PHILADELPHIA — Former Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson looked up at the heavens as he smiled and called it “divine intervention.”
A North Dakota blizzard in March 2016 prevented 14 NFL teams from attending quarterback Carson Wentz’s pro day. The fewer eyes on their guy, the better, he thought, and just another sign the stars were aligning to get Wentz to Philadelphia.
The Eagles’ personnel believed with every fiber of their beings that they snagged themselves an elite franchise quarterback when they traded up twice to select Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick in 2016. Wentz quickly validated those instincts by following up a promising rookie season with a hard charge toward league MVP in 2017.
Wentz hit some major career bumps, starting with a torn ACL/LCL in December 2017. He suffered a stress fracture in his back the following season and came under fire at the end of the year when a report surfaced portraying him as a selfish teammate.
But through the adversity, the Eagles’ organization maintained faith in him. Even after drafting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round last April, the belief was Wentz would deliver the next Super Bowl to Philadelphia, and that someday, God willing, they would all be in attendance as Wentz gave his Pro Football Hall of Fame speech.
That seems like a dream world now, as the soured relationship between Wentz and the Eagles ended Thursday when Philadelphia sent Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that can turn into a first, according to ESPN NFL analysts Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen.
Peculiar circumstance, questionable management and dangerous decision-making collided in 2020, resulting in dysfunction, bruised egos and, ultimately, the dissolution of a union between quarterback and franchise that started with so much promise but flamed out dramatically.
Where it went wrong
The drafting of Hurts will go down in history as the beginning of the end for Wentz in Philly.
That certainly wasn’t the Eagles’ intent. The front office didn’t think a rookie — even a dynamic one such as Hurts — would affect the standing of a Pro Bowl player in Wentz. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman thought they were making a wise investment at the most important position in football.
But the communication with Wentz about the decision wasn’t up to snuff, some believe, and a bumpy 2020 season intensified the friction.
The coronavirus-shortened offseason meant Wentz, 28, had little time to jell with his new, young wide receivers. Injuries to the Eagles’ playmakers followed, and the offense never got in sync. Wentz was a primary contributor to that. He was totally out of whack for many weeks, from his mechanics on down.
Through his struggles, there was a sense Wentz wasn’t held accountable to the same level of his teammates — a sentiment that wasn’t exclusive to the 2020 season, as evidenced by the recent statement by former Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, who said the organization did not do Wentz “any favors by trying to protect his ego or trying to really protect him as a player as opposed to — just like every other player — keeping it performance-based and really being real about what he needed to improve on.”
When Wentz did receive pushback from Pederson, it was not well-received. Pederson stripped Wentz of much of his control over the offense as injuries and losses piled up, according to a source, leading to Wentz’s loss of faith in the coach and his system. Some of Wentz’s skepticism about the scheme was justified. The offense sorely missed identity and creativity. But his lack of buy-in affected the bottom line, which did not sit well with everyone in the Eagles’ locker room, a source said.
Meanwhile, Hurts was playing increasingly well on the scout team and connecting with his teammates organically — something Wentz at times struggled to do since coming to the pros.
The team brass assured Wentz he had nothing to worry about when Hurts was drafted, but a quarterback controversy broke out, largely because of Wentz’s poor play. Wentz was eventually benched during the Eagles’ Week 13 loss at Green Bay, and his trust in the Eagles and Pederson was damaged beyond repair. The firing of Pederson and hiring of Nick Sirianni last month did not convince the fifth-year quarterback that staying in Philadelphia was his best path forward.
Where the Eagles go from here
There were mixed opinions inside the building on Hurts, 22, coming out of Oklahoma, but he did have strong advocates, including the most important of all in Lurie, sources said.
Hurts provided a spark to the Eagles’ offense when he took over as the starter for the final quarter of the season. He cooled some down the stretch and finished with a 52% completion rate and six touchdowns to four interceptions while rushing for 354 yards and three scores. Sirianni said he is “really excited to work with” Hurts.
“We studied him last year, he had a great college tape. He played meaningful snaps this year that he played well in,” Sirianni said.
Hurts did enough as a rookie to garner serious consideration for the starting job. The question is whether the Eagles will bring in a veteran backup to support and provide insurance for Hurts, or add real competition.
Philadelphia holds the No. 6 pick in April’s NFL draft, and will have to decide whether taking a shot on a top prospect such as Zach Wilson (BYU), Trey Lance (North Dakota State) or Justin Fields (Ohio State) is the smart play, or if that will invite another sticky quarterback controversy to Philly.
Mistakes were made in the Eagles’ handling of the Wentz situation, and their long-term plan at QB is now up in smoke.
They have to take a hard look at themselves to avoid ending up in this place again.
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