Sam Donnellon: History shows playing Nick Foles has its share of risks

092912_foles_vick_400
Michael Vick sounded as if he was out of confidence following Sunday's loss to Atlanta. (Yong Kim/Staff file photo)

A WHOLE LOT of people think starting Nick Foles against the Saints on Monday night is a bad idea.

Incredibly, Andy Reid and Michael Vick are not among them.

Which is why it has to happen. If Reid is out of theories and Vick is out of confidence - and that is how it sounded after Sunday's 30-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons - then the quarterback options are simple:

Start Trent Edwards instead, signaling to his team that it is OK to quit on this season, or . . .

Start Nick Foles and hope you run into one of those Johnny Unitas/Steve Young/Tom Brady/Kurt Warner/Aaron Rodgers situations. Or one of those Earl Morrall/Jim Plunkett/Jeff Hostetler situations.

What you don't want is one of those Bobby Hoying/ Jake Plummer/Richard Todd/Marc Wilson/John Reaves (for older fans)/Patrick Ramsey/Matt Leinart/Jack Trudeau/Ryan Leaf/JaMarcus Russell situations.

Yep, that's right. There's a whole lot more of them.

Really, that list is just skimming the top of those who impressed early and fizzed fast, or guys who were drafted high and never matched their promise.

That Foles was drafted in the third round, well behind the five other rookies who have started at quarterback this season, should provide cause to pause on this. So, too, should the unchanging or even deteriorating condition of the Eagles' offensive line, depending on whether you believe losing Danny Watkins on Sunday was a good thing or a bad thing. Amid the list of culprits Sunday, barely was there a mention of his replacement, rookie Dennis Kelly. This is not to suggest Kelly did well. Just that he did not play noticeably different from Watkins.

There is this theory, growing in popularity, that Vick is just not thinking quickly, not seeing open guys, not getting rid of the ball fast enough. People point to the time he had Sunday, but overlooked is that scene of DeSean Jackson hobbling on the sideline and, well, has anyone seen Jason Avant lately? Are these guys open? Or are they, as many, it seems, bitten by the malaise of hopelessness?

The question we should ask is not whether starting Foles will save the season - it won't. We should ask whether starting him is in his best interests, or in the best interests of the future of the Eagles. Among the better known backup busts in the NFL, the recurring story line goes like this:

If he had landed on a better team, had a better coach, been given more time to develop, would it have gone differently? There's a list of guys like this, guys who to this day tell their fellow office workers that they would have lived up to their potential had they landed with the right team.

Given the success of his sons, Archie Manning fits into this category. It's why both of his sons engineered where they would end up after college. And weren't they right?

Consider Plunkett. After being dubbed "the best college quarterback I've ever seen" by his college coach, John Ralston, Plunkett was picked first overall by the Patriots in 1971, and spent the next five seasons struggling with a bad offensive line before he was traded to San Francisco. He was 33 by the time he ascended from a backup role in two seasons to pilot the Raiders to Super Bowl victories.

Morrall was also an old hand when he filled in three different times for Super Bowl-bound teams. Similarly, Rich Gannon was 34 and was on his fourth team by the time he became a mainstay with Oakland. Young was not only Joe Montana's backup for 3 years. He almost lost that job to Steve Bono.

These are not models for Foles. Most of the great backup success stories are not. They have held clipboards for several seasons or more before they got their shot. They had a pedigree that had yet to be fulfilled.

The patron saint for guys like Foles are Brady and, for those of us old enough to know the story, Unitas. Chosen in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft, Brady was fourth on the Patriots' depth chart his rookie season, and did not get his chance until the second game of his second season. He was adequate in his first two games before leading New England to a come-from-behind victory over San Diego, which began an unlikely march to the first of three Super Bowl titles.

Drafted ninth by the Steelers out of Louisville, Unitas was cut by the Steelers before catching on via a tryout with the Colts. He was inserted in the fourth game of his rookie season when starting quarterback George Shaw suffered a broken leg. His first passing attempt ended as a pick-6.

But by season's end, he had set a rookie record for completion percentage, and for a bad team. And the following season, in 1957, he set records and was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player.

Is Foles either of these guys? Highly doubtful. Is he a better answer right now than Vick? Again, highly doubtful. But if the vibe on Sunday is real, and Reid has lost this team, then his last desperate play might have to be this. Doesn't make sense on paper. But neither did Unitas or Brady.

 


Contact Sam Donnellon at donnels@phillynews.com.