Nick Sirianni has his work cut out for him. The new Eagles coach is taking over a football team that won just four games this season and has a quarterback — Carson Wentz — who finished at or near the bottom of just about every significant NFL passing category.
Wentz was benched by Sirianni’s predecessor, Doug Pederson, in early December. Wentz’s replacement, rookie second-round pick Jalen Hurts, showed flashes of promise and even helped lead the Eagles to an upset win over the New Orleans Saints.
But the Eagles are paying Wentz a ton of money that makes trading him a challenge and keeping him on the bench an unappetizing alternative.
Which is why owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman are hoping the 39-year-old Sirianni and whomever he is bringing in to be his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach can fix Wentz.
“It behooves us as a team with a new coach and a new coaching staff to be able to really get him back to that elite progression,” Lurie said last week after firing Pederson, who was sacked after making it clear to Lurie and Roseman that he preferred to go forward with Hurts as his starter.
Lurie insisted last week that he really had no preference as to whether his next coach had an offensive or defensive background. But it was clear from the beginning of the 10-day, 11-interview search that he wanted an offensive guy who could fix the Deerhunter.
The Eagles’ other coaching finalist, New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, actually is more qualified to repair a broken quarterback. But Lurie realized that a McDaniels-Roseman partnership would’ve had the shelf life of a carton of milk.
Enter Sirianni, 39, who has spent the last three years serving as Frank Reich’s offensive coordinator in Indianapolis. He spent two of those three seasons working with Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers. That’s akin to being a Hollywood concierge doctor compared to the bloody trauma work he’s facing with Wentz, who had a 72.8 passer rating and threw a league-high 15 interceptions in 2020.
The first thing Sirianni will have to ascertain is whether Wentz even wants to be fixed. If he doesn’t, this could get ugly very quickly. But Lurie and Roseman are committed to Wentz. According to a league source, no one from the organization has even bothered to contact Hurts since the end of the season.
“Carson has to recognize that he has mechanical issues and fundamental flaws that need to be addressed,” said NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger. “It starts there. If he fights it or doesn’t agree with it or feels that all he needed was a [coaching] change and it’ll be all good, then he’s sadly mistaken.”
Sirianni is going to have to delegate a lot of the fix-Carson duties to his still-unnamed offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Because he’s got 52 other players to coach.
“I’ve seen a lot of these kinds of hires over the years,” said Baldinger, who spent 11 years as an NFL offensive lineman prior to his long career as a broadcaster. “My only problem is, if your No. 1 goal is to fix Carson, well, what about the other 52 guys? Can you connect with those players?
“You might get your quarterback fixed, but what’s your defense going to do? What are you going to do when you stand up in front of the room and address these guys? What are you going to do when you’re in the middle of a three-game losing streak and everybody is ready to jump off the ship? How do you handle that part? Nobody knows.
“I think Nick will have a plan for Carson. But he’s never been in this situation before, so nobody really knows how he’s going to react or what he’s going to do or who he’s going to hire to really work with Carson every day.”
Pederson was hired in 2016, the same year the Eagles selected Wentz with the second pick in the draft. He hired Sirianni’s Colts boss, Reich, as his offensive coordinator, and John DeFilippo as his quarterbacks coach.
Reich and DeFilippo did a terrific job coaching up Wentz. Wentz’s problems started after the two of them left following the Eagles’ Super Bowl win in 2017.
“Frank was really good with the ideas and suggestions,” Baldinger said. “Very understated in how he handled everything, but still had an executive feel to him.
“DeFilippo had to do a lot of the dirty work, a lot of the hard work. I remember him telling me after Carson’s first season how he had to read Carson the riot act. He told him that if he didn’t change some things, he wasn’t ever going to be a top-tier quarterback.
“Carson fought him on it. But they spent a lot of time together, and in the end, he got him to change a lot of the things he was doing. He made him realize he wasn’t at North Dakota State anymore. That was hard coaching that Carson needed.”
Since returning from the torn ACL in 2018, however, Wentz hasn’t had any hard coaching. Pederson replaced DeFilippo with Press Taylor, who became more buddy than coach to Wentz. Until Pederson benched him in Week 13, Wentz had been babied, pampered.
“When Carson was at North Dakota State, he was just so much better physically than the people he was playing against,” Baldinger said. “He didn’t even really have to learn the basics of throwing the football and things like weight transfer and stance.
“You can still see, five years in, he still tries to muscle the ball all the time. He throws off the wrong foot. He had a 57.4 completion percentage this season in a league that had, something like, 22-23 guys with 65.0 completion percentages. He couldn’t complete a simple screen to Miles Sanders. He was fundamentally a mess at times.”
The upside for Sirianni is that if he can somehow fix Wentz and turn around an Eagles offense that finished 26th in scoring and 24th in total offense this season, he’ll be hailed as the league’s newest offensive guru. If he can’t fix him, well, Lurie and Roseman will help him select some new offensive assistants.
The Eagles went 1-3 in Hurts’ four starts at the end of the season. But if you watched those games, you couldn’t help but notice the way the players reacted to the rookie. They played hard for him. They seemed energized, despite their poor record.
If Sirianni isn’t able to fix Wentz this season, but keeps sending him out there, the new coach is going to have a locker room problem.
“You watch a lot of those games last year, the players didn’t respond to [Wentz],” Baldinger said. “You can only march him out there so many times and come up with a goose egg or three points in the first half of these games before the other players say, he can’t do it.
“When Jalen went out there and beat the Saints, I don’t care what his stats were that day. He beat the Saints. That was something Carson hadn’t been able to do in forever, beating a really good team like that. The whole team responded. The defense played their best game. Everybody played their best game. That’s kind of what quarterbacks do. They elevate everybody.”