The Philadelphia Eagles, officially eliminated from the postseason, will play their final game tonight against Washington. Immediately after the game, the planning for 2021 will begin.
When it comes to the quarterback position, the Eagles will press pause before engaging in a full and complete evaluation. Generally speaking, the Eagles believe starter-turned-backup Carson Wentz can be repaired, and that he can resume his successful career.
The first question is whether Wentz will be reinstalled as the starter for 2021 or whether Wentz and 2020 second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts will compete for the job. In theory, the Eagles also could decide to make Hurts the starter with no competition between him and Wentz. That outcome seems the least likely at this point, primarily because the Eagles continue to believe in Wentz.
Given the investment made to trade up to get Wentz in 2016, the decision to keep him over Super Bowl LIII MVP Nick Foles, and investment in the form of a contract with a $32 million annual value, the Eagles can’t and won’t lose faith in Wentz based on one bad season — especially since the season featured a rash of injuries on the offensive line and, as of tonight’s game, 14 different combinations of players in the five starting spots.
While there’s no true comparison to Wentz, who played well enough in his first three years to earn a market-value extension, had another solid year, and then regressed badly, it’s not entirely unprecedented for franchise-level quarterbacks to experience a down season early in their careers. In 2006, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had 18 touchdown passes and 23 interceptions, a season after winning a Super Bowl. In 2001, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning slid from 33 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions to 26 and 23, as his team flipped from 10-6 to 6-10.
So why was Wentz benched for Hurts? The fact that the Eagles belong to a division that struggled across the board in 2020 kept the team in the hunt for a playoff berth longer than it should have been. With a late-season opening to take the NFC East crown, coach Doug Pederson decided to try to give the team a spark by flipping to Hurts.
But Hurts wasn’t drafted to replace Wentz. The Eagles realize, more than any team, that they need two viable quarterbacks at all times. From 2017 through 2019, the Eagles had six playoff games and Wentz took a total of nine snaps in those games, all of which happened in the 2019 playoff round.
The Eagles, like many teams, place high value on the backup quarterback position, regarding it as a top-15 spot on the roster. That message, however, may not have been fully communicated to Wentz, given Jay Glazer’s report from last month that the arrival of Hurts damaged Wentz’s confidence.
Whatever the Eagles choose to do, they can easily carry both the Wentz and Hurts contracts under the salary cap, given that Hurts has a slotted rookie contract for three more seasons. While things will get more than a little awkward if Hurts starts next year at a salary of $883,000 while Wentz is languishing on the bench at a cap number of $34.6 million, the total cap and cash investment in the quarterback position won’t throw things out of whack for the Eagles.
The Eagles also weren’t rattled by the strategic leak that Wentz won’t want to stay if he’s not the starter. It’s expected that an NFL quarterback who has been a starter will want to remain the starter.
A trade remains possible, depending on the decisions made by the Eagles after evaluating the full quarterback position. It won’t be easy to attach the right value or to finagle it from another team, and the Eagles have proven they won’t simply give quarterbacks away. Indeed, Wentz’s career began after the Eagles planned to start the 2016 season with Sam Bradford under center until Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a serious knee injury in late August and the Vikings coughed up a first- and fourth-round pick to get Bradford and installed Wentz as the starter.
Five years later, Wentz could be re-installed as the starter. Or he may have to compete for it. Or he may land on the bench. The final outcome won’t be known for a while; what is known is that the Eagles currently believe that Wentz’s dip in performance ultimately will prove to be a short-term thing.