Carson Wentz’s regression this season has been among the most dramatic in NFL history, and statistically speaking, the most significant for any quarterback under the age of 30.
If Wentz’s season effectively ended last week – and it could after he was demoted ahead of the Eagles’ game against the Saints on Sunday – he would finish with the largest decrease in passer rating (25.5 points) compared with his prior three seasons for any under-30 quarterback since 1950.
From 2017 to 2019, Wentz’s rating was 98.3. After the loss last Sunday to the Packers, in which he was yanked in the third quarter for backup Jalen Hurts, his rating was 72.8.
Five quarterbacks had drop-offs of 24 points or more, and four – Y.A. Tittle in 1964, Peyton Manning in 2015, Joe Theismann in 1985, and Brett Favre in 2010 – were 36 years or older and would retire after the season.
Only the 31-year-old Mark Rypien continued playing after the 1993 season and he would never recapture his previous form.
The 27-year-old Wentz isn’t retiring. Many around the NFL, despite his one-year regression, believe that he is fixable. The question then becomes: Who does the fixing? The majority of executives, coaches, scouts, and agents interviewed for this story said that the Eagles’ best course of action this offseason was to keep Wentz.
“Carson didn’t somehow forget how to play football,” an AFC executive said. “The investment has been made. Rebuild around him.”
The four-year, $128 million contract the Eagles gave Wentz in June 2019 makes moving him difficult, although not impossible. A trade once the league year opens on March 17 would save the team $24,547,072 against the salary cap, but it would still take a substantial $34,673,536 hit in dead money.
To put the dead-money figure in perspective, it would be approximately $13.5 million more than the previous high, set in 2019 when the Steelers released disruptive receiver Antonio Brown. Complicating matters further, the Eagles are projected to be among the most cash-strapped teams in the league with a cap that isn’t expected to increase much because of the financial implications of the pandemic.
The Eagles couldn’t have foreseen a pandemic. Few could have predicted Wentz would slump so much. But much of Wentz’s undoing is on the team, predominantly coach Doug Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman – from poor coaching to faulty roster management, from unproductive play-calling to substandard drafts.
“They made some bad decisions and Carson’s paying for it,” an agent who represents quarterbacks said. “Carson hasn’t held up his end of the bargain either. To suggest this is 100 percent on Carson and you replace him and all your problems are fixed. No way. Absolutely no way.
“You could probably write a book about this one day. The demise of the Eagles from a Super Bowl team in just a few years.”
Who will fix Wentz?
The decision to draft Hurts in the second round, though, less than a year after the Eagles gave Wentz a franchise extension, was cited by many league sources as the team’s most confounding move.
“Howie likes having quarterbacks and it’s the most important position,” the agent said. “But I’m not sure they considered Carson losing his confidence and playing so poorly. That’s part of the decision I’m not sure was prevalent for them.
“The point where he watched his backup win the Super Bowl ... Had that not happened, and he won it, it would be one thing. But he did watch Foles win, and win the locker room over. It was a curious pick and it’s obviously blown up in their face. And who else could they have picked in Hurts’ place?”
Most expect owner Jeffrey Lurie to retain Roseman, however, despite his many mistakes the last three offseasons. There was a consensus that Pederson wouldn’t return for a sixth season despite winning the Super Bowl in 2017.
Pederson, who made the call Monday to go with Hurts, said several times during the week that he believed Wentz could be resurrected. It’s unclear whether any change will be seen this season. Pederson declared Hurts his starter for only the Saints game so far.
The Eagles, internally, believe that stepping back and relieving some of the pressure can help Wentz “clear his mind,” a team source said. But was this a move made for the immediate future with the current coaching staff or for the long term with another?
Pederson and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor were able to turn Wentz around in the final four games of last season. But his struggles in the first 12 games a year ago were nothing like they have been this season. It’s fair to question whether Pederson and Taylor deserve another shot.
Taylor wouldn’t go into specifics into how he would improve Wentz – “I wouldn’t say that he needs to be fixed in the sense that he’s a broken quarterback,” he said – but he said that he believes he’s the man for the job.
“I do feel like Carson and I have a great relationship,” Taylor said Friday. “I feel like I understand his game very well.”
But if Pederson isn’t coming back, neither is Taylor. And if Lurie and, assuming, Roseman, decide they have no other choice but to bring Wentz back, it’s unlikely the pair will be given another opportunity.
Based upon Lurie’s track record, it shouldn’t be too difficult to assess what a candidate to replace Pederson will look like. He will be offensive-minded, a play-caller with innovations, and someone who has worked closely and had success with quarterbacks.
But how many great offensive head coaches are out there? Pederson was held in that regard just three years ago, but that was when he had then-offensive coordinator Frank Reich and then-quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo on staff. Wentz’s mechanics, several sources said, have noticeably gotten worse in three seasons.
“He needs a strong coach who stresses the details,” an NFC senior scout said. “Mechanics, progressions, etc. Just need to rebuild his confidence and surround him with better personnel. It’s not all on him, but it starts with him being disciplined.
“He was best when Flip was coaching him and stressing the details. He needs to get back to that.”
If Wentz is in the plans, Lurie could be attracted to offensive coordinators who have been responsible for either reviving a quarterback’s career or taking one’s to greater heights. The Titans’ Arthur Smith (Ryan Tannenhill) and the Bills’ Brian Daboll (Josh Allen) will be hot commodities for some teams with head coaching vacancies.
“Arthur Smith could be a prominent name in the Eagles’ building because he resurrected Ryan Tannenhill,” an NFC executive said. “And to me, that’s how the Eagles think. They’re going to say, ‘OK, it’s going to be too tough to keep Wentz’s cap number and not have him here. Let’s try to resurrect him.’
“Because I don’t see [Hurts] turning this thing around in four games.”
Who would trade for Wentz?
The Hurts variable could still affect how the Eagles view Wentz post-2020. If he plays at a high level, the team could be more inclined to seek a trade. But the more likely scenario is that he doesn’t, especially with the 10-2 Saints and their No.1-ranked defense on deck
“If he plays well, then you have no choice but to keep Hurts in the lineup with Wentz as the backup,” an NFC coach said. “As we’ve seen in this league, it’s important to have two [quarterbacks]. If Hurts fails, then Philly should commit to rebuilding the [offensive line] and surrounding Wentz with younger playmakers.
“Let’s be honest, their O-line is old and beat up and outside of the tight ends and running backs, Wentz was throwing to mostly practice-squad-caliber wide receivers.”
Hurts’ struggling would take a lot of pressure off Wentz. While it could compel Pederson to reinstate the starter, with the postseason likely out of reach, he may use the final four games as a chance to evaluate the rookie.
But what if the Eagles felt that Wentz wasn’t salvageable, no matter how Hurts performs? If they were to lose their final four games, they would be drafting in the top five, with several quarterback prospects apparently worth that price.
“It would make sense to me to try and trade Wentz and draft one,” the agent said. “I don’t know if there’s a history in our league of a guy who played at an MVP level and regressed so much and seemingly lost his confidence.
“But where do quarterbacks regain confidence? To me, I’m not sure he doesn’t have to leave the building to do that.”
There aren’t many examples of quarterbacks getting their mojos back with the same team. Kurt Warner was a Super Bowl-winning MVP with the Rams, but he suddenly became a turnover machine and it took two stops before he regained his form with the Cardinals.
Reich and the Colts would be the most likely trade partner. Colts quarterback Philip Rivers is on a one-year contract and just turned 39. The Patriots, Bears, and Broncos would also make sense.
Wentz’s contract wouldn’t be so out of line with other starting quarterbacks. The team signing him would essentially be on the hook for $47 million over the first two years. But teams could balk at the Eagles’ trade demands. Wentz is unlikely to fetch a first-round pick.
The Eagles would likely want to deal Wentz before March 20, the date $15 million of his $22 million base salary for 2022 becomes fully guaranteed. They could try to trade him post-June 1, as to push dead money into future years, but they wouldn’t have many suitors and draft compensation wouldn’t come until 2022.
There are just too many obstacles to clear, the most significant being Wentz’s contract.
“I’d be scared to death, but I’d roll with Wentz,” an NFC senior scout said. “The bed has been made and the cap is such a big part of this. Cap is going down, so they’re going to have to do a lot of gymnastics to be compliant.”
The Eagles project to approximately $65 million over next year’s cap. They can trim into that by releasing veterans like receivers Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson, but they still will eat dead money from their contracts. Roseman could continue the habit of borrowing against the future by converting base salaries into bonuses, but that’s how he got into cap trouble in the first place.
It’s likely he expected to do the same with Wentz, but the quarterback’s unprecedented regression makes it unlikely that the Eagles can push more guaranteed money into the future. With Wentz, they could be living on borrowed time, but only because of their own doing.
“I think they stay committed to him through one more full offseason and preseason,” an AFC general manger said. “He’s got too much ability and they have too much invested in him to pull the plug so quickly. This could change if Hurts lights it up the last four games.
“But they have a poor roster and that would be unexpected. So barring something unforeseen by Hurts, I think Wentz will be given the benefit of the doubt and remain.”