If Doug Pederson is keeping open the possibility of playing beyond Sunday’s divisional playoff game against the Saints, and of Carson Wentz’s being healthy enough to play this season, then the Eagles coach should consider having Wentz as Nick Foles’ backup at quarterback.
He said Wednesday that he would.
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“If there was that scenario — we’re talking about what ifs again,” Pederson said, “but I would agree … yes, if that came up.”
Even though Pederson didn’t rule him out for the Saints game, Wentz is unlikely to dress. On Monday, Pederson said that Nate Sudfeld would be the No. 2 quarterback in New Orleans. Wentz, who has a stress fracture in his back, hasn’t played or practiced since the Eagles lost to the Cowboys on Dec. 9, exactly a month ago.
“He is getting better,” Pederson said Wednesday. “As far as practice, right now he’s still resting. Until we get the OK from the docs, we’ll just keep going as we’re going.”
But he must be close, at least, if the Eagles see reason to keep him on the active 53-man roster with less than a month of football, at most, remaining.
“We keep winning. We keep putting ourselves in a position to be successful. You never know,” Pederson said Monday. “You never know what next week might hold. We’ve done it a lot this year. We kept Darren [Sproles] up all season. … Sidney Jones is another one that we keep alive.”
Sproles and Jones had/have hamstring injuries, but even considering the severity of Wentz’s injury, having him as an option makes more sense than (no offense) the other two. But his injury — its time line, how it’s being handled, and its status – have remained mostly mysteries.
Pederson has been evasive and Wentz hasn’t spoken since immediately after the loss to the Cowboys. The official team statement for why the starting quarterback hasn’t been made available is that he doesn’t want to be a distraction. Asked last week if he wanted to talk, Wentz declined and said, “Maybe next year.”
He appeared to be joking.
Nevertheless, it would be informative to know more about the injury, if Wentz believes that he can play, and if he would be content backing up Foles. Pederson said last month that he would regain his spot when healthy. But that was then, and this – the Eagles have won four straight and are two wins from returning to the Super Bowl – is now.
Foles is the starter for the rest of the season, barring injury, even if Pederson declined to look past Sunday and name him as such.
“It’s a one-and-done season right now,” he said.
Pederson and the Eagles are preparing for scenarios beyond Sunday, otherwise Wentz would have gone on injured reserve. But Wentz’s suiting up as the backup – even though Pederson said that he would consider the possibility – is doubtful.
Wentz could likely handle the “demotion,” but it could open the Eagles and both quarterbacks to unnecessary distractions. The team already must answer enough questions about the dynamic, and having a uniformed Wentz watch from the sideline would only invite more questions about the future.
If Foles keeps winning, though, that would already be part of the narrative. And wouldn’t the Eagles want to give themselves their best chance at repeating? Foles has injured ribs, and they’ve already gone to Sudfeld twice in the last three games.
If it’s a Wentz or Sudfeld debate, there is a clear winner. There’s also an argument that even if Wentz can play at around 90 percent, he should dress ahead of Sudfeld. But the Eagles still have Wentz’s long-term prospects to consider and are clearly slow-playing his return, especially since they have Foles.
The Eagles also have to consider Wentz’s psyche. For the second year in a row, he’s been sidelined by injury as he watches his backup lead the Eagles through the postseason. This year, however, it could be argued that Foles is playing better, certainly in clutch situations.
Wentz, of course, hasn’t played in as many elimination scenarios. But as well as he performed for stretches, especially after knee surgery and through the back injury, he struggled occasionally early in games, on deeper throws, and in playing within the offense.
Pederson, offensive coordinator Mike Groh, and other Eagles have delicately answered questions about Foles’ success because of how it may reflect on Wentz. That wasn’t the case last year because there wasn’t an obvious comparison. The idea of the Eagles keeping Foles and trading Wentz, with each passing week, doesn’t sound as crazy.
While Foles has played out of sight, Wentz has been out of mind.
“I don’t think so,” Groh said when presented with that juxtaposition. “We’re not dismissing Carson around here.”
But Wentz wouldn’t be human if the thought of a different future hadn’t crossed his mind over the last month. His presence around the NovaCare Complex, at least in front of reporters, has been mostly sphinx-like. Behind the scenes, coaches and players have said he’s as involved as ever.
“Just like you would expect a typical backup,” Groh said. “He’s been energetic and enthusiastic and completely supportive and in Nick’s corner all the way.”
The sound of typical backup may sting, and Groh meant no harm, but having Wentz on standby, if possible, would give the Eagles their best chance.