The awkward, uncomfortable wait is over, but the questions and repercussions will echo for quite some time.
The Eagles are trading quarterback Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts for a third-round draft pick this year and a conditional second-round pick in 2022, a league source said, confirming reports Thursday from ESPN and the NFL Network.
The second-round pick can be a first-rounder if Wentz either plays 75% of the Colts’ snaps in 2021, or plays 70% of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs, as they did in 2020.
This is far less than general manager Howie Roseman sought when he began entertaining offers, after comparing the Eagles being without Wentz to losing “the fingers on your hand,” in a postseason news conference. Roseman might feel now that he has done what he had to do, but it certainly was not what he wanted to do. He wasn’t high-fiving anyone when he put down the phone from his call with Colts general manager Chris Ballard.
Roseman initially asked for a haul closer to what the Lions got from the Rams for quarterback Matt Stafford — two first-round picks, a third-rounder, and QB Jared Goff. Those aspirations were widely ridiculed, given Wentz’s horrific performance in 2020 and reports that he resisted attempts to fix his flaws.
The Eagles were left to take the Colts’ offer when Wentz would not agree to go to Chicago, which might have been willing to offer a little more, league sources said, but wasn’t officially offering anything until it knew Wentz wanted to be there.
The team incurs an NFL-record $33.8 million dead salary cap charge for 2021 but will face no further obligation, brightening the 2022 cap picture considerably. The dead money would have increased to $43.8 million had the Eagles not traded Wentz by March 19, when he was due a $10 million bonus. (When a player is traded, some of the money owed to him remains as a salary cap charge, creating so-called “dead” money -- the team no longer has the player but has to account for him under the cap. The more dead money, the less money available to pay other players.)
The trade can’t become official until the 4 p.m. March 17 start of the league year, so Roseman won’t be answering any questions before then, and likewise, there will be no Wentz news conference in Indianapolis.
Unknown for now is whether Jalen Hurts inherits Wentz’s mantle, or if the Eagles use their sixth overall pick in the April draft to begin again with a highly rated prospect. An ESPN report Thursday said that the team “will bring in competition” for Hurts, and will not automatically commit to him as the starter. Given that the Eagles don’t draft as high as sixth very often, and don’t want to make it a habit, they most certainly will evaluate this quarterback class against what they think they have in Hurts.
This all seemed completely unimaginable before the Eagles spent their second-round 2020 draft pick, 53rd overall, on Hurts. And even then, it seemed barely conceivable, a distant rumble of thunder on the horizon.
The Eagles needed a capable, cheap backup for Wentz, they thought when they reached for Hurts -- a guy who could win games as a fill-in and maybe be more than that. But they also were a bit uneasy with the arc of Wentz’s career. The injuries that had kept him from having played a full playoff game in four seasons, the existence of the “Philly Special” statue of Nick Foles outside Lincoln Financial Field -- these were not things management envisioned when it drafted Wentz to be the face of the franchise.
Reversal of fortune
The skies darkened quickly during the Eagles’ 4-11-1 season in 2020, with Wentz showing a disastrous, uncharacteristic knack for throwing crushing interceptions, and the Eagles’ offense unable to produce. Offensive line injuries — 14 different starting combinations — and a lack of healthy weapons that has plagued the team each year after the Super Bowl season of 2017 played a role in the quarterback’s demise. But Wentz made puzzling decisions and missed easy throws as well, before being benched in the second quarter of a Dec. 6 loss at Green Bay.
After missing on passes to Zach Ertz and John Hightower to kill a series that began with a 41-yard completion to Dallas Goedert, the Eagles down, 20-3, Wentz found himself listening to Doug Pederson telling him that Hurts would quarterback the next set of downs. Wentz, 6-for-15 for 59 yards that day, never took another Eagles snap, finishing the season with an NFL-high 15 interceptions, and 50 sacks. His 72.8 passer rating and 57.4% completion percentage each ranked 34th.
Wentz spoke after the Green Bay game, then never again as an Eagle.
“I didn’t know what the plan was, fully, I was just told that he was going in for the next play and the next series, so I didn’t really know what was going on there. But obviously, that’s frustrating, as a competitor, and just the personality that I have. I want to be the guy out there,” Wentz said. “But it is what it is. They made the call today. At the end of the day, we lost. ... I think, for me, that’s what I’m most frustrated about.”
Wentz heads into a much more promising situation. The Colts were 11-5 in 2020, lost in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, then saw 39-year-old quarterback Philip Rivers retire. Their head coach is Frank Reich, who was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. They also employ, as a consultant, Press Taylor, Wentz’s friend and quarterbacks coach here from 2018 through 2020.
Initially, huge success
Trading up twice in the 2016 draft, from 13th to eighth overall, then to second, to draft Wentz was Roseman’s masterstroke, the key to building the team that won Super Bowl LII, even though Wentz went down with two torn knee ligaments in that season’s 13th game, and backup Foles was the Super Bowl MVP.
In retrospect, this circumstance, as odd as any in Super Bowl history, might have helped foretell what was to become. At the time, it seemed just a bump in the road for Wentz, who performed at a league MVP level until he was injured, then garnered praise for the assistance he provided Foles and his teammates.
“To me, one of the greatest things about a person that you can say is when you see him celebrating somebody else’s success,” Reich said between the Eagles’ NFC title game blowout of Minnesota and their Super Bowl LII victory over New England. “Human nature tells you that’s hard to do, and it’s been fun to see those two do that. It’s fun to see Carson have the maturity to truly celebrate Nick’s success and understanding how he’s helping this team, and also with the frustration knowing that he wants to be in there.”
Wentz set the team record for touchdown passes in a season that year with 33, the final one thrown to Alshon Jeffery a few plays after Wentz suffered the knee injury.
The Eagles have never seemed surer of anything than they were when they drafted Wentz, after a process that included dinner in Fargo, N.D., with team owner Jeffrey Lurie. As was apparent in the Eagles’ recent coaching search, Lurie is all about process, and when he spoke to reporters after Wentz’s rookie season, that was what he touted.
“It was a very detailed and involved process. I can’t begin to tell you. Some day we can write a book about this if it works out,” Lurie said at the 2017 NFL owners meetings. “Very detailed. Multiple workouts. The testing was physiologically and medically in every way you could imagine and in ways you never even heard of. Eighty pages of reports.”
Injuries and complications
Those reports didn’t include the possibility of a major knee injury, followed the next year by a back injury that ended Wentz’s 2018 season after 11 games, followed the next year by a concussion that ended Wentz’s first playoff appearance in the first quarter. And the reports didn’t foresee Foles winning playoff games two years in a row, dividing the fan base at least slightly before the Eagles let Foles head off into free agency in 2019.
The reports didn’t account for the frustrations that developed on both sides as the Eagles’ talent declined around Wentz, or the coaching changes that took Reich and John DeFilippo, the quarterbacks coach, out of the organization, replaced by people who didn’t seem able to get Wentz to shore up his mechanics or buy into Pederson’s offensive vision.
Wentz ends his Eagles career with 68 starts, a 35-32-1 record, 1,562 completions in 2,492 attempts, for 16,811 yards and a 62.7 completion percentage. He threw for 113 touchdowns against 50 interceptions, and compiled an 89.2 passer rating. In yardage, touchdowns, attempts, and completions, he ranks fourth in franchise history, behind Donovan McNabb, Ron Jaworski, and Randall Cunningham.
Firing the coach didn’t heal the breach
Observers cited Pederson’s disconnect from Wentz as a reason why the only Eagles coach ever to win a Super Bowl was fired, three years later. A few weeks before he benched Wentz, Pederson opined that their futures were linked. Removing Pederson didn’t change Wentz’s mind about wanting to leave, so, ultimately, the coach was correct. But it seems apparent now that Pederson’s issues with the front office went much deeper than Wentz.
Whatever Wentz’s future might hold, the fact that the Eagles had to make such a trade is a debacle for an organization that likes to consider itself among the NFL’s elite. Acquiring Wentz meant expending five draft picks — including a 2017 first-rounder, 12th overall, that eventually was used on quarterback Deshaun Watson. Then there was the matter of the franchise’s largest-ever contract, awarded in 2019, which led to the setting of the league’s dead-cap record.
That the Eagles couldn’t convince Wentz to try to fix his flaws and redeem his promise under the leadership of new coach Nick Sirianni means one of two things must be true: Either Wentz isn’t at all the sort of person the Eagles’ 80 pages of predraft reports indicated he was, the person they banked on him being when they committed $128 million after spending three seasons with him, or Wentz, after watching the roster deteriorate around him, decided that Lurie and Roseman were unlikely to provide him with what he needed to succeed. Neither scenario reflects well upon the organization.
An NFL management source who predicted this week that the Eagles would end up trading with the Colts because that was where Wentz wanted to go, also felt the Eagles and Wentz might have been better off if they could have patched up their differences. “But I get the impression that both sides are done with each other,” the source said.
How and why this came to be might be endlessly debated in Philadelphia.
The night Wentz was drafted, April 28, 2016, at the Roosevelt University auditorium in Chicago, someone asked him about being the organization’s highest selection since the Eagles took all-time leading passer McNabb second overall in 1999.
“That’s the goal,” Wentz said then. “You want to come in and hopefully call Philadelphia home for a long time. Hopefully win games, win Super Bowls.”