The third of 10 parts previewing the Eagles’ 90-man roster, as the team continues to conduct virtual offseason workouts.
Carson Wentz is headed into his fifth year whenever this season gets underway. Wentz will count for roughly $18 million against the salary cap this year, so the years of building around a quarterback on a cheap rookie contract are officially behind the Eagles. It’s still early in his career, though, and the Eagles offense is far from talent-deprived, especially up front. He finished last season on a high note, but he’ll have to improve if the Eagles are going to make it far this season.
Wentz’s pocket presence, primarily his ball security while staring down a pass rush, left a lot to be desired last season. He had a career-high 16 fumbles, second-most in the NFL behind only Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. He has a tendency to rely on his size when dealing with approaching rushers instead of evading them with quickness and anticipation.
While he improved off his injury-marred 2018, Wentz has yet to return to the 2017 form that placed him in the MVP conversation before tearing his ACL. So what’s missing? The ball protection is certainly part of it. He had nine fumbles in 13 games during the 2017 season, which comes out to 0.69 a game. He averaged one fumble per game last year.
But the most noticeable difference between peak Wentz and the most recent version is his willingness to push the ball down the field into tight windows. In 2017, he led the league with 25% of his throws being into tight windows, according to NextGenStats. Last season, he ranked 21st, down to 16%. In his defense, there’s more than one way to get it done: Patrick Mahomes threw the third-lowest rate of tight-window passes last season.
Nitpicking aside, the Eagles can go into next season knowing they have a franchise quarterback, one with potential to be one of the best in the NFL when everything is clicking.
Enough about Wentz, though. Nate Sudfeld is returning, too, after a less-than-fruitful testing of the free-agency market. He’ll get another preseason audition for the QB2 spot, but it might not last, even if he wins it this summer (more on that later). Sudfeld’s tenure as the backup quarterback was short-lived last season after a wrist injury in the preseason opener shelved him long enough to lose the gig to Josh McCown.
Kyle Lauletta will be back for training camp after spending most of last season on the practice squad.
You might have heard the Eagles selected a quarterback in the second round of the draft. By taking Jalen Hurts so early, Howie Roseman has presumably bought himself a few years of a low-cost backup who could develop into a starter someday.
As of now, Hurts is the only new face hopping on to Press Taylor’s quarterback Zoom meetings. He will have to take some incredible notes in those meetings, based on what Eagles coach Doug Pederson has said this offseason about the disadvantage rookies will be at while preparing for the year.
Without on-field practice time, Hurts is going to be playing catch-up whenever the season starts. It’s hard to imagine Hurts picking things up quickly enough to be one play away if the Eagles start the year against Washington. It’s also hard to imagine he won’t eventually surpass Sudfeld, though. If he never sees the field as a rookie, it would make an already polarizing draft pick seem even worse. Whether he gets snaps as a specialist in a limited package of plays or in relief of Wentz remains to be seen.
Josh McCown’s plans for this season are unclear, but it’s likely the only way he’ll return to the Eagles would be as an assistant coach. It was evident how much Wentz and the Eagles as a whole valued McCown’s leadership in the quarterback room after he was lured out of retirement by the Birds during the preseason. In relief of Wentz against Seattle in the wild-card round, McCown performed about as well as could be expected of a 40-year-old backup, especially considering he suffered a torn hamstring during the game.