The Eagles are about to do the most dangerous thing they’ve ever done, and nobody seems to care. It’s a fascinating thing, this bidding war that a vocal majority of the fan base is currently celebrating. Those fans spent all season telling anyone who would listen that Carson Wentz was cooked, that signing him had been a mistake from the beginning, that the organization sealed its fate when it walked away from Nick Foles. Two weeks ago, in the wake of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford’s trade to the Rams for Jared Goff and a glut of picks, they were openly wondering how many first-rounders the Eagles would need to include to get rid of Wentz’s contract.
Now, suddenly, Philadelphia is Paris in August 1914, its citizens watching the Colts and the Bears with feverish anticipation as Howie Roseman wags the dog. Each new report adds another order of magnitude to expectations of the haul that a trade of Wentz should fetch. A first-round pick! Two firsts! No less than Stafford fetched! Nick Foles! Tarik Cohen! Allen Robinson’s emoji! The one possibility that nobody seems to consider? Maybe the market for Wentz isn’t the only thing they got wrong.
To a certain extent, I understand why popular opinion is what it is. A year ago, I would not have believed in a world in which the Eagles were on the verge of trading Wentz and I was not standing on a street corner insisting to passing pedestrians that the End Days would soon arrive. That’s how bad Wentz played this season. By practically any measure, quantitative or qualitative, he was among the worst five or six quarterbacks in the league. More concerning is the lack of public support we’ve heard for Wentz from any level of the Eagles organization: coaches, players, past, present. The public record does not paint a flattering picture of Wentz right now, and nobody seems in much of a hurry to correct it.
Frankly, that last observation alone is enough to believe that Wentz’s career with the Eagles is over. The problem isn’t that Wentz wants to be wanted. It’s that he has no choice but to conclude that he isn’t. Anybody who faults him for exercising any leverage that he has to engineer his way out of Philly has never considered how uncomfortable it would be for him to return, given all that he has seen, read, and heard. I feel bad for the guy. I really do. The last 13 months of his professional life have been a complete and irrevocable disaster.
Therein lies the crux of the matter. Even if everything works out entirely in the Eagles’ favor, it will still work out to nothing less than a travesty. Jeffrey Lurie could spend the rest of his life doing the Scrooge McDuck backstroke through a vault of first-round picks and he will still go down as the man who oversaw the most mismanaged and embarrassing chapter in the history of his organization. Wentz could retire from football with a zero quarterback rating and his legacy would still regard him first as the unwitting whistleblower who exposed the depths of the Eagles’ dysfunction.
That, right there, is where the danger lies. Few will admit it because it’s more comfortable to ignore the things we do not know. But there’s a realistic scenario in which history looks back on the Eagles’ decision to trade Wentz as one of professional sports’ greatest management blunders. What the Eagles are about to do simply does not happen, regardless of the circumstances. NFL history is full of quarterbacks who had seasons that were every bit as bad as Wentz’s and did not lose their job. Derek Carr, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Ryan Tannehill – and those are only the guys who were better than Wentz this season. Stafford and Ben Roethlisberger both bounced back from abysmal years at similar junctures in their careers. Philip Rivers was a laughingstock at 31 and went on to play eight more seasons.
Right now, people are too preoccupied with assigning blame to see the reality of the Eagles’ situation. Clearly, Wentz has played a role in arriving at this juncture. On the field and in the locker room, the quarterback is the commanding officer. He is both culpable and creditable for everything that happens on his watch. With great power comes great responsibility, and Wentz bears plenty of the latter for failing to make the best of the situation.
At the same time, the situation matters. Isn’t that what we saw on Sunday night, when the game’s best quarterback in the sport’s biggest game turned in one of the worst statistical performances in its history? The Chiefs were a team with the NFL’s best play-caller, its best deep threat, its best tight end, and its best quarterback, and they still ended up scoring a total of nine points while getting blown off the NFL’s biggest stage.
Carson Wentz is not Patrick Mahomes. But he is 28 years old and has the same raw materials that he had when he was one of the NFL’s best. In three of the last four seasons, he has been a top-15 QB by practically any measure. If the NFL’s best offense can look like its worst without an offensive line, isn’t there a chance that Wentz is actually a lot better than he looked while playing 12 games without one? Isn’t there a chance that he’d look a lot better with a different coach and different supporting cast? Isn’t there a chance that the Eagles’ inability to succeed with him will prove to be an indictment of the Eagles?
If all Wentz needed was the right situation, history will laugh at the Eagles’ failure to provide it. It will laugh like it laughed at the Blazers and Jordan, and the Sixers and Barkley, and the Chargers and Brees.
If so, look out. And look in the mirror. And remember that you celebrated.