Why Nick Foles and not Alex Smith?
Foles makes sense for the Chiefs for a number of reasons. First and foremost is that there is a need -- the Chiefs need two new quarterbacks. The idea of drafting two new quarterbacks this off-season sounds great because we saw the Washington Redskins do that last year with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins. But they knew that Griffin was going to start and they knew what kind of prospect they had on their hands. Cousins was/is an insurance policy (and a smart one).
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The other option that's been discussed quite a bit is to go after Alex Smith. Whether it's through a trade or waiting to see if he's released by San Francisco it really depends on what the Chiefs have budgeted for their quarterbacks next season. The cap is set to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $122 million next season. The Chiefs have roughly $14 million in space. Tyson Jackson is a $17.47 million cap hit as of today but only $2.5 million in dead money if he's cut.
The Chiefs would be saving $14.97 million on the cap by cutting Tyson Jackson. Matt Cassel is a $9.825 million cap hit if he's on the team next season without a restructure of his contract. But he's also $3.95 million of 'dead money' in 2013 if he's cut.
The issue with cutting Cassel and then going after Alex Smith is the money.
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Smith's current contract (which would be accompanying him if traded) shows him having a cap hit of $9.75 million next season. Add that to Cassel's 'dead money' hit of $3.95 million if cut and there's a cap hit of $13.7 million for one quarterback on your roster. The Chiefs can afford it but you don't want to be careless with your cap space or your contracts. Teams set budgets and I'd be surprised if the Chiefs want to expand their cap space that much for Alex Smith.
This is the reason I believe trading for Nick Foles is a very good plan. It wouldn't hurt you to cut Cassel and take the $3.95 million hit because Foles' is under contract through 2015 and his cap number never exceeds $816,000. Foles could be one of the two new quarterbacks that you bring in AND he has experience. You KNOW he could start right away if the other quarterback you drafted, whether it's No. 1 overall or somewhere down the line, isn't ready to play. You'd have two young, developing quarterbacks. I like those odds.
That's the longterm reasoning behind why I'd support a trade for Nick Foles. It opens up competition for two young quarterbacks and protects the Chiefs by knowing they have a guy who Reid believes in who could start right away.
Strengths: He can make all the throws
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Foles has a very live arm and natural throwing ability. He can make all of the throws needed but I wouldn't call his arm-strength 'elite'. He excels on crossing patterns like slants and square-ins, plays that receivers are moving horizontally. He has the arm strength to get the ball firmly outside the numbers on out-routes. He's probably best on slant and post routes. The GIF above shows one of his slants in the Sunday Night Football game against the Cowboys. This is the first drive and first third down of the game.
I wouldn't call Foles a superb athlete at quarterback but he moves well enough to get out and around the pocket. With the Eagles offensive line as bad as it was Foles had to show an ability to maneuver around the pocket quite a bit last season. He tucks it and runs when he has to but whenever he gets outside the pocket he's still looking to throw the ball.
Foles likes to throw on the run and it's something he's very good at doing. He was very good at moving up in the pocket and delivering accurate passes across the middle of the field. Some of Foles' best plays last season were ones where initial read broke down and he had to throw on the run. He has some of that school-yard, run-around-and-make-a-play in him and it's something Chiefs fans didn't see with Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn last season.
Foles natural throwing ability is on display with the different arm angles he uses when throwing passes. He will drop-down and go almost side-arm or three quarters at times when throwing screens or in traffic under pressure. He improvises a lot when under pressure and on several cases would just flip or push it to a running back. He's very good at throwing passes to backs out of the backfield. It would seem like an obvious trait or skill that all quarterbacks should have but I never saw him once not lead a running back on a swing pass out of the backfield. Andy Reid likes to get his running backs involved in the passing game and Foles excels on those 'touch' throws. Getting the ball 'on-time and in-stride' would be beneficial to a player like Dexter McCluster for the Chiefs.
In this next clip you'll see Foles go through his first two progressions and then check to his outlet. Brent Celek across the middle is his first read, Jeremy Maclin running the post is his second and then he would automatically throw to his check down. But right after the snap you can see the outside linebacker quickly took that check down pass to LeSean McCoy away from him. Rather than just throwing the ball without looking (Cough...Cassel), which would have been an interception, Foles tucks and moves outside the pocket, keeps his eyes down field and Maclin makes a great decision to turn and get up-field. He then makes a fantastic catch on a nice ball down field on the run.
The game never looked too big or too fast for Foles. There were times he looked a little timid or that he was trying to avoid making mistakes. He was sacked 20 times in seven games and consistently had drives halted due to holding penalties on the offensive line. All of these things can pile up and affect your play but that didn't seem to be the case for Foles last season.
Weaknesses: Deep-ball accuracy, decision-making under pressure needs work
The biggest weakness I saw from Foles was on his deep-ball accuracy. Anytime he threw a Fly or Hitch-n-Go route it always seem to give him trouble. More often than not he actually overthrew his receiver on these vertical passes. The odd thing is that he actually threw Flag and Deep Post routes pretty well. It seems like he needs an angle on the routes to create some sort of depth for him when placing these balls down field.
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This clip above shows an example of that deep ball accuracy that I'm talking about. Foles actually does a pretty good job of stepping around in the pocket to give him a clear lane to throw the football down the field. Jackson has a step on his defender and Foles leads him out of bounds. Saying someone isn't accurate down the field doesn't mean they're 7-8 yards off in their throw. The margin of error is so small on most plays that when you have an advantage like a receiver getting behind the defense you have to give him a chance to make a play. This is the kind of throw I consistently saw from Foles down the field on these fly routes. Just off one way or another.
Another weakness that I saw from Foles had to do with his footwork. He saw a lot of pressure in these seven games and so there were a number of plays to evaluate how he handled pressure in regards to his moving around the pocket. Foles would tend to drift while going through his progressions and manipulating the pocket at times. He would never reset his feet and that led to inaccurate passes like you see here above.
This isn't something that you'd see from Foles every time he saw pressure. This was the first game against the Washington Redskins where they came after him all game long. It was actually his first start. I can count on one hand how many times they sent less than five people after him during that game. This was on 3rd and 21.
Foles also needs to get better at going through his play-fakes. It got frustrating to watch after I noticed it the first time but he seems to just go through the motions on a running play when he'd carry out his fake. It's easy for a defender to tell when you don't have the ball and it's a little thing that could be very obvious to a defense.
Development: Consistently getting better
The most promising sign I saw from Foles was his maturation and development during the season. His first game against the Cowboys was a learning experience. The Cowboys defenders were hopping routes, jumping the snap count, showing multiple looks pre-snap. They were putting the pressure on Foles and he wasn't prepared for it. But even as Vick went down early in this game Foles showed some promise.
This game was tied 17-17 heading into the 4th quarter when the Cowboys returned a punt for a touchdown. On the very next drive an interception on a bobbled pass intended for DeSean Jackson. Brandon Carr took the tipped pass back for a touchdown. Just like that it was 31-17. Carr's interception came on a pass thrown behind Jackson and while he did have both hands on it while reaching back, it wasn't a good pass and kicked up into the air when Jackson couldn't secure it.
This is where you learn about a player's intestinal fortitude. On Foles next two drives he went 8-11 for 91 yards and one drive ended with a short rushing TD. The other drive stalled due to a 'illegal use of hands' penalty on the offensive line after having already picked up a couple of first downs.
Things were collapsing around the rookie quarterback in his first ever NFL game and he had enough fight to bounce back after a rough two minutes for the Eagles in crunch time.
The first game against Washington was about handling the blitz. The Redskins constantly sent pressure and got to Foles with four sacks in the game. He finished this game with no touchdowns and two interceptions while completing just 45 percent of his passes.
His next game against Carolina was interesting because he became very timid in throwing the ball down field. It was on Monday Night Football and his first of two primetime games in a row. I think he was expecting Carolina to blitz more often because that's what Washington had done and were successful the week before against him. He looked indecisive and would throw late to his second and third options. He completed 16-of-21 passes for just 119 yards and an interception.
By his third start, his second game against Dallas, he started to turn the corner. It was another primetime game against the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. When Foles gets into a rhythm he's fun to watch and he got into a rhythm against the Cowboys on this night. He was calmly going through progressions in the pocket and moving around and making plays all over the field. There was a presence in the pocket that we hadn't consistently seen yet from Foles.
His next game, his fourth start, against the Buccaneers I noticed it was the first time he'd react to defenses showing blitz by changing the play and communicating with his offensive lineman. This was at the beginning of the game and you could tell he was more comfortable with what he was doing. It was night and day different than what we had seen in that first game against the Cowboys. He was in control and 'looked the part'.
Predicting the future
I had a lot of people on twitter ask me about whether or not I feel as though Foles could be a 'Franchise QB' after having watched all of his games. It's a tough question to answer because everyone's definition of what that means is completely different. Same with the phrase 'elite QB'.
Nick Foles showed development through seven games last season that was easily visible to where you'd think this guy has a chance. The game never looked too big for him and he looked very much in control of what he was doing the last three games of the season. But he's far from a perfect prospect right now. He needs to work on his footwork and accuracy on the deep ball for starters. But if you're looking for something to build on and to see enough to know someone has the opportunity to improve then you'd be happy with what you saw from Foles.
In Foles last four games he completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,157 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
He can move around the pocket while keeping his eyes down field. Something I like about that WVU QB as well. He actually throws as accurate on the run on short/intermediate routes as he does when his feet get set. Quarterbacks must be able to throw shorter, dump-off, check-down routes from all different body angles accurately because a lot of times you're throwing those passes when you're getting blitzed with a guy in your face.
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Foles will stand in the pocket and deliver a throw when it's needed. In this clip above it was 3rd and seven early in the 4th quarter against the Redskins with the Eagles trailing 27-13. They scored a touchdown two plays later to get them to within seven at 27-20. Foles next drive went 80 yards and stalled at the five yard line when time ran out. He got them in position to tie the game.
Foles can move around the pocket when a play starts to break down and make something happen. He did it several times at the most important times and gave the Eagles a chance to win in three different games they couldn't pull out.
Much has been made of his W/L record as a starter last year in Philadelphia. The Eagles had 4th quarter leads against Carolina and Dallas, were tied with Dallas in their other game and came within five yards of tying the Redskins to end their second game. Simply looking at the final score doesn't give you the whole story and context of what happened.
From watching these games I can tell you that Foles did make some mistakes and those mistakes hurt the Eagles. But he also bounced back and made plays in those games to get the Eagles back into it. Many of which were on 3rd down. Those mistakes didn't define that game for him and that's a trait you can't see unless you sit down and watch the entire game. The situation never seemed to get the best of him or be too much for him and he played in some pretty big games for Philadelphia last season.
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The Chiefs need two new quarterbacks and if both of them are young, developing quarterbacks that Reid and company like then the Chiefs will be in a pretty good spot. Foles knows this offense and he knows the offensive coaching staff. That can't be understated.
I like that Foles struggled to start and then developed throughout the season. It shows coachability and you could see the maturation of a quarterback.
I'd be happy if he was in Kansas City next season to compete with a draft pick for the starting position. Thanks again to Clay Wendler for helping make these GIF's.