Minutes before midnight on April 28, the night the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz, the Eagles' future starting quarterback walked through the basement of an old school building at Chicago's Roosevelt University. His family waited to celebrate at a nearby hotel. A flight had been booked for him to Philadelphia the following morning.
He was almost finished an assembly line of media and promotional obligations, but he could not escape one lingering question that was presented everywhere he went: What will happen with you and Sam Bradford?
"I don't know what's going to become of that," Wentz said "It's not for me to speculate. . . . I'm going to go and compete, earn the respect of everybody, and the chips will fall where they may."
Even Wentz could not have envisioned all the chips that needed to fall to for him to start the season opener Sunday against the Cleveland Browns. For Wentz to be atop the quarterback depth chart this week, the following needed to happen:
The Eagles invest $57 million in Bradford and Chase Daniel and not start either of them, and trade Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and DeMarco Murray to improve draft positions. The Los Angeles Rams trade for the No. 1 to pick, Jared Goff. The Cleveland Browns determine Wentz was not worthy of the No. 2 pick and agree to a deal with the Eagles. Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffers a significant knee injury one week before the season, prompting the Vikings to seek a last-minute replacement at starter and surrender a first-round pick. Wentz's fractured ribs heal within a month.
Other than that, it was an uneventful offseason for Eagles quarterbacks.
Between the moment Doug Pederson was introduced as Eagles coach Jan. 19 to the moment Wentz takes his first snap Sunday were 236 days of quarterback turbulence that altered the course of the franchise.
Pederson's first day on the job was Jan. 19, and he inherited an unsettled quarterback situation. Bradford was due to become a free agent, and injuries and inconsistency were as attached to his reputation as his tantalizing talent. Mark Sanchez had been too turnover-prone in two years with the Eagles to indicate he would have a career renaissance. The team owned the No. 13 pick - too often too far down to draft a difference-maker at the position.
Pederson indicated there would be an evaluation process, but the best solution seemed to be finding a way to re-sign Bradford and obtain a developmental quarterback.
During Pederson's second week on the job, he went with his new coaching staff to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. While there, he watched a 6-foot-5, 237-pound quarterback from North Dakota State who seemed to be rising on draft boards.
"It will be interesting to sit down and eventually talk with him and where's he at mentally," Pederson said that week.
Pederson's quarterback-heavy staff studied the passers leading up to the combine in February. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich kept seeing a few plays on Wentz's film that would more likely be found on Sundays than Saturdays.
"When you're around this game a long time and you've seen the elite guys do it a long time, there's a body language, there are body movements," Reich said. "You watch 80 plays in a college game and then there are 10 plays that you say, 'No one else can do that,' and that's what an NFL quarterback looks like and that's just what continually jumped off the tape. You watch 10 games and each game there's 10 plays that you say, 'That's what makes him the No. 2 pick in the draft.'"
One problem: The Eagles didn't have the No. 2 pick. They were still at No. 13, and a quarterback of Wentz's caliber was unlikely to fall to them.
So with the specter of the franchise tag deadline, the Eagles reached a two-year, $36 million contract with Bradford minutes before the March 1 deadline.
"This is where I wanted to be," Bradford said after signing the deal. "To know I was going to be back here and not have to worry about anything else, it was a huge relief."
The relief didn't even make it to the summer. On March 10, the Eagles signed Chase Daniel to a three-year, $21 million contract - significant money for a career backup. Pederson made clear that Bradford was No. 1, Daniel was No. 2, and the team was "working on the No. 3." The Eagles traded Sanchez to Denver for a conditional pick that never conveyed, and the third quarterback spot seemed prime for a rookie.
Meanwhile, Howie Roseman, the executive vice president of football operations, was improving the Eagles' draft positions. He packaged Alonso and Maxwell with the No. 13 pick to move up to the No. 8 spot. He also shipped off Murray to improve their position in the fourth round.
The Eagles needed both picks one month later.
The Eagles were not coy about their interest in top quarterbacks. Owner Jeffrey Lurie accompanied Roseman and Eagles coaches on visits to quarterbacks expected to go atop the draft, including Wentz. They dined together at an upscale restaurant in Fargo, N.D., on March 30.
It looked as if Wentz and Goff would be off the board when the Eagles selected at No. 8, though, and the chances one might slip became even less likely when the Rams jumped from the No. 15 overall pick to No. 1 on April 14 to get in position for Goff. Before that trade was made, Roseman had conversations about moving up to No. 1.
But the trade actually helped the Eagles' pursuit of Wentz. The Browns were not as enamored with Wentz as others, and with Goff expected to go first, they were more willing to deal the pick. In a Cleveland radio interview, a Browns executive indicated they did not think Wentz would become a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.
"We made a decision to not go in that direction," Browns coach Hue Jackson said this past week. "A lot of things are going to be written and said because we didn't, but it's going to take a little time before that decision of what we did or what anyone else did will come to fruition."
The Eagles swooped in and offered the Browns a bounty of picks - including the selections acquired from the Dolphins and Titans - for the "rare opportunity" to draft a franchise quarterback. But one month earlier, Roseman signed off on paying $57 million to two veteran quarterbacks. The trade was bold, if not curious: When would the No. 2 pick play?
"It's a great opportunity for someone who not only has the coaching he has here and the support he has here, but time," Roseman said. "We're not positioned where anyone has to come in and play this year - conceivably next year."
After the trade, Bradford stopped attending offseason workouts. For two weeks, his agent tried to get Bradford traded. The first round passed on April 28, with Wentz joining the roster and Bradford staying out.
"We'll kind of see how that transpires," Wentz said.
Pederson reiterated that Bradford was his starting quarterback, Daniel was his backup, and Wentz would learn behind them. Bradford returned one week later and took all the first-team snaps throughout the spring. Before the week of the mandatory mini-camp, Pederson suggested that Wentz might not even be active when the Eagles began the season on Sept. 11.
"That's probably the direction we're heading," Pederson said.
Training camp opened with order - not controversy. It became clear throughout the summer that Bradford would start and that the preseason would be Wentz's chance to develop.
He was the attraction in the preseason opener on Aug. 11, and Wentz dazzled the home crowd when he finished 12 of 24 for 89 yards and one interception along with 15 rushing yards. But he also worried them when he took a crushing hit to his ribs on his penultimate play in the fourth quarter.
Wentz said after the game that "it was hard to breathe for a second," but he began practice two days later. Something seemed wrong when Wentz didn't participate in team drills, and the medical staff sent him for a CT scan that afternoon. The diagnosis was a hairline fracture in two of his ribs, and though the team reserved hope he would return for the fourth preseason game, he could not recover by that time.
The only pre-injury evaluation of Wentz was 39 preseason snaps and two weeks of practice. But Wentz could still hold personal throwing sessions while recovering, and one came in the hours before the third preseason game in Indianapolis. Lurie and Roseman watched from the field. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who was catching passes, walked by Roseman after the workout and told the executive that the rookie was ready.
On Aug. 30, with the Eagles' starters preparing for Week 1, Roseman left a meeting and walked by the team's draft room. The television set showed breaking news from Minnesota. Bridgewater, who helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs last season, injured his knee during practice. One day later, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman called Roseman.
The Vikings needed a starting quarterback and the Eagles had a surplus. Working with leverage and encouraged by Wentz's development, Roseman required a first-rounder in compensation. By Saturday morning, the two sides agreed to a deal that sent Bradford to Minnesota for a 2017 first-round pick and 2018 conditional fourth-round pick - a stunning about-face from the team's stated blueprint at quarterback.
"I thought it was a great plan," Reich said. "I think that plan was working out exactly how Coach Pederson wanted it to work out. . . . Nobody can predict the things that happen and the moves that you have to make."
Bradford was in Oklahoma City that Saturday morning when Pederson told him he would play for Minnesota this season. Wentz was hunting geese when Pederson told him he would be the new starting quarterback.
On Monday, the medical staff gave Wentz full clearance to return to games. Pederson named Wentz the starter. The question that Wentz couldn't avoid on draft night was answered. He came in, competed, and let the chips fall. They led to Wentz's starting his first game Sunday.
"The whole time all along I was just getting ready for whenever this time would come," Wentz said. "I knew I was ready."