The goal here is to understand what, exactly, the Eagles are thinking. That’s not an easy task, given the organization in question. But it isn’t an impossible one, as long as you are willing to acknowledge that the answer is probably too complex for an anonymously sourced tweet.
The current image of the Eagles is an organization at an inflection point. Once, there was a path in the woods. Now, there are two. There is Carson Wentz, and there is Jalen Hurts, and there are Jeffrey Lurie and Howie Roseman, scratching the scruff of their chinny chin chins.
Maybe it is that simple. Maybe we really did get an answer when the Eagles parted ways with Doug Pederson and labeled themselves fully invested in helping Wentz reestablish himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback. Maybe the Eagles really are looking for a coach who shares a similar belief in Wentz, as at least one national report suggested.
Maybe, but hold that thought.
Instead, let’s start with the ideal outcome for the Eagles. Because there is one. And it doesn’t involve saying hello or goodbye to either Wentz or Hurts. At least, not right away. The end game in this hypothetical best-case scenario is to arrive in late August with two of the NFL’s most valuable commodities: a quarterback who has established himself as the clear choice for the Eagles, and one who has established himself as the clear choice for someone else.
Forget the actual identity of either of the two quarterbacks. Hurts-Wentz, Wentz-Hurts … it really doesn’t matter. I think it’s clear which way the Eagles suspect it would play out, and it’s not the way most people are currently assuming. But that’s neither here nor there. The important thing is that, in an ideal world, the Eagles would enter the 2021 season with a starting quarterback of their own and one whom they can easily (and fruitfully) trade away.
Now, consider the worst-case scenario. It’s the one the Eagles were headed toward before they abruptly changed course and parted ways with Doug Pederson. For an NFL general manager, the worst pair in the deck is a quarterback who is demanding a trade and a contract that will incur an exorbitant cap charge whether or not the quarterback remains on the roster.
Wentz had already made it clear that he still viewed himself as an NFL starter, and that he did not think he would have that opportunity on a Pederson-coached team. Crucially, he had signaled a willingness to play hardball to force his way out. Acquiescing to such a demand may not have sat well with a lot of fans and media. But when you play the game’s most important position, you always have leverage.
The important thing to understand about these two scenarios is that they both depend entirely on Wentz’s evaluation of his standing within the organization. In order to get to August with a pair of quarterbacks who both have positive value, the Eagles need Wentz to feel like they believe in him, and that they are going to give him every opportunity to play a leading role on the team. And it is possible to give him that impression without actually believing it.
One way to accomplish this is to explain the situation to the head coach and request that he plays along. It would be understandable if Pederson thought himself incapable of such a thing, given all that has transpired over the last year. And it would be understandable if the Eagles explained their thought process to each of the coaching candidates they interviewed, and asked for his thoughts on how the situation might play out.
We might not have any evidence that the Eagles are pursuing the best-case scenario, but we also haven’t heard anything that suggests that they aren’t. Give the hyperventilatory nature of the discourse on quarterbacks in our fair city — and the lack of faith in an increasingly dysfunctional Eagles organization — it’s no surprise that people have interpreted the smoke signals in a less-than-charitable manner. But I think we’ve established that Roseman and Lurie would be acting in their best interests by doing everything possible to give Wentz the sense that they view him as their future starter at quarterback. In which case, what does it really tell us if they are creating such an impression through the media?
Roseman has had success with this sort of thing before. Five years ago, he signed Sam Bradford to a contract that paid him starting-quarterback money while simultaneously attempting to draft Wentz. Like Wentz, Bradford was less than pleased when it became apparent what was happening. Unlike Wentz, he arrived at this realization with only a couple of months to go before training camp. The situations aren’t identical, but Roseman’s Bradford manipulations do show that he doesn’t mind trying to have his cake and eat it too.
They also show what the Eagles stand to gain by convincing Wentz that his future within the organization is, at the very least, within his control. Even if they are skeptical that Wentz can beat out Hurts, they aren’t operating in bad faith by allowing him to think that he can. In reality, they probably don’t know for sure. It simply makes sense to give Wentz every opportunity show that he can fix the mechanical things that need fixing, that his issues with Pederson were a matter of fit rather than personality flaw, that a different coach can create a scheme that enables him to thrive. Even if they end up concluding that Hurts is the better choice for the long run, Wentz’s trade value can only improve between now and August, when there will be plenty of rosters that do not have Hurts or anything close. The Eagles will have more cap flexibility to accommodate a trade or release. It just makes sense.
If you’re skeptical they can make it work, well, you should be. The organization would be doing a disservice to Hurts to pretend like there is a competition if they have already decided that he is their future. They would be introducing the potential for locker room dysfunction before the season even starts. They would be saddling their new coach with a headache that will dominate the attention his team.
At the same time, it makes sense to eliminate every ounce of doubt when you are thinking about getting rid of a quarterback who is still in his 20s and, before this season, was widely regarded as a legitimate NFL starter. Nothing that we saw from Hurts says he is can’t miss. At the very least, give the new coach some time with Wentz, and Wentz some time with the new coach, and make your decisions from there. Nothing about the situation is ideal. But the Eagles don’t really have any other choices.