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Howie Roseman both won — and lost — the Carson Wentz trade

The Eagles got a big return for a player not in their 2021 plans. But their 2021 plan — eating dead cap, playing young players, losing football games — is the cumulative result of a few years’ worth of missteps.

Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Carson Wentz saga was an exhausting affair; a marathon of a story, with twists and turns and heartbreak and loss. His quality of play and trust in his coaches both crumbled across the course of multiple seasons and his trade negotiations took a couple of weeks to complete. But here he is, where we thought he would end up all along: an Indianapolis Colt.

Whether or not you believe the Eagles won the Carson Wentz trade depends on the camp in which you pitched your tent. There are plenty of fans, media members, and NFLers — in Philadelphia and otherwise — that believe that Wentz can return to a Top-10 caliber of QB play in the league, now that he’s escaped the poorly managed and poorly coached Philadelphia Eagles. If Wentz plays like a Top-10 quarterback — as Philip Rivers played last year for the Colts, for example — then a 2021 3rd-round pick and 2022 1st-round pick is a square deal. Congrats to the Colts.

Of course, the other camp — of which I am a member — holds that Wentz will probably never play as well as he did in 2017. Some of that is health (he isn’t the same athlete following a devastating knee injury), some of that is expected regression (he was wildly good on 3rd downs and red zone opportunities in 2017), and some of that is the evident bad habits he’s developed over the last few seasons. For as good as Wentz was four years ago, it’s impossible to erase what the last three years have done to his game. He’s not as good as he was.

So if Wentz doesn’t become that Top-10 quarterback, then the Colts will have traded multiple picks — including, potentially, a first-round pick — for a player who doesn’t take them beyond their wild card exit of the 2020 season. Even if they didn’t have many better options, that’s bad business. After multiple seasons of low-risk QB moves, for Ballard to push his chips in on Wentz indicates the Colts expect to go beyond 11-5 and a one-and-done playoff appearance with him under center.

But what Wentz can potentially do under Frank Reich’s tutelage simply isn’t available to him in Philadelphia. The bridge was burned. Even after the Eagles fired Doug Pederson, the coach in whom he had no trust, Wentz still seemingly wanted out of the franchise. While GM Howie Roseman haggled over prices and trade partners over the last several days, a Wentz return to Philadelphia never seemed in the cards — even in the face of the Eagles’ towering asking price in a Wentz trade.

With the circumstances considered, Wentz may end up good in Indianapolis — but he definitely wasn’t going to end up good in Philadelphia.

This reality made the prolonged negotiations perplexing. There were reports that the Eagles wanted multiple first-round picks for Carson Wentz; subsequent reports that the Chicago Bears had placed a first-round pick on the table made a trade seem imminent. But nothing came. If an offer with a bonafide first-round pick were on the table, the Eagles — who again, were unlikely to ever get a productive snap from Carson Wentz ever again — needed to take that deal. Yes, they’d be forced to swallow a record-setting $33.8M in dead cap space; yes, they’d finally put a bow on their organizational failure to build around Wentz. But a first-round selection in return would ease the pain.

Now that Wentz has been traded to the Colts, all of those rumors seem like negotiating ploys from the Eagles’ camp. Maybe the Bears were interested, but never at that price tag; maybe they were never interested at all. Maybe the mystery teams rumored to have at least checked in — the San Francisco 49ers and the Houston Texans chief among them — never even picked up the phone. Whatever was smoke and whatever was fire, the Eagles did eventually pry a potential first-round pick from the Colts’ clutches — after it was reported they wouldn’t jump over the price of two second-round selections.

The calculus of the real offers and obfuscation of the phantom offers makes defining a winner in the trade negotiations difficult. Did Roseman really leave a better Bears offer on the table? Did Wentz refuse to go to Chicago, limiting the Eagles’ hand? Will that future second-round pick become a first? There are too many unknowns to say that Roseman negotiated a better deal across the last ten days of deliberations.

What remains true is that the Eagles got good value for the hand they were dealt, in that they got any significant picks for Wentz. Roseman had little option but to trade him, even for his massive cap hit, which may be a bit easier to swallow now that the cap floor for 2021 has apparently been raised. The incoming capital from the Colts could be critical in adding talent to a depleted roster, or trading up for a new rookie quarterback, like Zach Wilson, at the top of the 2021 NFL Draft.

But that does not exonerate Roseman, who was the chief architect of the trap in which he found himself. Wentz’s career bottomed out in Philadelphia in large part because of Roseman’s inability to acquire talented, healthy players on the offensive line and in the wide receiver room. The roster is depleted and needs to hit on draft picks because the Eagles have drafted poorly across the last few seasons. The Eagles now have to debate a QB trade-up despite selecting Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, which could force them into the dangerous high wire act of a young QB competition.

These pressures, all of which contributed to the Wentz trade, were primarily generated by Roseman. The value he got from Wentz is strong, but the Colts were a fairly convenient escape hatch. Had Rivers not retired or Frank Reich not earned so much of Chris Ballard’s trust, there’s a chance Roseman couldn’t have escaped this hell of his own machinations. Good on him for getting out; but bad on him for getting stuck in the first place.

The Eagles have eight picks in the first three rounds of the next two drafts. That’s good news for a team in need of a rebuild. After trading away a big-money franchise passer, they still have a rookie-contract quarterback who may be a starter in the NFL. That’s great news for a team in need of a rebuild. They could be in a worse spot.

But even for the bright spots and the “win” on the Wentz deal, it’s tough to have much faith in the Eagles to pull themselves up from the ashes of the Carson Wentz era.