INDIANAPOLIS – With Nick Foles seeking a starting job elsewhere, the Eagles’ biggest question at quarterback is now who will replace Foles as the No. 2 — a role that has turned into the No. 1 the last two Decembers after Carson Wentz was injured.
Nate Sudfeld, who has been with the team since September 2017, would seem to be the natural replacement for Foles. He’s a restricted free agent and is expected back with the team. However, the Eagles are not prepared to hand Sudfeld that job without competition – and that competition could be a veteran quarterback with starting experience, which Sudfeld lacks.
“Nate’s really put himself in a position to compete for it,” coach Doug Pederson said. “We don’t just go around and give out jobs, but at the same time, we want him to compete for that spot. We feel like he’s earned the opportunity to do that. I’m comfortable with him, what he’s done.”
The organization places a premium on the backup quarterback spot, as evidenced in recent years by the contracts paid to Foles and Chase Daniel. Owner Jeffrey Lurie said in an interview before Super Bowl LII that he views the No. 2 quarterback as an essential ingredient in building a championship team.
The list of potential backup quarterbacks with notable starting experience includes Tyrod Taylor, Josh McCown, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Trevor Siemian, and possibly Ryan Tannehill and Blake Bortles, among others. The Eagles don’t have a starting competition to offer, but they do have a starter who has missed eight regular-season and five postseason starts during the last two years.
It’s unknown how or if Sudfeld’s presence will cloud that search. Sudfeld has attempted only 25 career passes in the regular season and has not started a game, although the Eagles felt comfortable with Sudfeld as their No. 2 quarterback in the Super Bowl. Foles had started 36 career games when he returned to the Eagles in 2016.
The other option would be to draft a rookie quarterback to pair with Sudfeld and let them compete this offseason. The Eagles used this approach in 2012, when Mike Kafka was a third-year developmental quarterback in the system with little playing experience, and the Eagles selected Foles in the third round. Foles beat out Kafka for the No. 2 job that summer.
“I think it can go both ways,” Pederson said. “You’ve seen what we’ve done the last couple of seasons … We had Chase Daniel the first year and then of course Nick the last two years. Chase didn’t have a ton of game experience. Nick had.
"When you have that quarterback-in-waiting, so to speak, like Nate, who’s seen a lot of football the last couple of years, it’s a great opportunity for him. You can kind of go either way, you can go with the younger guy, you can kind of bring in a veteran free agent, but at the same time, I want Nate to compete for it and see where it’s at.”
When discussing Sudfeld, Pederson said he likes Sudfeld’s size (6-foot-6, 227 pounds), arm strength, and accuracy. He said Sudfeld is working on mobility, pocket presence, and awareness.
“The stuff we saw in practice was how well he’s become comfortable with our offense, how he prepares our defense during the course of the week, and he’s a smart quarterback; he’s highly intelligent, he’s got great ideas,” Pederson said. “Again, somebody that we feel comfortable with competing for that No. 2 job.”
When Pederson was a rookie coach in 2016, he wanted to draft a quarterback every year to develop, so there’s a pipeline at the position. They selected Wentz in 2016 but didn’t take a quarterback the last two years, although Sudfeld filled the role after the Eagles signed Washington’s 2016 sixth-round pick to the practice squad before the 2017 season opener.
If the Eagles go back to that model and draft a quarterback, it will likely be with a late-round pick. That would take them out of the running for big-name quarterbacks in this draft such as Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones, and West Virginia’s Will Grier.
Later in the draft, there are accomplished college passers such as Penn State’s Trace McSorley and North Dakota State’s Easton Stick, who replaced Wentz in college. La Salle High alumnus Kyle Shurmur, who played at Vanderbilt and is the son of Giants coach Pat Shurmur, is also in this class.
“The intangible part is a huge part of the quarterback position,” said McSorley, who was praised for his intangibles with the Nittany Lions and has spoken to the Eagles in Indianapolis. “That’s something I’ve been able to prove a little bit and something coaches have been able to dive a little bit into and find a little bit more out about me. The intangibles are something coaches have been harping on. But it’s not completely who I am. I can talk to [teams] about plays, protections, route schemes, run-game schemes.”
The quarterbacks work out at the combine on Saturday, and the Eagles will have a better idea of their offseason plans upon returning to Philadelphia. The Eagles have until March 13 to exercise their restricted-free-agent-tender on Sudfeld.
If he’s tendered at the second-round level, he’ll make about $3 million in 2019 unless another team signs him to an offer sheet. Sudfeld recently hired Wentz’s agent. The Eagles can sign a veteran quarterback from another team beginning on March 13, too.
But the Eagles have shifted attention from what they will do with Foles to how they will replace him. For the first time in two years, there will be changes on the quarterback depth chart. Sudfeld will get a chance to be Wentz’s backup, but the Eagles made clear that it’s not a certainty.