For this week.
Let’s start right there, with those three words, and the emphasis that Doug Pederson placed on them. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to rely on forensic voice analysis to find the answer to the biggest question currently facing the Eagles organization. We’d have something more solid to dissect than the pitch and amplitude of the head coach’s audio levels, both of which jumped dramatically during one pivotal segment of the interview that the team’s website staged to announce that Carson Wentz was no longer their starting quarterback. But this is what they gave us to go on, and on it we will go.
“I looked at the whole thing,” Pederson said, “and decided that – for this week – to look for that spark again, to try to get the team over the hump, to try to get everybody playing better ...”
For this week.
Before speaking the words, he paused a half-beat, as if to signal their significance. While speaking them, he slowed his cadence in order to accent each syllable. As the interview proceeded, Pederson said all of the things that you’d expect a head coach to say. He can’t predict the future. He won’t get into hypotheticals. The only certainties at this point in time are death and taxes and the Eagles preparing for the New Orleans Saints with Hurts as their starter. But as Pederson himself noted, he has been around the NFL for a long time, and he has played its most important position, and so he clearly understands that a decision like the one he just made is never one that is made in a vacuum.
For this week.
It did not feel like a nod to the week-to-week, next-man-up ethos that every head coach attempts to grind into his players. Rather, it felt like an attempt to weigh in on the existential crisis that now confronts the organization. He knows as well as anybody that the storm clouds have been gathering since May, when the Eagles stunned the NFL with their decision to draft another quarterback instead of addressing one of the many positions on their depth chart that was rotting away into disrepair. The addition of Hurts only made sense if the Eagles thought he had a decent chance at replacing Wentz as their long-term starter. Now that he has replaced him in the short term, the implications are impossible to shrug away.
For this week.
From the organization’s standpoint, there are only three questions that matter, all of them long term in nature. One, is Wentz the same quarterback the Eagles committed to when they signed him to a near-inescapable contract? Two, is Hurts a quarterback who will be worthy of a similar commitment in two short years from now? Three, whatever the answer to those two questions, how can the Eagles possibly extricate themselves from the future they committed to with Wentz?
Yet from Pederson’s perspective, such questions are likely to be somebody else’s burden. Perhaps, then, the best strategy for everyone involved is to focus exclusively on the short term. Wentz can gain more from sitting out these next four weeks than he can from further punishing his body and mind. His teammates can gain the hope that comes with knowing that something substantial has changed. Pederson can gain another season as head coach, and the political capital he may need to affect front-office change.
Perhaps Pederson labeled Hurts as his starter for this week because that is how he actually sees it. Given the state of the offensive line, the only way the Eagles can possibly function offensively is with a quarterback that Wentz is incapable of being. In Hurts, they have a player who is built for the freelance, make-it-up-as-you-go style of offense that the Eagles’ pitiful talent necessitates. Perhaps Pederson’s only motivation is to make it to the offseason with an ability to stand on the one leg the front office has not cut off.
It’s possible that Pederson waited this long because he understood that any change was likely to be permanent, that Wentz had earned the right to eliminate any remaining doubt but that Hurts would emerge as the best long-term option. I’m just not sure that the events align with that interpretation.
The only rational explanation for such a sudden and permanent regression is physiological in nature. If Pederson thought him a punch-drunk boxer suffering from the irreversible effects of hits like last season’s playoff cheap shot by Jadeveon Clowney, he would have had all the justification he needed to stop the fight before now. If Pederson thought that, why keep him in an unwinnable game against the Giants? Why send him back out into the slop in Cleveland? Why prepare an answer like the one he gave Tuesday when asked whether he believes Wentz will reemerge as a franchise quarterback?
“I do, and I know he will,” the head coach said. “I still have a lot of belief and a lot of faith and trust in Carson. As I’ve said, this is not about one guy. We have a lot of things to fix offensively, but I do believe Carson will get himself back to that championship level.”
While the Eagles’ thought process is impossible to follow on an organizational level, Pederson’s words only allow for one of two potential realities: Either his words are a lie, or they underscore the naivete, dysfunction, and central planning failure that led the Eagles to draft Hurts in the first place. And the latter is a problem that extends well beyond this week.