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December 15, 2018

Leonard: Nick Foles could be just the QB to lead the Giants’ transition away from Eli Manning next season

November 24, 2018

PHILADELPHIA — The Giants’ starting quarterback for Week 1 of next season might be at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday wearing a winter coat on the Philadelphia Eagles sideline.

Nick Foles, the reigning Super Bowl LII MVP, is under contract right now, yes. And he is not even starting for his own team at quarterback anymore, so he wouldn’t be a long-term solution at the position, no.




But Foles, 29, is more likely to hit free agency this offseason than not. He has had success with Pat Shurmur coaching him before. And if the Giants do move on from Eli Manning this offseason and draft a young quarterback such as Oregon’s Justin Herbert, Foles makes too much sense as a cost-effective potential free agent signing and stop-gap starter until Herbert takes the reins.

Foles, you’ll recall, threw 27 touchdown passes to just two interceptions for the Eagles in 2013, when Shurmur was his offensive coordinator under head coach Chip Kelly. Shurmur didn’t call the plays; head coach Chip Kelly did. So he was to Foles what Giants OC Mike Shula is to Eli Manning now, with Shurmur calling the shots on gameday for Big Blue.

But Foles and Shurmur had success together that season. There is a foundation there, and there is respect. Shurmur found Foles in the hallway of Lincoln Financial Field last January after Foles’ Eagles had decimated Shurmur’s Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, 38-7, and embraced him.

Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles could be the man to begin the transition away from Eli Manning in 2019. (Matt Slocum / AP)

“Hey,” Shurmur said. “I saw 27 and two. I knew you had it in you. Congratulations.”

And in that NFC Championship Game, Foles demonstrated a quality that Shurmur will value in the next quarterback he recruits here to the Giants: maneuverability in the pocket.

Minnesota’s Case Keenum, though he had moved well and play-actioned effectively in Shurmur’s offense last season, was not adept that evening at extending plays against the Eagles’ pass rush.

Foles, on the other hand, deftly operated Philly’s dual-threat attack and on several key plays dodged or sidestepped a Vikings pass rusher to step into a key throw. It was a major difference in the game.

Now, granted, Foles did not impress in his first two games of this season as the Eagles’ starter and quickly was returned to the bench for Carson Wentz once the franchise QB was healthy enough to play coming off last season’s torn ACL. So no one is suggesting Foles would be some Giant savior.

But again, under the right circumstances, Foles could be a good short-term fit.

Foles could remain an Eagle, but the odds are he hits free agency. He has a $20 million salary on a 2019 option year that would become fully guaranteed if the Eagles pick up the option. But it would only make sense cap-wise for Philly to do that if Wentz gets hurt again.

And even if the Eagles do elect to pick up Foles’ 2019 option, Foles also has a player option to opt out of 2019 and head to free agency, provided he hands back the $2 million signing bonus the Eagles gave him as a reward in his restructured deal after the Super Bowl run.

The question, of course, is what would the Giants prefer as their veteran stop-gap for 2019: a) Manning at a $23.2 million cap hit for 2019 on the final year of his current contract, or b) Foles at, say, a $20 million cap hit on a two-year, $40 million deal, making low-end starter money?

Perhaps John Mara and Steve Tisch never would choose Foles over Manning in that situation, and the Giants would prefer to ask Manning to take a paycut rather than cut him for someone like Foles.

But would Manning take a pay cut? And would the Giants even offer one? They ultimately may prefer not to drag out the delicate and combustible situation that has become Manning’s fate, and make a clean break from the two-time Super Bowl winning QB after this season.




There are a lot of variables, and Foles of course will not be the only free-agent option, either.

Nick Foles holds Lombardi Trophy after leading Eagles to first-ever Super Bowl win in February.
Nick Foles holds Lombardi Trophy after leading Eagles to first-ever Super Bowl win in February. (Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

Teddy Bridgewater’s name, for example, comes up often as a possible solution. Bridgewater, 26, has familiarity with Shurmur from their time together in Minnesota. People who know Bridgewater laud his character, and he showed promise in the New York market during his Jets audition this offseason before his trade to the New Orleans Saints.

So maybe Bridgewater would be the guy.

But I’ll never forget how in January, when I was in Eden Prairie, Minn., interviewing Shurmur as the Giants’ head coach in waiting, I approached Bridgewater at his locker and asked him for a few minutes to talk about a story I was doing on Shurmur, his Vikings offensive coordinator.

Bridgewater politely declined.

“I’m good,” he said.

This does not preclude the Giants from signing Bridgewater, and certainly the young QB would entertain any opportunity to start for an NFL team. I thought it was noteworthy, though. Wideout Stefon Diggs had no problem raving that day, on the other hand, about Shurmur’s ability to get the ball to his playmakers.

And I get it: Bridgewater had to watch Keenum play most of last season even after returning to practice in October from his devastating torn ACL injury and dislocated knee in 2016. And Bridgewater hadn’t contributed to the previous week’s Miracle in Minneapolis last-second playoff win over the Saints, while Diggs was riding the high of being the game’s hero. So there were plenty of possible and understandable reasons why Bridgewater may not have jumped out of his seat to praise Shurmur to a New York paper that day.

Compatibility between the quarterback and Shurmur will be critical in any free agent signing, though. And Shurmur has that with Foles, who also extends plays well when he’s playing his best and is both willing and able to push the ball downfield.

So if the Giants intend to move on from Manning, Foles only makes too much sense as a potential alternative to try and win some games while warming the seat for the franchise’s next star QB.

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