PHOENIX – The ongoing questions about Carson Wentz’s health lingered throughout the Eagles’ 2018 offseason, but this spring and summer might be different.
Doug Pederson is “optimistic" that Wentz will return to the field in time for organized team activities, which will begin in May and will be the team’s first on-field work of the offseason, but the coach would not offer a definitive timetable on Wentz’s recovery from a stress fracture in his back, which sidelined him after the game of Dec. 9 last season.
However, Pederson noted how much different this recovery is from last season’s, when Wentz was limited throughout the spring and summer while coming back from a torn ACL and did not play until Week 3.
“Obviously, he’s still rehabbing and getting himself healthy and strong,” Pederson said Tuesday in a roundtable interview at the NFL annual meeting. "Just like we’ve done in the past with him, we’re going to be patient and let him get strong. We’re not putting any timetable on it. When he’s ready, he’s ready. And we’re optimistic that he’ll be ready to go for OTAs, but we’re not going to push it and force anything.”
Pederson said last season was a major recovery for Wentz. This spring, it’s just a matter of “making sure everything is right with him and his body.” Pederson has seen Wentz around the NovaCare Complex rehabbing and said Wentz is in a “great spot” mentally.
It’s important for Wentz to be on the field to exert his leadership. Pederson did not have a conversation with Wentz about the PhillyVoice.com article in January that pegged Wentz as a problem with the Eagles last season, but he saw Wentz’s comments about how the quarterback could have been a better teammate last season. Pederson said that “everybody can be a better teammate” and offered ways for Wentz to do so.
“Sometimes just being a little more vulnerable, being a little more accessible,” Pederson said. “You’re obviously committed to your craft and developing your skill, but it’s like you want to walk across the aisle and talk to the other side. And that’s all part of the maturation process, and the growth process, it’s something that you learn through time.
“I watched it with some of the greatest quarterbacks I’ve ever played with. I saw it from Dan Marino. I saw it from Brett Favre. For them to become better teammates, they embraced the entire team, taking on that personality, and then people follow. Carson’s got that in him. He’s got that in his DNA, and that’s what we’re excited about.”
Pederson said it’s hard to be accessible when Wentz is not with the team on the field, as was the case last spring. So being with his teammates is the first part.
The Eagles have not been shy this week about their commitment to Wentz. Vice president for football operations Howie Roseman spoke freely about the desire to sign Wentz to a contract extension, and Pederson said he’s married to Wentz long-term. Pederson said he did not think Wentz needs to prove anything this season after finishing the last two years on the sideline, but there’s no doubt Wentz must remain healthy in 2019.
“I think he wants to be out there for his teammates and help us win football games,” Pederson said. “It’s important to him. And he understands that. We’ll just get him ready to go.”
Wentz’s injury history places even more importance on the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback. Nick Foles won a Super Bowl and led the Eagles to the playoffs as Wentz’s backup, and it helped him secure a four-year, $88 million contract with Jacksonville.
Nate Sudfeld is the front-runner to replace Foles. Pederson had said in February that Sudfeld would need to compete with someone for the job, but the Eagles haven’t yet signed a quarterback and the top backup options are off the market. Sudfeld has been with the team the past two seasons but has only 25 pass attempts in the regular season. Still, the Eagles were bullish enough in his development to offer him a second-round restricted free agent tender worth $3.095 million.
“I’m really excited about Nate,” Pederson said. “I think the quarterback position is not one that’s exempt from competition. We’re going to continue to look obviously out there. We’ve got the draft coming up. Our roster is constantly changing. We’re by no means anywhere close to being done with anything with our roster. … This will be another big spring for him. Another giant step in his progression. Really encouraged where he was at the end of the year and where he can go this season.”
When Pederson was hired, he remarked how he would like to draft or add a quarterback to develop each year – similar to the way the Packers often did during Pederson’s career. But the Eagles have not drafted a quarterback since Wentz, in part because they kept Foles in Philadelphia last season and had signed Sudfeld to their practice squad.
This spring gives the Eagles a chance to do so, and Pederson is intrigued about the possibilities for the second or third days of the draft.
“We are always looking at quarterbacks,” Pederson said. “If there is a guy out there that can fit and be a developmental-type guy. Maybe comes in and competes as the third or keep him on practice squad, I am always encouraged by that. I think you have to continue to find those guys, develop quarterbacks and prepare them.”
If Pederson’s optimism about Wentz becomes a reality, though, that quarterback will be watching Wentz on the field this spring.