Would a Long-Term Extension for Nick Foles Be a Bad Idea for the St. Louis Rams?
Maybe it’s because it’s June and there’s not much real NFL news, or maybe it’s because the St. Louis Rams are actually interested, but rumors have emerged about a possible contract extension for Nick Foles.
Rams head coach Jeff Fisher acknowledged during a media session at the team’s OTAs there have been some discussions along those lines. Foles, who was acquired in the offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford, has yet to play a snap for the Rams. Fisher’s comments focused on the impressive work Foles did in his first season with Chip Kelly. While that’s not an exaggeration -- Foles was indeed impressive that season -- it eliminates from the mind what Foles was both before and after that season.
In Foles’ three seasons, he’s been roughly three different quarterbacks. While we can probably assume he’s not the same player who struggled during the second half of his rookie season, we really have no idea who Nick Foles is as a quarterback. With the limited amount the Rams have been able to see Foles in OTAs so far this offseason, they might not have much of a better idea either.
Making matters worse, we’ve even yet to see Foles play a full season. He played 13 games in 2013 and started only 10 of them.
So, is there anything in the numbers that indicate why the Rams would want to extend Foles before playing a snap for them?
By the Numbers
There’s not much that link Foles’ three professional seasons together outside of the part where they were all completed by the same player. There’s just about as wide a range as one player could get in three seasons by measuring his Net Expected Points. NEP factors in on-field variables such as down-and-distance in order to compare a team or player’s production to historical expectation levels.
During Foles’ rookie season, he had a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.05. That is not great. Of the 39 quarterbacks to drop back at least 100 times that season, only nine had worse efficiency on a per-play basis. The following season, Chip Kelly came in and Foles became one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the league. Foles’ Passing NEP per drop back skyrocketed to 0.31, which was fourth in the league behind Aaron Rodgers (0.32), Josh McCown (0.35) and Peyton Manning (0.41). McCown’s inclusion in that list alone is enough to prove the dangers in buying into a half season sample of performance.
Much of Foles’ efficiency in that 2013 season came from an otherworldly ability to avoid turnovers. Foles’ 0.6 percent interception rate was second only to McCown’s during that season. As what proved to be the case for McCown, that low of an interception rate was not sustainable and the picks regressed toward and past the mean in 2014. Last season his interception rate ballooned to 3.2 percent, though he was better off than McCown, who threw an interception on 4.3 percent of his passes.
Unsurprisingly, with the increase in interceptions and a decrease in touchdown rate -- 8.5 percent to 4.2 -- Foles wasn’t nearly as efficient in 2014. His 0.05 Passing NEP per drop back was 25th best among 43 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs, nowhere near his 2014 production but also not as bad as his rookie season. The 0.05 number tied him in efficiency last season with Andy Dalton.
Desperate in St. Louis
Maybe the Rams are perfectly fine with the equivalent of Andy Dalton at quarterback. It wouldn’t be terribly hard to blame them for fawning over something that looked like okay production. Think of what they’ve had at the position over the past few seasons. They haven’t had a winning record since the 2003 season. A Dalton-like performance would be a significant step up for this team.
Even the 2014 version of Foles would be better than what the Rams had at quarterback last season. Shaun Hill, the better of the two 2014 options, had a Passing NEP per drop back of 0.01. Austin Davis, who took the majority of snaps at quarterback, measured at -0.04.
St. Louis continues to be young and promising, even though it’s felt like they’ve been in that stage for the past several years. The Rams were the ninth best defense by Adjusted Defensive NEP last season and added Nick Fairley along the already strong defensive line.
Young pieces are in place on offensive, including first-round pick Todd Gurley once he’s healthy. Foles will only be in his age-26 season. It really can’t be much of a surprise if the Rams are spending their time during offseason workouts thinking to themselves this might finally be the year.
Still, that doesn’t mean they need to rush in and commit to Foles past this season. With how the quarterback market has unfolded lately, Foles and his agent must know what he could receive on the open market if he has a good year in St. Louis. The Rams must know that too. Fisher talked about mulling a deal that works for both sides, but what would that even look like at this point?
Foles might not even want to start negotiations knowing his market value could skyrocket over the next six or seven months. We can hope the Rams wouldn’t want to invest that type of money into a quarterback right now after finally freeing themselves from the Bradford contract.
In the end, all of this hinges on expectations.
If the Rams expect Foles to be the best quarterback they’ve had since Marc Bulger, that’s fine, but that bar also isn’t very high. If the expectations are for Foles to be the fourth most efficient quarterback in football again, there’s going to be a lot of disappointment. Foles could turn out to be a decent quarterback, but there's been so much variance through his first three seasons that it's hard to tell what his true on field value is.
Both parties would probably benefit from a wait-and-see approach before discussing the future.
Patience is often regarded as a virtue -- but not one many NFL teams can claim to attain.