There are no good solutions, only an obvious one. Whatever your opinion of Carson Wentz’s long-term viability as an NFL starter, or of the odds that Jalen Hurts emerges as a franchise quarterback, or of precarious offseason decisions that await this organization, the Eagles’ offense has spent five consecutive weeks looking incapable of functioning. During those five weeks, Doug Pederson has changed his offensive line and his corps of pass-catchers. He’s changed his running backs, and his play-calling responsibilities, and his scheme. The only thing he has not changed is his quarterback.
Five weeks is a long time, long enough to conclude that Pederson’s offense will not change for the better with the same guy under center. The head coach arrived at this conclusion midway through the third quarter of a 30-16 loss to the Packers on Sunday evening. There is no conceivable way in which his rationale could change.
“I just felt like, where we were as an offense, we needed a spark,” Pederson said later.
From a long-term perspective, it’s anybody’s guess where the Eagles go from here. Where they can go, where they should go, where they will go — there’s no guarantee that any of the answers are the same. But with regard to the short term, they are both unanimous and self-evidential. The Eagles made their bed in April. Now, it’s time for them to see if it was for better or for worse.
This much is clear: The Eagles have nothing to gain by putting Wentz back under center. There is nothing they can salvage from his smoldering wreck of his season. Loyalty? Feelings? Confidence? At this point, none of them can be unshattered. Wentz might be a professional, but he isn’t a dummy. Any damage that can be done has already been inflicted. No matter how many times Pederson insists that football is bigger than the quarterback position, from a quarterback’s perspective, that simply isn’t so.
“I know what I’m capable of,” Wentz said after he completed 6-of-15 passes for 79 yards and was sacked four times. “I know I can play better. I’ve never doubted myself or lost confidence in my abilities.”
But, then, a quarterback’s capital does not come from self-belief. It comes from the belief he inspires in others. And even if Wentz is telling the truth when he says that the Eagles’ decision to draft Hurts did not faze him, he just as surely understands what it means now.
For the time being, the wisdom of that decision is a moot point. The next four weeks will tell us plenty about that. If the offense performs as it did during Hurts’ first two series against the Packers, it will legitimize the extraordinary risk the organization took in adding him to the fold. If it suffers the same regression that has followed its prior bouts of competence — as it appeared to do on Hurts’ third series — it will legitimize the criticisms that so many of us had. Time always tells.
Either way, the Eagles are headed toward an offseason unlike any they have experienced in Jeffrey Lurie’s tenure as owner. With regard to the salary cap, a trade of Wentz is not a complete impossibility. With regard to the long-term strategic plan, though, it is close to unthinkable. Waving the white flag on 2020 is one thing. But is it really possible that the Eagles have seen enough out of Wentz, and will see enough out of Hurts, to conclude that their best chance at winning a Super Bowl in the next five to 10 years is with Hurts as their quarterback and Wentz playing elsewhere?
It’s a conundrum whose circumstances and implications are too mind-bending to fathom at this point in time. Instead, let’s focus on what we know about the here and now. Even if Wentz remains in the Eagles’ long-term plans, the best thing for them and him might be to spend the last month of the season on the bench. It would give him a chance to walk away from a season in good health for the first time since he was a rookie. It would give him a chance to reset a mind that has obviously been taxed by the team’s dysfunction. And it would give him his best chance of walking into the offseason with his head held high. Because if the quarterback position wasn’t the primary cause of the Eagles’ stunning ineptitude under Wentz, then it will presumably show as Hurts gives it the old college try.
In that regard, Hurts’ first extended action left a lot open to interpretation. His ability to buy time and make plays with his feet paid obvious dividends, none more so than on the scrambling, 32-yard touchdown pass that he threw to Greg Ward on third-and-forever to spark an electric but short-lived rally. He looked calm, and confident, and more or less in control. He made a number of strong, catchable, on-target throws, including a perfectly placed 34-yarder to Jalen Reagor, who had a quarter-step on his man down the left sideline. At the same time, he was under pressure on nearly every snap, and he made several throws that reflected those circumstances, most notably an interception that never had a chance.
“Again, I gotta look at the tape and evaluate it, but he did some good things,” Pederson said of Hurts. “He used his legs when he had to … got us back in this football game that we needed, and that was kind of the spark to get us back in this football game. But I’ll have to really evaluate the film to say how he played overall.”
At the moment, the only thing we can conclude definitively is that he should get a full week of practice as the No. 1 starter, and a game plan devised with the understanding that he will be the one executing it. Where that leaves Wentz is a conversation for a future time.