While there are valid arguments on both sides of the public debate over the merits of the four-year, $128 million contract the Eagles and Carson Wentz agreed upon Thursday, the climactic line from the film Unforgiven springs to mind for those who don’t believe the quarterback has done enough to warrant the blockbuster deal.
Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.
Nothing may be too severe a term in this case, as Wentz has already accomplished a significant amount in his first three seasons. But as with many NFL contracts, you often pay for projection over production, and the Eagles had to be willing to gamble some if they wanted to get what could be a team-friendly contract.
They were pot committed after the ante of trading up and drafting Wentz in 2016, and subsequent wagers like building around him for the short term and releasing Super Bowl-winning backup Nick Foles. But the Eagles have good hold cards. They may not have pocket aces, but they have a high pair, and three of a kind after the flop.
That might not be an all-in scenario, but after one look around the league, there is probably only one team that would take its own hand, considering age and talent, over that of the Eagles, and that’s the Chiefs. And no franchise, considering the way this game of poker has unfolded, would have done otherwise.
It could be argued that waiting a year would have been the more prudent move. Wentz has failed to finish each of the last two seasons and has suffered significant injuries in all three of his NFL seasons. But even if he were to get hurt again, he would still command top dollar. He’s only 26 and he’s already played at an MVP level.
How much could the Eagles have saved as opposed to how much they have saved by extending Wentz ahead of Jared Goff and Dak Prescott, draft mates most evaluators have ranked behind him? In reality, likely not much. And if he were to return to his 2017 form, there would likely be only one quarterback – Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes -- who could prevent Wentz from becoming the highest-paid player in NFL history.
For the Eagles, it was a no-brainer. And while Wentz’s motives for signing now may not be as obvious, he was still given the highest guarantee ever ($107.8 million). Sure, he’ll be slotted lower among quarterbacks in average yearly salary once the extension kicks in in 2021, but the team will have some cap space to stay competitive and Wentz can cash in at 31 when the deal expires.
When it comes to franchise-altering contracts, there is little to be gained in either side wanting or claiming victory.
For now, Wentz may not technically deserve to be the fourth-highest-paid at his position, if counting only new money, like Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, and Aaron Rodgers -- the three Super Bowl-winning and Hall of Fame-tracking quarterbacks ahead of him. But the question then becomes, will he?
It’s a fair one.
There is a strong case to be made that he will, and it’s not based on projection alone. Wentz performed as well as any quarterback in his second season, and while he regressed some last season, due in part to past (knee) and present (back) injuries, he showed glimpses of the 2017 version.
It may not be enough of a sample for some, but talent at that level doesn’t simply fade away. And Wentz has shown that he won’t take his skills for granted or shortcuts off the field that could affect his production.
Speaking of production, negative comparisons have been made with Goff and Prescott. But statistics are pliable, and even while Goff and Prescott have slight advantages in winning percentage, yards per pass attempt, and passer rating, Wentz has the edge in passing yards and touchdowns per game.
Stronger numbers can be used against Wentz, and for the sake of argument, in contrast to Goff and Prescott. The first set are in relation to how he has performed in clutch situations.
While Wentz is only slightly behind Goff in fourth-quarter comebacks and game-winning drives – 4 to 5 in each scenario – he pales in comparison with Prescott (8 and 14). Even with qualifiers such as opportunity and the invariables that can affect the outcome of a game, it’s a significant difference.
That Wentz falls short in terms of the playoffs – Goff and Prescott have proven they can win in the postseason (and lose, as well) -- has everything to do with opportunity. But how he performs in the regular season when playoff berths are at stake and in January and February when the pressure is at its greatest remains unknown.
Of course, Wentz’s inability to finish the last two years is perhaps the best reason for questioning the investment. While Goff and Prescott have yet to miss a game because of injury, Wentz has missed eight regular-season games and four playoff games, as well as three preseason games as a rookie when he fractured ribs.
His athleticism and aggressiveness have been two of his greatest attributes. Each had as much to do with his superb 2017 as did his arm and his mind. He played similarly at the start of 2018, to a somewhat lesser extent, and likely injured himself again. But when the stress fracture in his back forced him to alter his style, he wasn’t the same quarterback.
The injuries, as mentioned above, certainly factored into his struggles. But the issues of Wentz’s durability and whether he can perform at an elite level predominantly from the pocket are at the crux of the argument of whether he will someday deserve the long-term financial commitment.
The Eagles are betting on it.
Here’s how Carson Wentz compares statistically with draft-mate quarterbacks Jared Goff and Dak Prescott: