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Carson Wentz is just the latest in a long history of Eagles quarterback benchings

It’s a right of passage for franchise QBs, but it’s usually not good news.

Philadelphia Eagles v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Only an idiot couldn’t see this coming.

The Eagles have a QB controversy and, to be honest, it was created when general manager Howie Roseman surprised the world and took Jalen Hurts in the second round of the draft last April. Just months after Carson Wentz signed a huge contract extension that locked him into place as the team’s franchise quarterback for at least the next 2-3 years, and just months after Wentz led the team to a surprising playoff berth and put the ghost of Nick Foles behind him, the team thought it would be a great idea to draft someone who would create instant doubt both inside and outside the organization that Wentz was truly their man.

Then Roseman decided to “address” the wide receiver position by selecting Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round (a pick that in hindsight appears disastrous but was at least somewhat defensible in real time), a fifth-round pick in John Hightower, a sixth-round pick in Quez Watkins, and traded for Marquisse Goodwin in a swap for sixth-rounders. They ignored the trade market where DeAndre Hopkins and Stephon Diggs could have been had, and decided Robby Anderson wasn’t a worthwhile investment, either.

A first, fifth and essentially two sixth round picks is not exactly “addressing” the WR problem.

But one can argue if the Eagles have truly given Wentz enough support to succeed (I do not). If Hurts is indeed the starter for the remainder of the 2020 season (he should be) and plays well, it will only justify Roseman’s poor decision-making and likely convince Jeff Lurie that he should remain the team’s general manager. However, no one wants Hurts to fail and, if Wentz truly is cooked, having another QB on the roster who can make plays and give the fanbase hope is a good thing.

When you have a QB controversy, no one is happy. It’s uncomfortable. It raises a lot of uncomfortable questions. It makes for uncomfortable decision-making. The future is made murkier and, let’s be honest, no one enjoys it, but it is something every generation of Eagles fans have had to deal with over the years.

Ron Jaworski - 1985-86

Heading into the ‘85 season, Jaworski was five years removed from his MVP performance in 1980 when he led the team to its first Super Bowl, and four years removed from their last postseason performance and winning record in ‘81. From ‘82-84 the team went 14-26-1 and finished in last place twice and fourth place once. He had made 116 consecutive starts from ‘77-’84 until a broken ankle forced him to miss the last four starts of the 1984 season.

The ‘85 Eagles were not expected to be good, and they weren’t. Jaworski came into camp as the starter, but he was 34 years old and the Birds had drafted a speedy young QB out of UNLV a few months prior named Randall Cunningham. While the parallels between the selection of Hurts and Cunningham are obvious (both second-rounders, both athletic, running QBs), Jaworski was clearly nearing the end of his career, while Wentz is supposedly still in his prime. It made sense for the Eagles to draft Jaws’ eventual replacement, given his age and the rebuilding nature of the club.

Still, it was surprising when, after going 12-for-25 for 137 yards in a 21-0 opening week loss to the Giants, head coach Marion Campbell put Jaworski on the bench in favor of the youngster Cunningham.

The benching lasted four weeks as Cunningham predictably struggled in his first four starts. He completed under 50% of his passes in three of those four and threw just one touchdown against seven interceptions. Jaworski emerged from the bench in Week 6 and put together two straight games with a passer rating over 100, but struggled the remainder of the season as the ‘85 Birds went 7-9.

After the season, Campbell was fired, Buddy Ryan became the new head coach, Jaworski started the ‘86 season as the starter with Cunningham playing on third downs in a weird hybrid split that served neither quarterback well. Jaworski was benched for good with five weeks left to go and the job belonged to Cunningham, who would dominate and, at times, frustrate the fanbase throughout the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

Randall Cunningham - 1990 Playoffs

Cunningham was an enigma in an Eagles uniform, but in 1990 he was firmly ensconced as the team’s franchise quarterback and regarded as “The Ultimate Weapon,” the “QB of the ‘90s,” two descriptions which quickly fizzled out as that decade went along. But in 1990, the Eagles went 10-6, made the playoffs as a wild card team and Cunningham finished as the league’s 5th-highest rated passer, 91.6. He threw for 3,466 yards and 30 TDs against 13 INTs and ran for another 942 yards.

Cunningham had been a very good regular season QB but, in his first two playoff appearances, struggled. Of course, his first ever playoff game, The Fog Bowl in ‘88, had its own set of weird circumstances, but he was befuddled by the Rams in a home wild card game in 1989 that put the pressure on Ryan to win a playoff game in ‘90.

When Washington came to Veterans Stadium for their wild card match-up in 1990, it was a must-win game in order for Ryan to keep his job, and as the Eagles fell behind 20-6 and the offense once again looked lost with Cunningham at the helm, Ryan benched him in favor of veteran signal caller Jim McMahon. Unfortunately, McMahon did no better as the Birds were run out of the playoffs in the opening round for the third straight year and Ryan’s contract was not renewed by owner Norman Braman.

For his part, Cunningham entered the 1991 season as the starter. He suffered a torn ACL against the Packers in Week 1, the team finished 10-6 and missed the playoffs. Which takes us to...

Randall Cunningham - 1992

In what is perhaps the closest parallel to the current Wentz situation, Cunningham was in the prime of his career when he was benched midway through the 1992 season.

It was a move that seemed unfathomable after the Eagles ran out to a 4-0 start which was capped off by a dominant 31-7 win over the eventual Super Bowl champion Cowboys on a Monday Night Football game at the Vet. After that victory, the Birds were clear Super Bowl contenders and, some would say, even favorites, but Rich Kotite’s Eagles went into a funk led by some very poor play by their 29-year-old QB.

Cunningham had missed the entire 1991 season with a torn ACL and played some horrific football over the next four weeks in which he put up a 52.6% completion percentage, threw for 509 yards, ran for just 143 and threw four TDs and 5 INTs for a passer rating of 60.4. This article from the Chicago Tribune summed up Cunningham’s reaction to the benching.

Often as elusive in speech as he is on the field, Cunningham can get himself into trouble with twists and turns of the tongue. Intentionally or not, he again finds himself in a predicament.

In trying to downplay Kotite`s decision to yank him at halftime against Dallas, Cunningham said things such as ‘’no big deal,’’ followed by things such as ‘’Whatever happens happens . . . a trade, whatever.’’

So, Kotite turned to veteran Jim McMahon to try and right the ship in a home game against the Los Angeles Raiders, and it seemed to work as the Birds blasted L.A., 31-10. However, McMahon didn’t acquit himself well as he went a meager 12-for-24 for 157 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The following week, Cunningham was back in the starting lineup and, despite losing to the Packers 27-24, played a bit better and held onto the starting job for the remainder of the season.

The Eagles would finish with a four-game winning streak and go 11-5, win a wild card game in New Orleans before losing in Dallas in the divisional round. The following year, Cunningham would again be lost for the season, this time to a broken leg in Week 4. He remained the starter during the ‘94 season, Kotite’s last, but things changed when Ray Rhodes brought his west coast offense to town in ‘95.

Randall Cunningham - 1995

Yep, Randall was benched three different times by three different head coaches, which has to be some kind of record.

When Rhodes came to town from San Francisco, he brought the 49ers’ famed West Coast Offense with him, a precision-and-timing based offense that was the opposite of Randall’s free-wheeling skillset. A divorce between coach and quarterback seemed inevitable even as the 1995 season opened with Cunningham behind center.

It took just four weeks for Rhodes to make the switch to Rodney Peete. The Eagles lost three of their first four and Cunningham was not sharp as he tried to acclimate to a very different style of play. Peete was called on just 17:52 seconds into their Week 4 match-up against Oakland in a 48-17 loss as Cunningham piled up a passer rating of 67.4. This was from The Morning Call’s game recap following that loss.

“I made the move to see if I could get something started,” Rhodes said. “Randall was ineffective in the first part of the game.”

At the point he got the hook, Cunningham had completed just three of eight passes for 29 yards and had been intercepted once and sacked once.

Cunningham, who said that, after his initial angry reaction, he kind of saw the change coming.

“He had to try anything to win,” Cunningham said afterward.

Cunningham admitted, “I felt off.” Then he also admitted, “I wanted one more series.” Then he further admitted, “I expected to be benched the way I was playing.”

And finally came the biggest admission: Cunningham almost went to Rhodes and suggested the idea. He explained, “I was going to go over to the sideline and say, ‘Hey, do you think it’s me?’”

When the QB is asking the coach if he should be pulled, it’s probably time to pull him.

Cunningham rode the pine the remainder of the regular season and watched as Peete and the Eagles made the playoffs and destroyed the Lions 58-37 in a home wild card match-up. However, Cunningham made waves one more time in the week leading up to their divisional round contest against Dallas after he left the team to be with his wife, who was giving birth (which was the right thing to do, by the way).

It so happened Peete was injured in the first half of that playoff game and an unprepared Cunningham was no match for a Cowboys team that would win their third Super Bowl in four years that season. Cunningham’s career with the Eagles, was finished.

Donovan McNabb - 2008

In ‘08, McNabb was nearing the end of his decade-long run as the Eagles franchise QB. He had led the team to four straight NFC Championship Games, one Super Bowl and numerous postseason appearances. He and Andy Reid, for all their faults, were, and still are, the greatest head coach-QB combination the Eagles have ever had.

The Eagles entered their Week 12 contest against the Baltimore Ravens at 5-4-1 and, the previous week, McNabb had struggled. He turned the ball over three times in a listless tie to the Cincinnati Bengals and after the game uttered his now famous “I didn’t know there were ties” line. After a first half against Baltimore in which he went 8-for-18 for 58 yards with two interceptions, Reid turned to second round pick (noticing a pattern here, kids?) Kevin Kolb.

Kolb didn’t do much in the second half of that 36-7 loss to the Ravens that dropped the team to 5-5-1, and it was clear Reid tried to send McNabb a message more than anything. Donovan responded the following week on Thanksgiving against the Arizona Cardinals. The 31-year-old played fantastic football in a 48-20 win over the Cards (who would later beat them in the NFC Championship Game in Arizona two months later). The regular season ended with the Birds blowing out the Cowboys in a must-win game, 44-6, and two McNabb-led playoff victories before their eventual heart-breaking loss in Arizona.

McNabb led the Eagles to playoffs again in 2009 but the end came after two straight demoralizing losses to Dallas, one in Week 17 and one in the wild card round. He was traded that off-season to Washington as the Eagles turned to the short-lived but incredibly exciting Michael Vick era, which eventually became the Nick Foles-Chip Kelly era, which then morphed into the Carson Wentz era.

An era that, thanks to his much-needed benching on Sunday, is now very much in doubt.

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