If the Chiefs have their way, Nick Foles will never start a game for them but his arrival is a clear signal that the team is all-in for a Super Bowl push.
As camp opened, I saw three significant weaknesses that could’ve derailed the upcoming season: the pass rush, the backup quarterback, and the cornerbacks behind Marcus Peters.
By signing Foles, the Chiefs go from one of the league’s worst backup-quarterback situations to one of the best. Chiefs coach Andy Reid drafted Foles in the third round four years ago in Philadelphia, and in his second year under Chip Kelly, Foles was historically efficient — 27 touchdowns, two interceptions, 64 percent completion rate, and a 119.2 passer rating.
Foles has struggled since — 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions while completing 58 percent of his passes — but he still has good athleticism and a strong arm. He moves well in the pocket and can make every pass in the Chiefs’ playbook.
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The NFL is so drastically tilted toward quarterbacks that the backup is more important than many others on the roster who play regularly. Alex Smith has made at least 15 starts in each of his three seasons in Kansas City, but had a long injury history in San Francisco.
It would’ve been the Chiefs’ luck for him to be durable while they had Chase Daniel as the backup, and then suffer a major injury with Tyler Bray as the No. 2.
The Chiefs have not been thrilled by the progress of Bray or Aaron Murray, and the signing of Foles is the clearest proof.
They may have been able to get through a game or two with Bray, who throws the deep ball particularly well, but Foles gives them more confidence and many more options to win games if Smith goes down.
The contract structure works in their favor, too. The Chiefs, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter, pay Foles $1.75 million this year, far less than normal market value for backups, with a team option for 2017 that ranges from $6.75 million to $16 million based on 2016 performance. That gives the Chiefs a cheap backup right now, and the in-house quarterbacks another year to earn the No. 2 job. That team option is only picked up if Smith is seriously injured and if Foles performs well enough to earn it.
The Chiefs still have some weaknesses. Most obviously, they will have to manufacture a pass rush, especially until Justin Houston returns from his knee injury. This could be a major issue, because defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has always based everything on pressure, and disrupting timing. If the Chiefs aren’t able to do that up front, the secondary is asked to do too much, coverage breaks down, and then an offense based on ball control has to step out of its comfort to catch up.
I’m also mildly concerned about the cornerbacks behind Peters. Phillip Gaines is talented, and showed some promising signs before his ACL injury last year, but he is unproven and still working his way back from surgery. The Chiefs have thrown numbers at the cornerback position, but Sean Smith was better than many realize. Teams essentially stopped throwing his way.
But there are no perfect rosters, and no teams without holes. The Chiefs’ road to the Super Bowl remains uphill, and they need a lot to go right — including a full and fast recovery by Houston.
But with the arrival of Foles, they have one less disaster to worry about.