When he flew to Fargo, N.D., for Carson Wentz’s pro day in March 2016, Ron Jaworski didn’t know, and really couldn’t know, that the Eagles would soon target Wentz as their primary quarry in that year’s NFL draft.
Yes, just two months earlier, Jaworski had advised the Eagles’ power troika — owner Jeffrey Lurie, president Don Smolenski, and vice president Howie Roseman — that Doug Pederson would be a fine choice to be the team’s new head coach. They trusted Jaworski, and he trusted them. But at the time, no one could have guessed, as Wentz shuffled his feet as if he were dropping back and completed deep passes to open receivers on an empty field, that the Eagles would trade up twice to get him.
If anything, Jaworski’s evaluation, based in part on that pro day, might have persuaded the Eagles that Wentz was worth the risk. Wentz had played in a pro-style system at North Dakota State, under a coach — Randy Hedberg, NDSU’s passing coordinator — who was himself a former NFL quarterback. He had learned protections and pre-snap reads.
“He was an advanced quarterback at that point in regard to an NFL system,” Jaworski said in a recent phone interview. “All those things, I liked about him.”
Jaworski had spent more than a quarter-century analyzing the NFL, quarterback play specifically, and he had retained his affection for and loyalty to the franchise with whom he spent 10 of his 15 seasons in the league. He thought Wentz was the best quarterback in the draft, and he told the Eagles so. Three years into Wentz’s career, Jaworski’s belief in Wentz’s talent, his still-untapped potential, has only grown stronger.
“Carson,” he said, “can absolutely become the greatest Eagles quarterback of all time.”
The crazy part of Jaworski’s assertion is how close Wentz is, already, to fulfilling it.
Peruse the Eagles’ career passing leaders, and Wentz’s name appears high in several of the most consequential categories. He is third in passer rating, third in completion percentage, sixth in yards, and seventh in touchdown passes. He’ll likely jump another spot in that final category early this season.
Wentz has thrown 70 touchdown passes. Next on the list, with 76, is Sonny Jurgensen, who played just 39 games for the Eagles and was their starter for just three seasons, 1961 through 1963.
In fact, Jurgensen still holds the team records for yards per attempt (8.7, a yard better than anyone else) and touchdown percentage (6.9), and his 32 touchdown passes in 1961 were the most by an Eagles quarterback in one season until Wentz broke the record on his final pass of 2017. That his achievements remain so prominent speaks to the Eagles’ spotty history at quarterback, doesn’t it?
“In a way, yes,” Jurgensen said by phone recently, “because I had only had one big year there: ’61. We started getting receivers with broken legs and bones and everything else.”
The everything else included the Eagles’ trading Jurgensen to the Redskins in March 1964 for Norm Snead, arguably the worst player-personnel decision in team history. It took a decade for the Eagles to find stability at quarterback again, when they acquired Jaworski from the Los Angeles Rams in 1977.
He was their unquestioned starter for the next nine years, earning the Bert Bell Award as the league’s player of the year in 1980 and leading them to Super Bowl XV, and he takes a rather sanguine view of the Eagles’ past at the position, seeing himself as part of a continuum that includes Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb.
“If you’re realistic about the quarterback play over the last three or four decades in Philadelphia and you compare it to others around the league, it’s been really impressive,” Jaworski said. “You go from my years to Randall’s 10 or 11 years to Donovan’s 10 or 11 years. That’s a pretty good run at quarterback. There aren’t many franchises who can say they went 30, 40 years with a one-guy decade in each one. It’s pretty impressive in that regard.”
Here’s a question, though: How many Eagles quarterbacks have been able to sustain excellence, relative to their peers in their particular eras, beyond a span of three-to-four years?
Norm Van Brocklin, the leader of the 1960 championship team, spent just three years with the Eagles. Jaworski was tough and durable and had that rifle arm, but aside from 1980, other quarterbacks overshadowed him: Staubach, Bradshaw, Stabler, Tarkenton, Montana, Fouts.
Cunningham had a spectacular four-year stretch, from 1987 through 1990. McNabb had that half-decade when he could have owned the city and the league, from 2000 through 2004, but never quite did. Nick Foles squeezed a lot into his 46 regular-season and postseason games here, but they were still just 46 games.
Wentz is about to begin his fourth season, and the point here is not that he has eclipsed one or all of his predecessors. The point is that he is well positioned to eclipse them all, if he can remain healthy.
That is no small qualifier for any quarterback, let alone who has suffered the frequency and variety of injuries that Wentz has. But the notion that he is inherently incapable of doing so, that it’s only a matter of time before he suffers another fracture or torn ligament, is easy and cheap and ignorant of those quarterbacks who have recovered from major injuries and similar doubts to have long, terrific careers (e.g. Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford).
If Carson Wentz can do that, if he can just stay on the field, no one will wonder if he has met the standard of the men who have played his position on his team. He will become the standard, and quickly.