WHEN THE Eagles traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings on Sept. 3, it signified a clear organizational shift in focus from the present to the future.
The Eagles obviously were already leaning in that direction even before dealing Bradford. But the decision to swap the 28-year-old quarterback for two draft picks, including a 2017 first-rounder, and turn over the controls of the offense to rookie Carson Wentz, meant Wentz's development had supplanted winning football games as 2016's No. 1 priority.
Let me say right off the top that I thought trading Bradford was absolutely the right thing to do. Teddy Bridgewater's knee injury, which triggered the deal, was manna from heaven.
While I didn't agree with the Eagles' decision to trade up and draft Wentz after re-signing Bradford in March, it made absolutely no sense to hang on to Sam this season and delay the kid's development a full year.
Yes, they might be 5-3 or 6-2 or, yes, even 7-1 right now if Bradford still was the team's quarterback. But the fact of the matter is, even with Bradford, it wasn't likely that the Eagles were going to make a deep playoff run this season.
And while Wentz would have learned quite a bit watching from the bench, it would have been small potatoes compared to the on-the-job training he's getting as the team's starter.
Come Week 1 next season, Wentz is going to be much further along in his development because of the reps he's getting this year than he would have been had he spent the season as the backup or No. 3 quarterback.
His fourth-quarter interception against the Lions? An invaluable lesson he wouldn't have learned on the bench. Same with the two picks he threw on the Eagles' first two possessions Sunday against the Giants. Same with the fourth-and-10 incompletion to Jordan Matthews in the end zone on the Eagles' final possession.
Those learned lessons are going to be much more important in the long run than a win or two now. But that can be a little tough for fans to swallow at the moment, given the league's current state of parity; with the notable exception of the Patriots, there appear to be as many as 15 teams on comparable talent footing.
All four of the Eagles' losses have been by seven or fewer points. They lost one on a late fumble (Lions), blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in another one (Cowboys) and came up 17 yards short of beating the Giants.
"The (interceptions) Sunday, he had opportunities to go other places with the ball," coach Doug Pederson said of Wentz. "I think sometimes, especially with young quarterbacks, these are the things we're working and dealing with, with Carson.
"Making sure he understands the whole contour of the play and what the initial play is designed to do. What is the coverage-beater that it's best against? And if it's not that coverage, where do I go with the football?
"These are the things that we constantly keep talking with (him about) and working through. This is all part of the growth process that he's going through."
Wentz isn't the only rookie out there. There also is fifth-rounder Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who has replaced suspended Lane Johnson at right tackle. There is seventh-round cornerback Jalen Mills, who already has played more than 300 defensive snaps.
There is promising fifth-round running back Wendell Smallwood, who has nine rushing first downs and five runs of 10 yards or more in just 31 carries, and undrafted wide receiver Bryce Treggs, who had a 58-yard catch in his NFL debut Sunday, and defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao. And there is third-round guard Isaac Seumalo.
On Monday, a reporter asked Pederson whether he thought his players were "tensing up" late in these close games.
"I don't think they're tensing up," Pederson responded. "I think our sense of urgency on offense has to pick up (as far as) knowing the situation.
"But you've got young guys out there that are kind of learning these situations. The more we show them and the more - again, just kind of working through decisions, route combinations, the execution of the play and just understanding the play itself, plays a big part in the success at the end of football games.
"And then, the bottom line, at the end of the day, it just comes down to, you know, as professional athletes, we just (have to) make a play. Someone just (needs to) make a play. And that's what we've got to find out. Who is going to be that guy? As we build and as we grow, those are things that we'll figure out and get better at."
One of the biggest benefits of having a young quarterback like Wentz over a veteran like Bradford is the salary-cap room it's going to create for at least the next three years.
Bradford has a $22 million cap number next season. Even though he was the second overall pick in the draft, Wentz's cap numbers the next three years will be $6.1 million, $7.3 million and $8.5 million.
That creates a lot of cap space for the Eagles to do other things, whether it's signing young players currently on their roster to contract extensions, such as defensive tackle Bennie Logan, or adding free agents.
That's why the Eagles also are hoping late-round players like Vaitai and Mills pan out.
"We're obviously building something here," Pederson said. "When you look at some of these games that we've been in at the end, the encouraging thing is that we really should have won them.
"As we build this thing, we're going to win these games down the stretch. And the fact that Carson continues to make plays - yeah, sure. We don't like the interceptions and all that. But relatively speaking, he protects the football.
"Our tight ends had a bigger impact Sunday. We've just go to continue to work that. Just keep working and keep grinding. Because like I tell the team after games like (the loss to the Giants), I promise them, if they keep working the way they've been working, good things are going to happen down the stretch."
And it they don't, well, consider it an investment in the future.
@Pdomo Blog: philly.com/Eaglesblog