While the NFL waited for Nick Foles to make the decision that everyone already knew he would make, Nate Sudfeld stayed quiet. He and Foles are close, yes. But he did not text Foles to ask, Where you gonna end up? He did not bring it up in conversation. Code of the quarterback and all that.
“As a friend, you’re curious where he’s going,” Sudfeld was saying Tuesday, after the Eagles finished a couple of hours on the NovaCare Complex practice fields during their organized team activities. “There are some implications for what happens to me. But I’ve learned throughout my time in the NFL – and it’s so cliché – that if I’m worried about things I can’t control, that I have no say in, I’ll just drive myself crazy. So I just try to turn it off as much as possible, have my own conversations with my agent and the Eagles, and let it play out.
“I kind of compartmentalized it. I was really excited for him. But I didn’t really think about the implications for me.”
Maybe he didn’t think about them because he didn’t have to. Except to those Eagles fans who were thinking wishfully that Foles, for some reason, would choose not to grab the opportunity he had created for himself over the last two years, everything about the situation was predictable. Foles signed with and immediately became a starter for another team – the Jacksonville Jaguars – which meant Sudfeld would move up a notch on the Eagles’ depth chart to become Carson Wentz’s primary backup. Cut, dried, no muss, no fuss. Right?
Just about. In April, the Eagles selected Northwestern’s Clayton Thorson in the fifth round of the draft – a pick for development and depth reasons, sure, but a quarterback nonetheless. Then, earlier this month, they signed Cody Kessler, a three-year veteran with more regular-season experience than Sudfeld, and the question of who would succeed the best backup quarterback in recent NFL history, let alone all of Eagles history, got a little murkier.
“He has started games in this league,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said of Kessler. “His biggest issue now is just learning the playbook. He’s only been here a short period of time, but he'll get some opportunity this spring. Nate has an opportunity to really compete and solidify the No. 2 spot.”
When it comes to backup quarterbacks, Kessler hits the sweet spot for NFL coaches and executives: a team-first guy, not a wave-maker, just enough experience that he won’t get flustered if he has to step in, not accomplished enough that he would pose any real threat to the starter in an open competition. He started four games for the Jaguars last season after they (at long last) benched Blake Bortles. And as a rookie with the Browns in 2016, he started eight games – and lost all eight – after taking over for Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, who were injured in Cleveland’s first two games. The Browns went 1-15 that season, then 0-16 in 2017.
» READ MORE: The first (unofficial) depth chart of 2019
“Got thrown into the fire there, but it really prepared me for what was going to happen the next couple of years, all the adversity and everything,” Kessler said. “We had some really good leaders on that team who did everything they could. It was definitely tough each Monday to come in there and put that positive face on it, that positive mindset. But there was no other option. It was the only thing you could do. If you didn’t, it would have just gotten worse.”
No other option than to be positive on a team that lost 31 of 32 games? Yes, coaches love that sort of attitude, those intangibles, so it’s no wonder the Eagles were willing to bring Kessler in. But it’s not clear that he will pose any real threat to Sudfeld in an open competition to be Wentz’s understudy.
Kessler has appeared in more games (17) than Sudfeld (three) and thrown more passes (349-25), but that difference in experience isn’t so vast that it gives Kessler any significant advantage. Sudfeld (6-foot-6) is bigger than Kessler (6-1), has a stronger arm than Kessler, and is more familiar with the Eagles’ offense than Kessler, having spent two seasons with the team already.
“Just a couple of years in the NFL, you understand concepts better, and I really think I’ve gotten a lot more athletic,” Sudfeld said. “I’ve caught up with my body. I’m kind of a late bloomer, just physically. I’m quicker, faster, stronger, everything.”
Truth be told, the Eagles have invested enough in Sudfeld’s development that it would seem a waste of their time to replace him with Kessler, unless Kessler proves throughout training camp and the preseason to be an obvious upgrade, which at the moment seems unlikely.
“Every year, you’re competing with yourself, trying to be the best player you can be,” Sudfeld said, “and you let the chips fall where they may.”
And you stay quiet about the process and the results, as quarterbacks do, no matter how unsurprising they might or will be.