Somewhere, perhaps in an alternate universe, is a world in which Howie Roseman didn’t trade with the Cleveland Browns for the No. 2 overall pick prior to the 2016 NFL Draft. He never sent five draft picks to the Browns: the No. 8 pick in the first round, a third-round pick (77th overall) and a fourth-round pick (100th overall) in that draft, a first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2018, and Wentz was never drafted by the Eagles.
In this other dimension, Wentz never starred as an Eagle; not during his promising 2016 rookie season, not during his MVP-caliber 2017 campaign, one that helped clinch the NFC East and the No. 1 overall seed in the conference, ultimately ending in a Super Bowl title, and he never proved he was the team’s franchise quarterback.
But in this timeline, Carson Wentz exists as the Eagles’ franchise QB and, in this timeline, he has taken a back seat to his back-up, Nick Foles, during the past two postseasons. While both played a huge role in winning a title last year, it was Foles who was the Super Bowl MVP and has a statue built outside Lincoln Financial Field. As a result, both spent time in 2018 navigating an awkward partnership that ultimately resulted in Wentz once again missing out on the postseason as Foles led another miraculous late-season run to return to the postseason, winning a playoff game along the way.
And since we are in this timeline, this much is obvious after watching the 2018 season play out: Carson Wentz and Nick Foles should not be on the same team moving forward.
This isn’t because there is friction between the two or that they don’t like each other. Both are good men who appear to genuinely care about one another. But if the goal is to develop Wentz into being the franchise QB he’s already shown he can be, then Foles simply can’t be a part of things moving forward.
On its surface, I realize this is a ridiculous thing to say. After all, Foles is 20-6 since his rookie season with the Eagles. He matched Tom Brady throw for throw in a Super Bowl for the ages, the most offensive Super Bowl in history. He is respected by everyone in the locker room for his leadership qualities and laid-back demeanor.
Everyone loves Nick Foles. But that’s part of the reason why it’s time for both parties to move on.
A heart divided is one in conflict, and the locker room clearly loves both players. Foles is older, calmer, and because of those things, a bit more mature. Foles has also already proven he can win big games, and that engenders a lot of trust in his teammates. But Wentz is the better player and, lest it be forgotten, was insanely good in 2017. Players loved him. They loved playing with him. There were no questions about his maturity or his leadership ability, because they were winning and he was healthy. It’s easy to forget how popular he was among his teammates before the injury, but let this serve as a reminder.
However, as Wentz himself admitted earlier this week, the 2018 season was a rough one for him as he tried to work his way back into the starting lineup and re-establish himself as the quarterback of this team. It would be understandable if Wentz was looking over his shoulder at his revered teammate and put extra pressure on himself this season, things that likely resulted in some of the issues raised by the Philly Voice piece a few weeks ago.
It’s easy to say, “Wentz just needs to toughen up. We need to stop coddling him.” But it’s not about coddling and it’s not about toughening up. It’s about human nature. It’s very difficult to be an effective leader when someone as accomplished as Foles is your back-up.
The other side of the coin is that it’s unfair to ask Foles to be the back-up QB moving forward. He’s proven he can lead a team and win. He’s proven to be a true No. 1 quarterback for a playoff team. Foles’ game has matured to the point there are a number of teams that should make him their go-to guy in free agency, and he’ll likely score a big payday as a result.
If you are one of those people who would prefer to trade Wentz and keep Foles, it’s certainly a valid opinion. Foles has proven himself, and there’s no doubt the Eagles would continue to be successful with him at quarterback. They’d also likely get a haul for Wentz. But it would also be a huge risk, as Foles is never likely to achieve the ceiling that Wentz has already proven he can reach.
Would the Eagles technically be in a safer place by having both Foles and Wentz on the team? Sure, but at what cost? What would that say to Wentz? How does it help him to play with one eye on the field and the other over his shoulder?
There was a time when Joe Montana was constantly looking over his shoulder at a hard-charging Steve Young, who stood on the sidelines as his back-up for four seasons before San Francisco made the difficult decision to deal their franchise icon for the young, future Hall of Famer. They realized having two starting-caliber quarterbacks on the roster at the same time simply didn’t work for very long.
This is not to say Foles is Steve Young, because clearly he isn’t. But Foles is a starting QB and should not be second fiddle to anyone at this point.
At the end of the day, Foles is going to leave. The Eagles picked up his $20 million option, which Foles then voided by giving back $2 million. The Eagles could franchise him and work out a trade, but the more likely scenario is that Foles leaves in free agency.
Whether it’s by trade or the free agent route, Wentz is not going to have Foles back him up in 2019, and that’s for the best. It’s sad to see Nick go, and he will forever be a legend in Philadelphia. When his playing career is over, it would be phenomenal for him to be involved with the team in some official capacity. He will always be loved.
But if Carson Wentz is going to take the next step forward in his evolution as a QB, he, and the rest of the locker room, needs to know this team is his. Everyone needs to know the huddle belongs to Wentz, and he needs to enter 2019 as the Alpha, fully healthy, ready to establish himself once again as one of the five best QBs in the sport.