Doug Pederson may be craftier than he lets on. Consider the Eagles' quarterback situation, for instance, but just for a little while. If you consider it for any longer than a minute, you run the risk of giving yourself a nosebleed. That's how muddled and confusing it is. It's so muddled and confusing, in fact, that the person who stands to benefit most from it this season, and perhaps beyond this season, is not Sam Bradford or Chase Daniel or Carson Wentz. It's Pederson.
Let's think it through together. Since making those two big trades to move up in this year's draft and select Wentz with the No. 2 overall pick, the Eagles have maintained that Bradford will be the starting quarterback, Daniel will be the backup, and Wentz will be the third-stringer. Actually, Pederson has been the one doing the maintaining, and he has told reporters that, based on that pecking order, he plans to deactivate Wentz on game days.
So if you assume the Eagles are sincere about following through on this plan, then it's easy to extrapolate what would appear to be the best-case scenario for them this season: Bradford starts all 16 regular-season games and an unknown number of playoff games. Daniel serves as Pederson's indispensable teaching assistant. Wentz gets a year to watch and absorb everything. It sounds marvelous for everyone involved - Pederson, most of all.
How do you figure that?
Here's how: In that scenario, Bradford's future with the Eagles would likely remain unchanged. Because they would need to create salary-cap space and because - based on all they gave up to get Wentz - the pressure to play their prospective franchise quarterback would increase, the Eagles would still have to part ways with Bradford after the season, either by trading him or releasing him. That move would be great for Bradford from a financial standpoint - he'd sign a new contract with his new team - but it would be the opposite of what he has said he wanted in his NFL career. It would be another change, another missed opportunity to establish some continuity.
So what? What do I care about Bradford's future? So Wentz takes over in 2017.
OK, but by sitting Wentz for the entirety of the 2016 season, the Eagles would push the start date for his development back another year, and there's a pretty compelling argument that they should start developing Wentz this year. Remember: Wentz threw just 612 passes in his entire career at North Dakota State, a Division I-AA program. By comparison, Jared Goff, the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, threw 1,568 passes over his career at Cal. Remember, too: Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who is held up as the consummate example of why it's smart to allow a quarterback to learn from the sideline, attempted more passes in his college career (665) than Wentz threw in his. And Rodgers didn't become the Packers' starter until his fourth season in the NFL.
The point is, it's awfully optimistic (or presumptuous, depending on your perspective) to expect Wentz to step in next season and excel immediately if he hasn't taken a single NFL snap this season.
Let's be real, though. How likely is it that Bradford will play every game and have a great season? He'll get injured, or he'll play poorly, or the Eagles will lose often enough - even if the losses aren't necessarily Bradford's fault - that Pederson will have to make a quarterback change. And in goes Wentz.
Not so fast. According to Pederson, in goes Daniel.
Eh. Pederson can say whatever he wants. But I suspect the only way Daniel plays is if Bradford suffers a major injury at a time when Wentz clearly isn't ready or the season is still salvageable.
That may be true, but you're missing the broader picture here. Pederson is a first-time NFL head coach who is tethered to a young quarterback: Wentz. Pederson's success as a coach will be based largely on whether Wentz develops into a star, or at least a very good pro. That's how it is in the NFL. The clock on Pederson's tenure as the Eagles' head coach really doesn't start ticking until Wentz takes his first snap from center in a real game. After all, Bradford isn't Pederson's guy. He was Chip Kelly's guy. It was Kelly's idea to bring him here. If the Eagles fail with Bradford, it's Kelly's failure, not Pederson's.
What about Daniel, though? Isn't he Pederson's guy? If Daniel plays and fails, doesn't that reflect badly on Pederson?
Nowhere near as much as Wentz's failure would. No one perceives Daniel to be anything more than a backup. If he plays and flops, big deal. If Wentz plays and flops, Pederson's out of a job. So the more time Bradford or Daniel spends on the field, the more time it takes for the Eagles to learn definitively whether Wentz is a franchise quarterback, the more time Pederson buys as their head coach. It's the only way that this quarterback plan makes any sense at all.
Do you have some tissues?