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Syndication: The Indianapolis Star

Eagles were rewarded for avoiding the sunk cost fallacy with Carson Wentz

Many teams would have held onto Wentz because of his cap hit, but the Eagles wisely did not.

Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s hard to quantify how ridiculously awful it was for the Indianapolis Colts to lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday.

The stakes for Indy were clear. Jacksonville was 2-14, had fired their coach amidst scandal, and their franchise QB who had been selected first overall in last year’s draft had put together a rookie campaign to forget. The Colts were 14.5-point road favorites, and all they needed to do was beat a dead Jaguars team and they would clinch a spot in the postseason.

Of course, that didn’t happen.

Somehow, Carson Wentz and head coach Frank Reich choked things away with an incomprehensible 26-11 loss. Wentz was downright awful in defeat, going 17-for-29 with 185 yards passing, a lost fumble, an interception and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 74.6. He was sacked six times and, as has become painfully clear over the last couple years, his ability to make plays in the pocket and remain elusive is now elusive to him.

And while the sports fanbase in Indianapolis is certainly more forgiving than Philadelphia’s, the criticism is building.

Screen-wipe to Philadelphia, where the Eagles are heading to the playoffs as the No. 7 seed in the NFC. They are 8.5-point underdogs going into their contest against the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Bucs, and defeating Tom Brady on the road, in a playoff game, is a tall order. But they are in and, regardless of how things go on Sunday afternoon down in Florida, the 2021 season is an unmitigated success.

Over the summer, none of this seemed possible. The team had fired their Super Bowl-winning head coach after a 4-11-1 season and Wentz, their franchise quarterback, had been benched in favor of Jalen Hurts and demanded a trade out of Philly. But remember, a trade was never a sure thing.

Most teams don’t trade away quarterbacks to whom they’ve given $107 million in guaranteed money the year before. Most teams don’t trade away quarterbacks who have a dead cap hit of $33.8 million for an upcoming season. Most teams choke down the bile, deal with a potential malcontent, and plow ahead regardless.

In fact, no team had ever traded away a player who accounted for that much dead money in the history of the NFL. Never. Not once.

Howie Roseman was faced with a decision. Does he keep Wentz, hope things turn around and move forward with him in 2021 in order to avoid that staggering dead money cap hit? Or does he eat the money, go with his inexpensive second-round pick, and trade his once-franchise quarterback and wash his hands of it all?

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a tendency people have in which they follow through on something if they have already invested a lot of time, energy or money on it, even if the cost-benefit for doing so is no longer in their interest.

There is a reason most people don’t walk out of an awful movie if they’ve paid good money to see it. There is a reason some people keep putting money into the pot of a big poker hand even if they realize there’s a small chance they’ll actually win. There’s a reason some people keep dumping dollar after dollar into renovating a home long after the cost of the renovation has surpassed the home’s actual value.

In terms of Carson Wentz, the Eagles had committed $107 million and years of coaching and relationship building with him. It would have been understandable had Roseman decided to just plug along, even though the Wentz situation in Philadelphia had become untenable.

Who knows what would have happened had he not torn his ACL in 2017? As the likely MVP of the league, he probably would have helped take the Eagles to a Super Bowl 52 victory, and perhaps the limited player we see now would instead still be the dynamic, confident, play-making stud he was five years ago.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, Roseman realized it made no sense to keep a player who didn’t want to be there and who was not the player they hoped he’d be. Now, Roseman contributed to that unhappiness and the financial mess they were in. He decided to pay Wentz all that money and then, knowing his QB had a fragile ego, drafted a quarterback in the second round of the 2020 draft. The situation was created by Roseman.

However, the fact Roseman was the one who made these decisions makes it all the more remarkable he didn’t become a slave to them.

He did what no one else in the history of the NFL had ever done — pay a player $33.8 million to play for someone else. In return, they received a third-round pick in 2021 and a second-round pick in ‘22 that would become a first round pick if Wentz played at least 75% of his team’s snaps, or 70% if they made the playoffs. Roseman used that third rounder to move up from No. 12 in last year’s draft to No. 10, where they leaped ahead of the New York Giants and took DeVonta Smith, and possess three first round picks in this April’s draft.

Oh, and they also made the playoffs.

Now. no one is 100% sold on Hurts as the franchise QB, but he was at least as good as Wentz would have been in Philadelphia this year and likely much better. Accounting for a little over $1 million of cap space, the former Alabama star led the Eagles to a 9-8 record and a playoff berth.

What happened in Indianapolis is secondary to what Roseman did, but the fact the Colts missed the playoffs with Wentz playing a full season makes the story a true tragedy for Indianapolis fans. Not only did they lose their first round pick this year, they missed the postseason and cannot be totally sure that Carson is their franchise QB moving forward.

Had Roseman fallen victim the Sunk Cost Fallacy, the Eagles probably don’t have as good a season with Wentz as they did with Hurts, they don’t have an extra first round pick this year, and they perhaps don’t have Smith.

So what did we learn here? What can other NFL franchises take away from this exercise?

The moral of the story is not to stick with a player who is no longer a fit for your team solely because he’s making a lot of money. If you can get something of value for a player who no longer wants to be there or whose skills are declining, a smart GM should do it, even if it means eating a substantial amount of cash. After all, a team is likely to lose with a malcontent with declining skills who is no longer a fit, anyway, so why not pay that player to play somewhere else, open up the roster space on your team, and move on with your lives, especially if someone is willing to give you something of value for that player?

Teams that copy what the Eagles did may not see the situation work out quite as well, but it’s still the right thing to do. In this case, process and results matched up, much to Philadelphia’s delight and Indy’s disappointment.

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