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Opinion: What went wrong with Wentz

With it looking unlikely that Carson will remain with the Eagles, I take a stab at pulling back the curtain at what exactly went wrong in the Wentz era.

New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

A Wentz trade feels imminent - or not? - and the Eagles will more likely than not start fresh at the quarterback position. Now seems like as good a time as any to look back at what went wrong with the man who we all thought would help bring Philadelphia multiple Lombardi trophies.

Before I get into any of this, I want to provide a disclosure: I am not a reporter. I have zero contacts with anyone in the Eagles organization, Wentz’s representation, or Wentz himself. Everything I know about Wentz is whatever has been written about him, reported about him, or posted on Twitter. I’m just an engineer who is doing nothing more than offering my take on the Eagles’ beleaguered franchise quarterback, based on what I’ve seen and read.

What’s fueling this take? Allow me to offer some of my background. It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated high school. In that time, I have many accomplishments that I like to hang my hat on - I’ve graduated college with a degree in mechanical engineering, I’ve paid off my student loans, and I’ve been able to contribute up to my company match for retirement. I live in a comfortable apartment and can pay all of my bills on time. I’ve made several lifelong friends, and I’ve met a wonderful young lady whom I’ve asked to be my wife.

In that same time, I’ve had my fair share of struggles. I’ve lost some friends. I’ve had relationships that were good, bad, and highly toxic. I’ve dealt with crippling loneliness (I had plenty of first dates coming out of college, but it took me almost 2 years to get a second). I’ve dealt with bullies in my personal life and with work and managed to be a misfit even among engineers. I’ve lost my faith, rediscovered it, questioned it, and found it again. At my lowest point in my junior year of college, I fell into a chronic depression over a terrible event in my life that left me feeling alone and worthless.

I don’t pretend that I have gone through any significant, grueling hardship. I have been extremely blessed in my life. There are millions of people whose 10 years out of high school are a lot worse than mine (and others who were better). At the same token, that doesn’t invalidate any of my experiences, either.

But I digress. What’s my point with all of this? Mostly, it’s that I’m about 3 weeks younger than Wentz.

This might make you laugh - of course, this is a coincidence. Maybe some of you were born closer to Wentz’s birthday. I bet a few of you were born on the same exact day. I certainly don’t think my relative age gives me any extra insight into Carson the Football Player. But looking back on my last 10 years, and realizing how formative they were to the person I am now, I’m convinced that our twenties are a fulcrum in our lives, our first major exposure to the real world, and how we handle what the real world throws at us can create a snowball effect, for better and for worse. If we tackle these challenges well, we grow and prosper. If we allow these challenges to devour us, we fall into a downward spiral. (If you’re much older and wiser than me and reading this... I hope I’m not too far off base here.)

Maybe you scoff at this when it comes to Carson. After all, he’s a professional quarterback making millions of dollars and we’re all “regular people.” It’s true that wealth can be a buffer for any material hardship that we might otherwise face. But it’s not going to save you from hardships of the mind or spirit. In some ways, being a household name to millions of people where your personal life and career is public knowledge and consumed as entertainment can make those hardships worse. If you disagree with this too, well, I can’t do anything the change your mind. Feel free to skip directly to the comments and tell me how wrong I am.

With ALL of this in mind, let’s look back at Carson’s twenties - or at least, the period of them he has spent with the Eagles. For many, this period paints a picture of a man who develops a childish, uncontrollable ego that is blind to his own shortcomings and is unable to hold himself accountable for his regression.

For me, it’s not an unjustified sense of confidence that’s a problem - it’s a lack thereof.

When We Were Young

When reviewing Wentz’s career, there is one thing to establish that is by and large wholly unappreciated: Carson’s career arc as an NFL quarterback is virtually unprecedented. Looking back to 2017, we often compare Nick Foles’ historic Super Bowl run to that of Jeff Hostetler, the backup for the New York Giants who led them to a championship over the Buffalo Bills in 1990. If we expand the comparison, Carson Wentz becomes analogous to Phil Simms, whose season was ended after he broke his foot in Week 15. This is where the wheels come off. At that point in his Career, Simms:

  • Had played in the NFL for 11 years and was 35 years old
  • Had already started and won a Super Bowl four years prior against the Denver Broncos
  • Had set multiple passing records in that Super Bowl, two of which (passer rating and accuracy) still stand today
  • Literally coined the phrase, “I’m going to Disney World!” that every Super Bowl-winning quarterback has repeated since

In other words, Simms had very little to prove to himself or anyone else as he watched his backup win a championship. Carson, on the other hand, was only in his second season when he tore his ACL. He had accomplished little in the NFL outside of a forgettable rookie season in which his biggest achievement was being the first Eagles quarterback to start all 16 games since Donovan McNabb in 2008. He was only 24 years old and in the middle of a meteoric rise to the upper echelon of starting NFL quarterbacks. How many of us were doing anything nearly at that level (relative to our own lives and careers) at 24? How many of us would have handled it well at that age if that rise was suddenly snatched away from us by fate?

Now let’s add exactly who Nick Foles was prior to his incredible playoff run. Outside of his phenomenal 2013 season, Foles had proven to be little more than a high-quality journeyman backup, who at one point seriously contemplated retirement. Make no mistake, Foles deserves all of the respect he has earned from Philly, and then some - but let’s also not forget that discussions on this very website were arguing over whether to start him or Sudfeld against the Falcons in the playoffs. Foles was a great locker room presence and a great player to have on your team, but he wasn’t someone you could expect to go out and win a Super Bowl with as your starter.

Super Bowl LII - Philadelphia Eagles v New England Patriots Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

And yet, he did. In fact, the Eagles barely skipped a beat without Wentz in the playoffs. I am sure this was not lost on Carson. It’s not unreasonable to think he may have begun to question his own role in the team’s success that year (after all, he was still finding his footing in the NFL). Back when things were going well, and he was being talked as a shoo-in for MVP, it was easy to buy into that. But now? When your journeyman backup wins the Super Bowl? How can you be so sure that you weren’t the key to the Eagles’ success that year, and not merely a player on what ultimately was the best team in the league?

These questions have essentially remained unanswered. Consider:

  • In 2018, Nick Foles came in for relief of an injured Carson again and led the team to another miraculous playoff victory
  • In 2019, Carson engineered a playoff run of his own by putting the team on his back but was promptly knocked out of his first-ever playoff start
  • A few months later, the front office spent a second-round pick on a quarterback that was a Heisman trophy candidate the year prior

When questions like this linger for that long, they tend to lead to one thing: doubt. And doubt can very nicely explain most of Carson’s behavior since 2017.

The Seeds of Doubt

In my personal experience, doubt - and particularly self-doubt - is a corrosive emotion. It can poison every inch of your psyche and make self-assurance impossible. It is essentially a form of gaslighting yourself, where you are unsure of anything you have really done, or of what you are capable of achieving. If allowed to fester, doubt quickly spirals into insecurity, from insecurity to anxiety, and from anxiety to despair.

What makes doubt so insidious is the path to defeating it is counterintuitive. The knee-jerk reaction to doubt is to simply deny it: I know how good I am, I know what I can do, and I know that I will eventually do it. Someone who is trying to defeat their doubt by denying it is doing nothing more than propping up their confidence on a house of cards. For a person wracked with doubt, any admission that they need outside help, improvement, or guidance (read: coaching) validates that doubt. To them, validating doubt is to make it real, and suddenly those original questions that created the doubt are answered in the worst way. So they fiercely resist anything that even approaches answering those questions. Instead, they blame things they can’t control for their failures and feign the confidence that if they just repeat motivational platitudes to themselves the questions of doubt will eventually go away, and everything will sort itself out. They feel the only true way to defeat doubt is to ignore it.

Does this sound like someone on the Eagles?

As I said, defeating doubt is counterintuitive. That’s because it requires humility. Not the “Aw man, I’m a loser and I stink” kind of humility, but the “There is a reason this doubt exists and I need to confront it” kind of humility (which, strangely enough, is a sign of true confidence in oneself). The first step to overcoming doubt is admitting that it could be well-founded. Once that admission is out in the open, an actual plan can be developed to make sure that the doubt never comes to fruition in reality - not one that just hopes if it is ignored it will disappear. This means going the extra mile and burning the midnight oil to actively avoid becoming the person that your doubt says you are. This could involve anything: additional time invested honing your craft, learning a new skill, speaking to a therapist, or more time spent in prayer (if you’re into that). Given what we’ve seen from Carson, and the multiple opportunities he’s had to humble himself but resisted, I would guess he’s failed to do any of that.

The Next Chapter

We’ll end this post by looking at how all of this impacts the Eagles as they turn a page with their franchise. But before wrapping up, there are two things I would like to make clear (this will also be a good test if you’ve read the article before commenting):

  1. I’m an engineer, not a psychologist. Everything I’ve written about doubt is based on my own personal experience and what I’ve observed in others in my life. If you are a clinical psychologist and I’ve misrepresented anything here in any way, please feel free to correct me.
  2. I am not apologizing for Carson in any way. Yes, I wrote a sympathetic account of the struggles he’s faced in his career. But your twenties are so formative because, at this point, you should have the awareness to “course-correct” on your own if you’re trying to face new adversities the wrong way. Wentz is a grown man and should have the capacity to admit that he has deep-seated issues with himself. The evidence suggesting that he has not - for several years now, it seems - only paints a picture of someone who has more growing they need to do and is actively resisting that growth. The blame for that falls solely on Wentz’s shoulders.

So, why am I even writing about this? Who cares why Carson has regressed if he’s going to be traded anyway? Well, for as much as Carson is to blame for his implosion, the front office played their own part in this as well. Howie Roseman’s absurd “quarterback factory” comment has a darker implication that the careers of these young men are little more than “assets” to be developed and potentially traded for a better return. The Eagles stressed emotional intelligence in their coach when they hired Doug and forgot to consider if they needed it in their general manager.

But perhaps they have learned their lesson. Perhaps they look back on Carson’s slow-motion mental breakdown and recognize that there were red flags they missed that they need to be on the lookout for in the future. Perhaps when they move forward with Jalen Hurts (or Justin Fields?) they will take extra steps to minimize the role they could play in the potential psychological collapse of their franchise quarterback.

Perhaps they will do things differently next time.

But I doubt it.