Howie Roseman wasn’t included as part of the trade that sent Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts — despite how many Eagles fans wished it were so — but never has one NFL general manager arguably been as responsible for the cause and effect of dealing a franchise quarterback.
Five years ago, Roseman surrendered five draft picks and three players — an unprecedented amount — to move up and draft Wentz at No. 2. Three years later, he signed him to a $128 million contract with $66 million guaranteed. And just 20 months after the Eagles gave him what was then the largest guarantee ever, Roseman traded the 28-year-old for two draft picks while incurring a $33.8 million dead salary-cap hit — the largest in league history.
Some will minimize the GM’s colossal failure by focusing on the return — a 2021 third-rounder and a 2022 second-rounder that could become a first-rounder — for a quarterback who had the greatest statistical regression for any under-30 starter in 70 years and so obviously wanted to leave the Eagles. They will credit him for a sunk-cost move that has the Colts on the hook for $47.4 million of the guaranteed number.
Roseman will surely rationalize the trade with both points whenever he does speak on the subject. But doing so would be akin to building a factory, burning it to the ground, and pointing to the ashes as a best-case scenario.
Roseman won’t claim any victories, though. Thursday marked a dark date in franchise history — the trade won’t become official until March 17 — and the GM isn’t blind to the role he played in Wentz’s departure. His “quarterback factory” line at the time of the Jalen Hurts draft pick last April is unlikely to be the only regret he has about that day.
He didn’t erect just one structure for his factory, though. He constructed another, a smaller-scaled one, in its shadow. And instead of helping, as was intended, the building worked against the larger factory and helped lead to its destruction.
Many questioned the drafting of Hurts. And it is fair to criticize Wentz if the rookie quarterback’s presence, in fact, affected his performance. The second-round selection was the first crack in the erosion of distrust Wentz felt toward the Eagles’ front office.
Much was made of the disintegration of Wentz’s relationship with former coach Doug Pederson. And while it factored into his reported desire for a trade after he was benched for Hurts in December, Wentz’s reasons for wanting out ran far deeper.
Even after Pederson was fired last month, the quarterback preferred to play elsewhere, sources familiar with Wentz’s thinking said. While it could be stated that he had lost trust in Roseman, a more accurate assessment, per one source, was that he had “lost faith in his decision-making.”
The same, to an extent, could be said of Wentz’s assessment of Jeffrey Lurie, whose belief in his longtime general manager remains steadfast. The Eagles’ owner, after all, was on board when Roseman made the unprecedented decision to draft Hurts — both men too wrapped up in the benefits without seeing the potential risks.
Wentz would pay them back. With the muscle his contract gave him — and that the NFL has increasingly granted quarterbacks — he engineered his exit from Philadelphia and his passageway to Indianapolis. The Chicago Bears never made a formal offer, but only because it was clear they weren’t his desired destination.
It was always Frank Reich and the Colts and few could fault Wentz for pulling those strings. But he shouldn’t come out unscathed from the whole ordeal, not because his preference might have hindered the Eagles in negotiations with other teams, but for his role in the 2020 disaster.
Wentz did many things right in his first four seasons. He worked tirelessly. He addressed areas that needed improvement. He tried to connect with teammates with whom he had little in common. He wasn’t perfect, of course. But the Hurts pick led to a downward spiral that had him giving in to some of his worst impulses: stubbornness, an unwillingness to take to hard coaching, isolation.
The Eagles saw it all play out before them and, like most divorces, the parting would be mutual. They didn’t want the 2020 version of Wentz back, either. And they saw a young man who might not have been wired to turn his career around in one of the toughest sports cities in America.
Wentz cared. It’s one of his greatest traits, but it could also be his undoing. When you care as much as he did, you tend to press. And when every bit of criticism lands, it can become unwieldy, especially in Philly. Wentz was propped up from the get-go, and the fall was as steep as the rise.
The Eagles, primarily Roseman and Lurie, were his Frankenstein. They glorified him, treated him like he was Tom Brady incarnate, and acted like he had won Super Bowl LII. The Eagles certainly wouldn’t have claimed their first Lombardi Trophy without Wentz’s exploits in the first 13 games of 2017. No one can take that away from him or the team.
But Wentz did suffer a season-ending knee injury that clearly altered his mobility in subsequent years. And Nick Foles did lead the Eagles to a title, which clearly affected his confidence. And the next three years of having to live up to that standard clearly was something he couldn’t achieve.
The Eagles certainly wouldn’t give back their championship to keep Wentz, but the freakish circumstances in which they won the Super Bowl — compounded by two more season-ending injuries — partially absolves them from the bitter end.
Roseman didn’t draft Hurts as part of some grand experiment to test Wentz’s resolve, though. He believed in Wentz more than he had any other player, which is why he sacrificed so much to acquire the previously little-known North Dakota State quarterback. It is why he extended him in June 2019, even though he had played in just 24 of the previous 37 games.
The evaluation, ultimately, was Roseman’s greatest mistake. Wentz might still become a good quarterback, maybe even a great one. There were glimpses of greatness with the Eagles, but his inability to cope with unfavorable circumstances was his tragic flaw.
Roseman’s failure in identifying that trait and believing otherwise despite contrary evidence was his. Many other GMs have similarly failed and suffered the consequences. Hurts might have the necessary gene to thrive here. Or maybe the Eagles draft another quarterback with the No. 6 overall pick in two months and he has that characteristic.
But Roseman, for better or worse, will get another crack at finding one.