After a few days of ramped-up speculation, ESPN’s Adam Schefter confirmed earlier today that Eagles QB Carson Wentz was not only going to be traded — but that it was going to happen soon.
It’s not really a blockbuster news break. The Eagles and Wentz have clearly been on the outs since the end of last season, and rumors around such things as landing spots and returning capital — the where and the for what — have swirled for months. But for as much as it’s seemed likely, it’s now a certainty: Wentz will wear another jersey in 2021.
For the Eagles, the inevitability of the Wentz trade can’t be placed on any single misstep, just as the deterioration of his play has blame that goes across multiple seasons, coaches, players, and decisions. Roster mismanagement and poor injury luck depleted Wentz’s protection and weapons, while Frank Reich and John DeFilippo were never successfully replaced on the offensive coaching staff. Without quality coaching, receivers, or offensive linemen, even Wentz’s good moments were wasted. Those good moments became fewer and further between, as Wentz started balking at phantom pressure, missing wide-open receivers, and putting the football in harm’s way. Statistically, his 2020 season was historically bad.
And now, his 2021 dead cap hit will be historically large. By shipping Wentz off, the Eagles will kill nearly $34M of cap space (barring an unprecedented “restructuring” from Wentz to incentivize the trade). That monstrous a cap hit is only palatable for the litany of reasons there is to trade Wentz: he played terribly last season; he doesn’t want to be here anymore; the Eagles’ supporting cast is no better suited to support him; their cap situation prevents them from building around him; they already have a potential in-house replacement in Jalen Hurts.
It is reasonable to expect that Wentz plays better with a new team. It was a perfect storm of suck that turned a fully functional passer in 2018 and 2019 to the player we saw in 2020, and those conditions likely won’t be repeated outside of Philadelphia. If Wentz ends up in Indianapolis, he’ll return to a coach with whom he was successful in Frank Reich, and play with far better receivers. Even in Chicago, where the offensive line is shaky and the weapons are disappointing, new faces and a fresh locker room offer Wentz the opportunity to reset his career — so long as his arch-frenemy, Nick Foles, is no longer there.
But that doesn’t matter. Just because he’s going to be better somewhere else doesn’t mean he’d be better in Philadelphia, even if the new coaching staff revamps the offense and front office adds to the receiver room. There are too many bridges burned.
Wentz’s tenure in Philadelphia will be remembered this way, regardless of how he plays elsewhere: they failed the quarterback. Before Patrick Mahomes took a snap for the Chiefs, Wentz’s MVP-caliber run in 2017 positioned him as the most promising young quarterback in the league. He was ranked as the 9th overall quarterback in Mike Sando’s 2018 QB tiers at just 25 years old — the only other quarterback still on a rookie contract to make the top 2 tiers was Deshaun Watson. When Jalen Ramsey gave his famous QB rundown to GQ in the summer of 2018, Wentz and Watson were the two quarterbacks he called future MVPs.
Since that season, opinions of Wentz have not flinched even in the face of sub-MVP play. Sando’s QB rankings placed him 9th before the 2018 season, 10th before the 2019 season, and 11th before the 2020 season, just two slots below Matt Stafford, whose recent deal the Eagles are aiming to model their Wentz packages after. Even after the 2020 season, both the Eagles and their potential trade partners hold Wentz in the esteem established from the 2017 campaign.
So the general league opinion will hold that the Eagles failed Wentz — that he’s a better quarterback than they let him be. That’s certainly Wentz’s estimation of the situation. He reportedly wants out of Philadelphia, even though his desire has never been expressed directly to the media. He was reportedly given too much power in the building, including influence over draft picks and line-of-scrimmage play-calling reminiscent of Peyton Manning’s career approach. When the road started to get rocky, Wentz resisted correction from coaches and bristled when that offensive control was taken away from him this season in an effort to simplify, and thereby jumpstart the offense. And of course, the selection of Jalen Hurts didn’t help a historically tenuous relationship between Wentz, his backup quarterback, and the rest of the locker room.
If the Eagles did fail Wentz, it was by letting him spread his wings too early. They gave the keys to the Corvette to a young kid and were surprised when he crashed it. But you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; you can’t rewind the clock and rebuild your franchise quarterback, rescript his habits, rewire his relationships. You can only recall his potential and wish you had nurtured it differently.
The Eagles failed Wentz — but Wentz probably failed the Eagles. Not for a lack of effort, but for the coaching he neglected and the improvement he lacked. Since his first day in midnight green, Wentz was fumble-prone, too willing to take a sack, too proud to check it down. Those problems remain to this day: open wounds now rank and festering in the toxic environment he helped create. Wentz hasn’t gotten better at the quarterback position in the last three years. That falls on the coaching staff, but it falls on him, too.
So he wanted out of Philadelphia for the Eagles’ failures, confident that new surroundings will, at the very least, translate the sky-high potential that remains in his arm and his legs into functional offense and more wins. Wentz will go somewhere else, and the offense will be better than it was when he played in Philadelphia. That’s reality.
But that’s a reality that the Eagles accept, and will perhaps benefit from. Wentz’s broken relationships and inflated power won’t follow him to a new team, but his bad habits will. The acquiring team won’t just receive a big-armed quarterback with enticing peak plays — they’ll also receive poor pocket management, shaky accuracy, obstinance when corrected, and occasional field blindness. Wentz’s potential is thrilling, but we’re still talking about his potential because he hasn’t realized it yet — despite five seasons of experience and 28 years of age. Throw in the $47M over the next two seasons in contract money, and this is a bet that most NFL teams shouldn’t make on paper.
But the league still believes in Wentz; Wentz still believes in Wentz; and the Eagles still believe in Wentz, if you believe the claim that they want Wentz back next season. The inevitability of the Wentz trade may end up a boon for the Eagles, in that it prevents them from falling for his potential as hard as they did in 2016 when they drafted him; in 2018 when they gave him unprecedented clout within the franchise. Instead, they’ll have another young quarterback in Jalen Hurts to groom for a starting job; multiple first-round picks to rebuild the roster. The necessary weaponry for a team kicking off a rebuild.