest thing in the world."

So Foles isn't the same fresh-faced kid who became the Eagles' starter thanks to injury in 2013. He's not even the same guy who saw his first Eagles' career end in a heap in Houston. 

Foles is 28. He's a father. He's a veteran in the NFL. Maybe those things, more than anything else, make him more ready now to take over the starting gig than back in 2013. 

Foles was almost zen-like on Tuesday. He's mature, comfortable and confident. A lot has happened in a few years. 

"The wisdom and going in and playing, it almost just makes everything more simple," Foles said. "It clears your brain because you just go out there and play and let it rip. I've always been a gunslinger, just let it rip. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to play loose, count on the guys, lead this team. 

"There's no other place I'd rather be. That's why I came back here. That was a big reason why my wife and I sat down and the opportunity came up to come back here and be in this environment. Obviously, it was for a different role when I came here, but I'm ready to step up and help this team win." 

Carson Wentz fought back against jealousy toward Nick Foles

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Carson Wentz fought back against jealousy toward Nick Foles

Was he jealous? Was he envious of Nick Foles? Carson Wentz doesn’t exactly say yes. But he doesn’t say no, either.

“You’ve got to fight that, you’ve got to fight that,” Wentz said Tuesday.

“It’s human nature to want to be on that podium and be the guy. You grow up wanting to be there, but not being able to be up there, there’s nobody I’d rather have up there than Nick.”

Wentz may have been the most valuable player in the NFL, but Foles, his close friend and teammate, is the one with a Super Bowl MVP trophy.

Wentz did everything he could to support Foles once he suffered a season-ending knee injury in early December. And Foles has spoken several times about what a good teammate Wentz was.

But after leading the Eagles to a 10-2 record with 33 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, it wasn’t the easiest thing to watch his backup achieve football immortality with a record-setting run through the postseason.

“It was pretty different but pretty special,” Wentz said. “We’ve become so close ever since he first got here. Developed a real friendship, a real relationship, more than just a working relationship, a true friendship between me and him — and Nate (Sudfeld) as well. So to go through that experience last year was pretty cool.”

For now, Foles is back with the Eagles, and depending on how fast Wentz recovers from his injury (see story), he will either begin the season backing up Wentz or starting until Wentz is ready.

This is unprecedented stuff. No quarterback has ever been a Super Bowl MVP and then been a backup on the same team the next year.

Without the right two guys, it wouldn’t work. It couldn’t work.

But Zach Ertz, who is close to both Foles and Wentz, said their unique relationship makes it possible.

“First and foremost, they have an amazing relationship with one another, and I think their faith is part of their relationship,” he said.

“They’re able to step back and just focus on the team. Both guys have no egos, especially Nick. That guy is as cool as they come. He’s a phenomenal teammate, I think everyone saw that come out last year, his ability even at the beginning of the year, what he was able to do with Carson, kind of helping him out.

“When Carson was playing, Nick would be a sounding board. So the dynamic really hasn’t changed in that regard. Even when Nick was playing, Carson did the same thing for him. So that relationship started to grow last year, and I’m assuming it’s going to be the same.”

Foles has made it clear he wants to be a starter (see story), so this could be a difficult situation. But it won’t be, Ertz promises.

“Nick is not a guy that’s going to demand anything,” he said. “Obviously, he could do some things in the best interests of his career down the road, but right now I mean the guy loves being in Philadelphia and I think he’s really having fun in playing football with this team.”

Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

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Zach Ertz missing Brent Celek as he takes his leadership role

There was a noticeable difference in the NovaCare Complex when Zach Ertz arrived on Monday for the first day of the Eagles’ offseason workout program. 

No Brent Celek. 

Celek, the 11-year pro, was cut earlier this offseason after a tremendous career with the Eagles. For the first time in Ertz’s six-year career, Celek won’t be around. 

And weirdly, Ertz will now assume Celek’s old role as the veteran leader in the Eagles’ tight end room. 

“It’s tough, obviously,” Ertz said on Tuesday. “He was the guy that when they brought me in, he was the guy, the veteran tight end in Philadelphia. He was the guy everyone knew about. And he didn’t treat me as a guy who was a competitor to him; he treated me as the guy who could help him further his career, where he didn’t have to take every snap. So it’s tough. That guy has been with me from the beginning, pretty much taught me how to be a pro in Philadelphia. 

“Even a couple years back, when the playing time began to increase in my way, he let me kind of take on a leadership role. He wasn’t overbearing by any means. He kind of let me lead in my own way. Even though he was the leader of the room, per se, he let me lead and slowly earn more of a leadership role in our room. He kind of set me up for this moment. I owe a lot of my success to Brent, the way he was a dominant blocking tight end, I was able to learn from that for a lot of years. I’m extremely thankful for him.”

While Ertz learned how to be a pro from Celek, he always tried to become a top-notch tight end like the Cowboys’ Jason Witten. He’s long admired his game. While some would argue Ertz finally had a breakout season in 2017, his last three years have been elite. Since 2015, he has 227 catches for 2,493 yards and 14 touchdowns. The only other TEs to put up those numbers or better over that span are Travis Kelce and Delanie Walker. And in 2017, Ertz did something Celek never did: he made a Pro Bowl. 

Celek was released and Trey Burton signed a lucrative deal to become the top tight end in Chicago, so Ertz is the only player left from last year’s tight end room. The Eagles brought in Richard Rodgers as a free agent and have a few younger prospects already on the expanded roster, but the Eagles’ brass has commented about how good of a tight end draft this is, so it would make sense if they add one later this month. 

If the Eagles do draft a tight end, the 27-year-old Ertz is going to try to be a strong veteran presence for the young player … kind of like what Celek was for him. 

“I told the guys the other day, I’m here to help however I can, whether that be talking football or just allowing them to watch how I approach things,” Ertz said. “I kind of was able to learn from Brent how to treat young tight ends coming in, young players coming in, so that’s one of the things that he kind of told me as he was leaving: that I kind of set the blueprint for your success. He didn’t say that verbally, but that’s how I took it. I want to repeat that for whoever comes in.”

Celek is gone, but through Ertz, his impact is still going to be felt in the NovaCare Complex for years to come.