Five year ago, the Eagles boldly traded up to the second spot in the 2016 draft. As everyone was well aware at the time, the apple of their eye was a deer hunter from North Dakota by the name of Carson Wentz.
The Eagles were 99.9% certain that the team with the first pick in the draft, the Los Angeles Rams, was going to take the Cali kid, Jared Goff.
But what if the Rams had thrown them a curve at the last minute? What if general manager Les Snead and then-head coach Jeff Fisher had decided Wentz was the guy they wanted, not Goff?
The Eagles insisted back then that they went into draft day content to take whichever player the Rams didn’t claim. That was their story then, and they’re sticking to it five years later.
“That would have been probably the next step for us, to take Goff,” said Doug Pederson, who was hired as the head coach three months before the ’16 draft. “We were prepared, I think in that situation, to be pleased with either one.”
There’s nothing like being prepared to be pleased.
On Sunday, Goff and Wentz will face off against each other for the third time since they went 1-2, respectively, in the draft that year.
“The relationship’s been good,” said Wentz, who has won both of the games against Goff’s Rams but experienced one of the most-traumatic moments of his career in the first win, when he tore his ACL and ended up watching Nick Foles lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl title.
Wentz and Goff share the same agent. They have trained together on occasion. They talk every now and then.
“I consider him a friend. But he’s on the West Coast, I’m on the East Coast,” Wentz said. "We exchange texts every now and then. But it kind of is what it is. I have a lot of respect for him as a player and as a guy.
“The rest of it, the rivalry and all that stuff, that’s neither here nor there for both of us. But I enjoy playing against him and competing against him. It should be another fun one Sunday.”
Their numbers, as you can see from the chart below, are remarkably similar. From wins and losses to touchdown passes to passer rating to third-down and red-zone performance, there’s not a lot of statistical difference between them.
Goff spent most of his rookie season sitting on the bench for a lame-duck coach, while Wentz started 16 games after the Eagles traded away Sam Bradford.
But Goff has managed to stay remarkably healthy, while Wentz has had to deal with two major injuries that forced him to miss eight regular-season games and all five of the Eagles' playoff games in 2017 and 2018.
Quarterbacks have been taken 1-2 in the draft just six times in the last 40 years. More often than not, one of the two hasn’t panned out. Robert Griffin (second to Andrew Luck in 2012), Tim Couch (first ahead of Donovan McNabb in 1999), Ryan Leaf (second to Peyton Manning in 1998), Rick Mirer (second to Drew Bledsoe in 1993) did that.
Goff and Wentz have been the exception rather than the rule. Five years in, both have grown into solid franchise quarterbacks. Are they Brady or Manning or Brees? No. But you can win with them.
“Both guys are great competitors. Both have done an excellent job of leading their franchises,” Rams coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. "I think if you asked what’s the overall difference in terms of their [style of] play, you’re seeing the ability where Carson can do some great things off-schedule and make a lot of plays that way.
“But both of these guys have had a lot of success. Their play has been merited by where they were drafted and why they’ve received [lucrative second] contracts. I think Coach Peterson would agree with me that we feel both teams are in good hands with these guys leading the way.”
Wentz signed a four-year, $128 million contract extension in June. Goff signed a four-year, $134 extension three months later. Both of those deals have since been surpassed by those given to the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes (10 years/$450 million) and Deshaun Watson (4 years/$156 million). But that’s just the way of the NFL world.
Goff has a slightly better win/loss percentage (.618 to .561) and has averaged more yards per attempt (7.6 to 6.9) and has been sacked fewer times (107 to 137) and has a slightly better third-down passer rating (93.1 to 91.4).
Wentz has a better overall passer rating (92.3 to 91.7) and has thrown more touchdown passes (99 to 87) and fewer interceptions (37 to 43) and has been much more productive as a runner (75 rushing first downs to Goff’s 19).
“Looking back [to the 2016 draft} and the conversations we had, we just felt that Carson was the fit for us here in Philadelphia,” Pederson said. “His makeup, his chemistry, the style of play, it all kind of fit what we were doing. That’s nothing against Jared Goff, because he’s obviously had a great career so far. It just made Carson a better fit for us at the time.”
NFL Network analyst Joe Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle for the Cleveland Browns, thinks Wentz is more than a better fit. He thinks he’s the better quarterback. Or at least he can be.
“They’ve both had the same amount of ups and downs in their careers,” Thomas said. "And you’d have to say that, at this point in their careers, they’ve had about an equal amount of success.
"But if you could pick only one of them and you asked me, I would say I would rather have Carson Wentz, because I think his upside is greater.
“You’ve kind of seen who Jared Goff is and who’s he going to be. I don’t think he’s going to get significantly better than he is right now. But a guy like Carson, I think we’ve seen some of his top-end stuff. But I also think he still can get a lot better and be one of the top three guys in the league on a consistent basis.”
Said Thomas’s NFL Network colleague Steve Smith, who spent 16 years in the league as a wide receiver with Carolina and Baltimore: “Bottom line is there’s a lot of teams out there that wish they had either one of these guys. They’re both franchise quarterbacks that you can build around. You don’t have to wonder. Both of them are studs. Both of them are damn good quarterbacks.”