“We think in Philadelphia that we go as [Carson Wentz] goes,” Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said on SiriusXM Radio in May 2019. One month after that statement, Roseman signed Wentz to a four-year contract extension worth more than $100 million guaranteed. Factor that contract—which was the richest in team history—in with the five draft picks Philly traded to select Wentz with the no. 2 pick in 2016, and Wentz becomes the largest investment the Eagles have made in a player. And unless we count Lincoln Financial Field, it’s the largest investment the team has ever made, period.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gushed about Wentz after that extension 20 months ago. “Whether it’s leadership, poise, the desire to be really, really good, if not great, attention to detail, smart, face of the franchise in so many ways,” Lurie said at the time. “It’s how you draw it up. ... It’s a great day for the Eagles.”
Thursday, meanwhile, was a bad day for the Eagles. Philadelphia traded Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 second-rounder. That future pick will become a first-rounder if Wentz plays 75 percent of snaps for the Colts this season, or if Wentz plays 70 percent of snaps and the Colts make the playoffs. But despite the Eagles getting Wentz out of their building, he’s still on their books. Philly will be charged $34 million for Wentz this season, the largest dead money charge for any NFL team ever. By a lot. The Eagles are spending a fifth of their 2021 base salary cap just to get Wentz off the team.
Even so, the Eagles did not lose this trade. They lost the contract extension in 2019 and are now dealing with the fallout. The team decided that Wentz was a sunk cost. This trade and resulting cap penalty is merely the write down. But if you can look past the wreckage of everything Philadelphia screwed up—and admittedly, it’s hard to do—they have an opportunity to start anew.
Usually when a team moves on from the face of the franchise, it’s stunning. But Wentz’s face had been stuck in a scowl for the past six months. The QB did not take kindly to the Eagles drafting Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round last year. And when Hurts became the starter in December, Wentz did not want to be the backup. Wentz was reportedly on bad terms with the front office (despite Roseman once having a Wentz Fathead poster behind his desk). His relationship with former head coach Doug Pederson was reportedly “unsalvageable.” And that unhappiness was visible on the field.
Last season, Wentz was one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Pick a statistical category—any statistical category—scroll toward the bottom, and you’ll find Wentz’s name. Out of 35 qualifying quarterbacks last year, Wentz ranked second-to-last in passer rating, yards per throw, and completion percentage. And he ranked dead last in adjusted net yards per attempt, which is perhaps the most comprehensive quarterback statistic that exists. The only stats where Wentz was on top of the leaderboards were the bad ones: He led the NFL in sacks (50) and co-led the league in interceptions (15). He somehow managed that despite playing just 12 games.
Fixing Wentz is now Indy’s problem, and the Colts see Wentz’s crisis as their opportunity. Head coach Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles in 2017, when Wentz nearly took home the MVP award and the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Neither Wentz nor the Eagles offense have looked the same since Reich left. And it’s hard to imagine the Colts making this deal unless Reich and general manager Chris Ballard believed they could incorporate Wentz into their offense.
There are reasons to believe Wentz could turn things around in Indy. He had a bad 2020. Join the club. But each of the last two seasons, Wentz has been playing with the most injured supporting cast in football. In 2019, the Eagles signed undrafted AAF guys as starting (!) wide receivers and those woes continued in 2020: The team’s leading receivers were a former sixth-round pick named Travis Fulgham and the former AAF wideout Greg Ward. The Eagles had 14 different combinations of starting offensive linemen in 16 games last season. The biggest criticism of Wentz was that he was playing heroball. But the Eagles were so hurt that they needed Wentz to be a hero.
In Indy, Wentz can achieve a lot more by doing a lot less. The Colts have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, a great running back group with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, and good young receivers in Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell. This isn’t just Wentz reconnecting with a former coach—it’s him reconnecting with a former coach who has a better scheme, better blocking, better rushing, and better pass-catchers, not to mention a better defense. He’ll have more help, and the bar for success will be lower.
While it’s easy to imagine the Colts being successful with Wentz, it requires a little more, uh, creativity to see the bright spots here for Philly. Obviously extending Wentz for $128 million was a mistake. (Maybe they can Venmo request him for the money back. Worth a shot!) But the difference between good organizations and bad organizations is not that good organizations don’t make mistakes. It’s that good organizations move on from mistakes faster and with less emotion. The Eagles made a mistake extending Wentz, but this trade is them taking the loss on their chin and, to quote Rocky Balboa, “keep moving forward.” Wasting money and draft picks is bad. But in the NFL, wasting time is far worse. The Eagles will probably not be competitive in 2021, but they will have a clean slate beginning in 2022. Now they just have to find their next quarterback.
The man of the hour is Hurts, the second-round pick who looked good (and completely unflappable) in four starts last season. But the Eagles also have the no. 6 pick this year in a draft that’s widely considered to have four top quarterback prospects. Ironically, Philly got that no. 6 pick because it benched Hurts for Nate Sudfeld against Washington in Week 17. Many called the Eagles out for tanking at the time, but Philly is now in a much better position to get its next quarterback than if the team had won and gotten the ninth pick. With that, though, the question becomes whether the Eagles stick with Hurts or draft a quarterback. The answer is probably both.
Eagles GM Howie Roseman said after last year’s draft he wanted the Eagles to become a “quarterback factory.” In other words, quarterbacks are the most valuable asset in football, and the Eagles want as many talented ones as they can get. Philly saw the importance of having a good backup quarterback firsthand when Nick Foles led the team to a Super Bowl victory—and even after the team traded Foles away, it spent that second-rounder on Hurts.
Roseman said recently he regretted the “quarterback factory” comments—probably because it rattled Wentz—but that doesn’t mean Roseman’s mentality has changed. The Eagles are in position to draft a quarterback, and based on what we know about this team, that means they’ll probably do it. The top six positions in the draft currently look like this:
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- New York Jets
- Miami Dolphins (via Houston)
- Atlanta Falcons
- Cincinnati Bengals
- Philadelphia Eagles
The Jaguars are almost certainly going to draft Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence no. 1 overall. Considering the Bengals and Dolphins just picked quarterbacks in the top five last season, they are probably not in the market for another young passer. That leaves the Jets, Falcons, and Eagles looking at three top quarterback prospects: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. The Eagles have the last pick of the group, but they also now have the Colts draft picks to trade if they want to try and leapfrog Atlanta. The Eagles could move up, but they also don’t have to. If a team in the top five tries to squeeze the Eagles for more picks, Philly can just roll into 2021 with Hurts under center.
We don’t know which quarterback the Eagles may want to add, but we do know they like having a lot of passers, and that they have plenty of options to add another good one. As long as Roseman is in charge, it’s unlikely he put all of the Eagles’ eggs in one basket again. After all, Philadelphia’s fortunes used to go as Carson Wentz went. Now the team might have commitment issues for the foreseeable future.