Jalen Hurts or Carson Wentz? Doug Pederson can stand on his own two feet by making the right choice. | Mike Sielski
Of course Pederson should name Hurts the Eagles’ starting quarterback for these final four games. It’s the best thing for them, and for Pederson himself.
Sometimes stating the obvious can have the clarifying, crystallizing effect of a revolutionary act, and so it was that Doug Pederson said on Monday what everyone who has been paying attention already ought to have known to be true. From the instant the Eagles decided to acquire Carson Wentz at all costs before and during the 2016 NFL draft, Pederson’s future as their head coach would depend on their fortunes with Wentz as their franchise quarterback. And the Eagles are 3-8-1. And Wentz is a mess. And Pederson was asked if he considered Wentz’s success or failure a reflection on him and his mission as the team’s head coach.
“You’re absolutely right,” Pederson said. “We are married to this. It’s something I pride myself on. He and I are definitely in a situation we’ve got to work ourselves out of. My job is to help him and to help him improve and get better, to help this football team win. My job is also to take a look at the big picture, too, and look at the entire football team. Those are all things I’ve got to consider as we move forward.”
Good for Pederson for recognizing reality. Now he has to take the next step. Now he has to recognize, too, the opportunity before him, and it appears that he does. He wasn’t ready yet to reveal whether Wentz or Jalen Hurts would start this Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, but this should be an easy call, both for the Eagles and for Pederson himself.
Of course, Hurts should start. Beyond the benefit to the Eagles — that they’ll learn a little more about what they have in their controversial second-round draft pick — coaching Hurts over these final four regular-season games might be Pederson’s last and best chance to exert some power in the organization and, maybe, to go out on his own terms.
“This will be my decision,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to communicate with anybody, other players, other coaches. It’s obviously my decision, the opportunity I have moving forward, and it’ll be up to me.”
This was as brash and defiant as Pederson ever gets, and he didn’t stop there. Does he feel the need to consult his assistant coaches or any players when deciding which quarterback would start? No, he does not. “I don’t necessarily want to be swayed by others’ opinions,” he said, “because sometimes that can cloud judgment, right?” Not even Press Taylor, the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach and Wentz’s compadre? Nope. “Press and I have a lot of conversations,” he said, “but I don’t necessarily feel the need to ask him.”
Damn right, Doug. There’s nothing for him or the Eagles to gain by running Wentz out there again this season if they don’t have to. The theories abound for why Wentz has been so bad, from hurt feelings over Hurts’ presence to post-concussion issues. But whether he benched Wentz as punishment or for protection, Pederson has had 12 games to get him right. Nothing has worked, and playing him now, with his confidence at low ebb, behind that sieve of an offensive line, only puts the Eagles’ gargantuan investment in him at greater risk. Short of finding a viable partner for what would be one of the craziest and most complicated trades in NFL history, the franchise has put too much money, too much salary-cap space, and too many resources into Wentz to do anything but hope he comes back better next season.
But Pederson’s situation is more tenuous. He has acknowledged that owner Jeffrey Lurie has given him no assurances that he’ll return as coach, and here is an opportunity to show why he should be back, or why he should be scooped up by another team if Lurie fires him. He won a Super Bowl without Wentz one year, then shepherded the Eagles back to the playoffs without him the next, both times with Nick Foles, who ever since has labored to be average. If Hurts enlivens the offense, Pederson has more evidence that he can coach up a healthy, confident quarterback. If Hurts struggles, at least Pederson won’t have to ask himself, What would have happened if I’d given the kid more time?
“My focus right now is obviously New Orleans and this week,” he said. “That’s all I’m focused on. … I’m the head football coach of the Philadelphia Eagles right now, and I expect to get this football team ready to play this week against New Orleans.”
From the moment Lurie hired him, that position — head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles — has never come with the authority and prestige for Pederson that so many of his peers and counterparts have enjoyed. He was content to defer to Howie Roseman, the player-personnel department, and on occasion Lurie when it was time to select and assemble talent. He could stay in the background and fill his role as a bearer of emotional intelligence and a play-caller who believed in and would implement the organization’s pass-for-points philosophy. If that power structure meant that he didn’t wield the same influence within the Eagles that Bill Belichick has with the Patriots or Andy Reid has with the Chiefs, that was OK with him, because it meant he wouldn’t be Bill O’Brien, either, responsible for fouling up the future of an entire franchise.
No, his primary responsibility was to coax greatness from Wentz, and that goal is pretty much gone, at least for this season, maybe forever. His job just might be gone with it, unless he helps Hurts show the world something over the next four weeks, unless he shows that the quarterback who was supposed to save the Eagles was, for whatever reason, the big problem all along. Doug Pederson still has a chance, even in this lost season, to stand on his own two feet.