On Dec. 10, 2017, Carson Wentz tore the anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee in a game against the Los Angeles Rams. He missed the rest of the Eagles’ season. On Dec. 11, 2018, tests revealed that Wentz had a fractured vertebra. He missed the rest of the Eagles’ season. On Jan. 5, 2020, Wentz suffered a concussion. He missed the rest of the Eagles’ playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, which meant he missed the rest of their season.
What the hell happened to Carson Wentz? is the question that has defined this Eagles season, and maybe the search for answers should start with the one conclusion we can safely draw from his injury history. At the time when Wentz ought to be peaking as an NFL quarterback, when the combination of his athletic ability and mental acuity ought to be at its apex, he is not in the same physical condition that he was when he took the field that afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum three years ago. He can’t possibly be.
That doesn’t mean a quarterback who gets hurt badly can’t still be good, even great. But it’s silly to think that Wentz’s three major injuries, one roughly a year after the other, one for each section of the body – lower, middle, upper – have not hindered him at all. Especially the last of them, the concussion, which of the three is generally the one with the most mysterious and unpredictable short- and long-term effects.
Here, we dispense with the necessary disclaimer. There’s no way to know what the true ramifications of these injuries have been to Wentz and his play. There’s a chance that Wentz is completely healthy, that his head is clear and his back doesn’t bother him and his reconstructed knee doesn’t inhibit his mobility, and that his regression can be explained by one or more of the following factors: that the coaching he’s receiving has been poor, that he doesn’t have good enough skill-position players around him, that the Eagles’ offensive line has been unsettled, that he just forgot how to play quarterback, or that he was never any good to begin with and NICK FOLES FOREVER.
But me, I’m betting the injuries have at least something to do with it.
“I hesitate to comment on how he feels or what he is going through,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said Monday. “That’s a more appropriate question for Carson. But from a play-caller standpoint, those injuries don’t play a part, obviously, into how I approach the game or how I call the game. But I think to answer the first part of that, I would say that’s a Carson question to see how he feels and how he has overcome those injuries.”
Notice what Pederson did and didn’t say. He didn’t say, The injuries have had no impact on Carson’s performance. He suggested that the issue was, to him, largely irrelevant, because either way, whether the injuries have affected Wentz or not, Pederson wasn’t taking them into consideration when he called plays.
That seems odd, considering that Pederson has been reluctant all season to call plays that require or allow Wentz to roll out of the pocket. Take Sunday’s 22-17 loss to the Browns. As my colleague Jeff McLane noted, the Eagles called 41 pass plays in the game, and just one was a designed roll-out. The dynamism, whether spontaneous or planned, that was Wentz’s trademark in 2017 has pretty much vanished from his game, and the Eagles, for some reason, don’t appear to be doing much to coax it out of him.
Finally, Pederson said the injury question was more appropriate for Wentz, and he was right. It was, which is why, after Sunday’s game, I had asked Wentz this: Can you be the same guy you were in 2017?
“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “Football’s football. There are injuries, and you can’t control them. They’re out of your control. Last year – you bring up the concussion – it sucks. Being hit in the back of the head like that, that’s an unfortunate part of the game. That stuff happens. I’m not going to change. I’m going to give it my all. I’m going to keep learning as I’m going, how to keep being a better player – don’t get me wrong. But as far as aggressiveness and being confident and all those things, that’s not going to change.”
Notice what Wentz did and didn’t say. He chalked up the injuries, the concussion in particular, to the nature of football. He said he was still learning how to be a better player but wouldn’t change how he played – a bit of a contradiction, but put that aside for now. He didn’t say, The injuries have had no impact on my performance.
What we have here, then, are two non-denial denials, and we have a situation that doesn’t appear all that favorable for the Eagles at the moment. Wentz is no longer a young player, not by NFL standards. He turns 28 next month, and under the contract extension he signed with the Eagles last year, he will count no less than $31.3 million against the team’s salary cap each season from 2021 through 2024, according to the database OvertheCap.com.
“To those wanting a change at QB in Philly: No team has invested more in a player – accounting for draft and financial resources – than the Eagles have in Wentz,” agent and former NFL executive Andrew Brandt wrote Monday on Twitter. “Change not happening. Franchise-defining investments.”
If Brandt is right, where does that leave the Eagles? It leaves them with an expensive, ineffective quarterback who, even if he doesn’t suffer another significant injury, still has to figure out how to excel in the wake of the three he has suffered already. It leaves them where they are right now: nowhere good.