How Bears quarterback Nick Foles can shed 'relief pitcher' reputation

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles' list of achievements is admirable, but absent from his résumé is the type of long-term stability enjoyed by the game's upper-echelon quarterbacks.

Foles, 31, has the credentials most professional football players dream of. The Texas native -- over the span of a nine-year career -- has been a Super Bowl champion, Super Bowl MVP and Pro Bowler. The difference is Foles has never stayed in one spot more than 2½ years.

"As a player that is something that you would always like -- to be somewhere and continue to build those relationships," Foles said Tuesday. "But at the same time, the blessing of being on different teams and being different places is that you get to meet a lot of different people and get to know them and be a part of different communities. That is something my wife and I have embraced through this journey."

"It's not easy moving your family and doing those things, but the good Lord has allowed us to be in some pretty special places that we would not have experienced otherwise," Foles added. "What we've done is just enjoy the moment. You'll hear me say that a lot, just enjoy the moment and be present. I don't know what the future holds for me and I don't think anybody really knows what the future holds for you. Just do what you can in the moment and in the day and cherish the things that are valuable to you."

Foles' journey has cultivated a reputation -- to use a baseball metaphor -- of being a great relief pitcher.

Make no mistake, Foles plays the role of long reliever/closer beautifully. Chicago's come-from-behind victory against Atlanta in Week 3 is just the latest example of why he stays gainfully employed in a league that churns through midtier quarterbacks.

With Chicago on the verge of defeat against the injury-riddled Falcons, Foles, who had not taken a single first-team practice rep since the end of camp -- strode in off the bench after halftime and fired three fourth-quarter touchdowns for a Bears win. Coach Matt Nagy promptly named Foles the starter going forward. The Bears found their quarterback ... well, maybe.

It took just seven days for Chicago to sound their perpetually ringing quarterback alarm. Foles and the Bears' offense bombed in Week 4 versus the Colts. Foles went a pedestrian 26-of-42 for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Bears lose 19-11. Here we go again.

On Thursday night, Foles makes his 50th career NFL regular-season start when the Bears host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox/NFL Network).

What happens next is anyone's guess.

Foles is a coveted addition to any quarterback room, and teams have no issue paying for his services -- Jacksonville signed Foles to a four-year, $88 million contract in March 2019 before trading him to the Bears.

Yet, the inescapable reality is Foles has been unable to find a place to flourish for an extended amount of time.

"I'm a Nick Foles guy," former Jets general manager and ESPN Front Office Insider Mike Tannenbaum said.

"I believe in him because he can make all the throws and he can make plays with his feet. His arm strength is good, it's not great. Sometimes it happens where quarterbacks have to be a little bit of a journeyman. Some of these quarterbacks it just takes a while to find their footing, but you can win a lot of games with them. I think he is a winning quarterback that has high character. I think he's a solid B at a difficult position to find."

Foles appeared headed on a different path.

A third-round pick of the Eagles in 2012, Foles rapidly ascended to top of the quarterback depth chart for the final six weeks as a rookie. In 2013, Foles passed for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and two interceptions in 10 starts (119.2 quarterback rating).

Foles entered the 2014 season as the Eagles unquestioned starter but broke his collarbone in Week 8. The next offseason, Philadelphia shipped Foles to St. Louis for Sam Bradford and Foles embarked on a quasi-vagabond existence.

The overwhelming majority of Foles' starting experience stems from time spent (2012-14, 2017-18) in Philadelphia, where Foles held the title of QB1 in 32 regular season and six postseason games.

The rest of Foles' starting background is spotty. Foles ended up with 11 starts for the Rams before they released him. He started one game for the Chiefs then headed back to Philadelphia where in 2017 he replaced injured Carson Wentz and guided the Eagles to Super Bowl LII. Foles took over for Wentz again in 2018 and won another playoff game (against the Bears). Then it was off to Jacksonville for big money deal that lasted one year and four starts.

Last offseason, Chicago traded a fourth-round compensatory draft pick to the Jaguars to reunite Foles with former Philadelphia and Kansas City assistants turned Bears coaches Nagy, quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

"Nick would be the first to tell you that he's a better quarterback because of everything he's been through," Nagy said.

Some liken Foles to Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 38-year old quarterback of the Miami Dolphins playing for his eighth team. Similar to Foles, Fitzpatrick is respected, popular with coaches and teammates, and, most importantly, effective.

The downside: Fitzpatrick has bounced around repeatedly since he left the Bills after the 2012 season.

That being said, history has proved that quarterbacks can find better fits and success later in their careers. Take Trent Dilfer, for example. After floundering in Tampa Bay, Dilfer came in to relieve an ineffective Tony Banks and ended up leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl championship in 2000.

But perhaps the best example is Rich Gannon, who split time over 12 seasons (1987-1998) with Minnesota, Washington and Kansas City before playing his final six years with the Raiders. Gannon made his first Pro Bowl with Oakland in 1999 -- the first of four straight Pro Bowl selections from 1999 to 2002. In addition, Gannon was named All-Pro twice and led the Raiders to a Super Bowl appearance.

Nagy is steadfast Foles has plenty of time left to go the Gannon route.

"You see it now, the age of these quarterbacks that are taking such great care of their bodies in the offseason and Nick is one of those guys," Nagy said. "The nutrition that he takes, he trains in the offseason, it allows these guys to play longer. I definitely think Nick is one of those guys that falls into that category.

"I definitely think, being 31, is by no means old."

The Bears also have incentive for the Foles experiment to work. Mitchell Trubisky's time in Chicago is probably over.

"Both sides would benefit from a fresh start," Tannenbaum noted. Veteran Tyler Bray, the third quarterback on the roster, has been a career backup/practice squad player.

The Bears could draft a quarterback next spring, although it's unlikely their record will be bad enough for them to pick Clemson's Trevor Lawrence or any other top-5 prospect. Plus, let's face it, the Bears haven't exactly displayed a knack when it comes to evaluating quarterbacks (Trubisky and Mike Glennon).

Foles can void the final two years on his contract based on performance, but the Bears would happily pay Foles if he stabilizes the quarterback spot over the final 12 weeks of the season.

"Foles is already there, and it's so much easier than trying to replace a guy," Tannenbaum said. "Who are you going to get to replace him? How much is that guy going to cost? I'm always about trying to make it work with what you have and he has great intangibles and people speak very, very highly of him. To me, I would think about drafting a guy but I don't know what veteran you would get that would be a better fit than him."