Doug Pederson is as amiable as an NFL coach gets. He is regarded as a players’ coach, having that oh-so-important “emotional intelligence” that Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was seeking after firing Chip Kelly. He won a Super Bowl. His teams play hard. They don’t give up. They may not be as talented as other teams — this one certainly wasn’t — but they never quit on him. His instinct, whenever he speaks to the media, is to be helpful, to answer each question as fully and honestly as he can. That doesn’t mean his answers are always honest and comprehensive; he has been cryptic and testy frequently this season during his regular Zoom calls with reporters. But it does mean that his first reaction is to be helpful and truthful, and he has to quell that impulse.
All of that is to say that you have to work hard to have fractured a relationship with Doug Pederson beyond repair. Yet if a report Sunday morning by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen is to be believed — and given Mortensen’s reputation for accuracy and the manner in which players send messages in the modern media world, there’s no reason to doubt the report — those three words have to guide the Eagles’ offseason and their plans for Carson Wentz.
Fractured beyond repair.
It has a chance to go down with some of the turns of phrase that, at various moments during the Lurie era, have defined those moments. It’s right there with the best and most memorable of them: gold standard, Donovan threw up in the huddle, Dream Team, Philly Special, quarterback factory. Fractured beyond repair. That’s how Mortensen’s sources described the condition of Wentz’s relationship with Pederson, and that means one thing: The Eagles have to trade Wentz this offseason.
Until that report surfaced, it was logical to think that the Eagles shouldn’t trade Wentz and, even if they were of a mind to, probably wouldn’t be able to trade him. The details and obligations and implications of the contract extension that the Eagles gave him in 2019 have been repeated ad infinitum. No need to repeat them again here. Suffice it to say, one of the NFL’s worst statistical starting quarterbacks this season had one of the NFL’s most expensive contracts, and that combination of factors doesn’t make a player a particularly tasty morsel of trade bait.
There was an even sounder argument to be made that, because the Eagles had invested so much capital in acquiring and re-signing Wentz, in draft picks and salary-cap space and money, they owed it to themselves to make their best effort at rehabilitating him and his play, at finding the franchise quarterback he was just a year ago. Jalen Hurts has shown flashes of spectacular play over these four games, including a season-ending 20-14 loss Sunday night to Washington, but he has mostly been what he is, a rookie second-round draft pick, too much a mystery yet for a team to commit to him. And if the Eagles returned for training camp next summer with both Wentz and Hurts on the roster, well, a little competition and controversy are the price a quarterback factory has to pay sometimes.
“These last four games have really allowed Carson to just kind of take a step back and just evaluate and see,” Pederson had said Friday, “work on some things that we’ve helped him with, things that we can continue to help him with as we move forward. That’s probably been the biggest thing that’s come out of these last couple of weeks.
“You got to understand. Listen: I’ve got a ton of confidence in Carson Wentz and always have. Our offseason is going to be geared towards getting things fixed as quarterbacks and obviously as a team. That falls on my shoulders. That’s going to be our motivation moving into this offseason.”
But all of those scenarios in which Wentz stays, all of them, are predicated on his belief and trust that Pederson, the only NFL head coach he’s ever had, could coach him back to excellence. Per Mortensen’s report, Wentz doesn’t trust Pederson or believe he can rescue him. It doesn’t matter why things went bad. It doesn’t matter that Wentz may or may not be a stubborn, sometimes-self-centered prima donna or that Pederson did or did not call enough running plays and roll-outs or that Howie Roseman and the player-personnel department can or cannot scout wide receivers.
What matters is that things went bad, and they can’t exist as they are. “I don’t understand where this is coming from,” Pederson said late Sunday night. “My relationship with Carson has been good.” Again, though, regardless of the identities and agendas of Mortensen’s sources, the report is clear: The relationship between coach and quarterback cannot be fixed. So unless the Eagles want to court conflict and chaos between those two most important members of a football team, one of them has to go, and Wentz apparently is the one itching to exit. He plans to request a trade, according to Mortensen.
The Eagles should accommodate him. The alternatives are neither pretty nor, when you consider them, all that viable. Lurie could reverse the course that he reportedly already has embarked on and fire Pederson. He could fire the only coach in franchise history to win a Super Bowl, three years after that coach won that Super Bowl, handing a power-struggle victory to a quarterback who wasn’t on the field when that coach won that Super Bowl. Then Lurie would have to explain why Pederson was the primary problem when Pederson’s winning percentage in games that Wentz doesn’t start (.650, including playoffs) is higher than his winning percentage when Wentz does start (.515). Then Lurie would have to find an available head coaching candidate equal to or better than Pederson.
If he wants to test his skills in rhetoric and human-resource management to that degree, Lurie is welcome to do so. But the better approach, difficult as it may be, is to give Carson Wentz the clean, fresh start that he so desperately seems to desire. And that the Eagles need, too.