February 28, 2023
An NFC East rival released Carson Wentz on Monday, as the former Eagles quarterback could be on his fourth team in four years in 2023. Reading that sentence even just three years ago coming off the Birds' 2019 division title would've been unfathomable for a whole host of Philadelphians.
Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong since that fateful afternoon in Los Angeles where he tore his ACL, irrevocably altering not just his professional career, but the Eagles franchise as a whole going forward. The man expected to lead the Eagles to Super Bowl contention for more than a decade is now fighting for his football life and it's impossible to imagine any organization offering him a QB1 job this offseason.
How the mighty have fallen.
As Wentz reaches a crossroads yet again, it's an apt time to take a look back at his entire NFL career, what went right and what went oh-so wrong to leave him in the spot, cast aside yet again by a frustrated team.
The Eagles were coming off the train wreck that was the end of the Chip Kelly era in the 2016 offseason. Howie Roseman, after being usurped in 2015, was back in power as the team's top front office executive. The Birds had signed incumbent free agent quarterback Sam Bradford to a two-year contract worth $22 million guaranteed in March, but it was clear he wasn't the longterm answer at QB.
Roseman and Jeffery Lurie needed something, someone, bigger and better.
After maneuvering up to the eighth pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the Eagles leapt up again to the second-overall pick from the Browns. The Eagles sent Cleveland five picks for the No. 2 pick, including two first rounders. Cal's Jared Goff and Wentz were projected to be the top-two picks in the draft. Bradford be damned, the Eagles were going after a QB.
The Rams selected Goff with the first-overall pick in the draft. That left Wentz right there for the taking. The Birds put all their faith in a North Dakota State quarterback and drafted him. For a few years, it looked like one of the smartest moves the franchise ever made.
One of the biggest dominos to fall in Eagles history, a butterfly effect that has carried them all the way to this month's Super Bowl appearance, occurred in Minnesota. Just a couple of weeks away from the start of the season, the Vikings believed they had a roster worthy of contention. That idea went up in smoke when QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a catastrophic knee injury, tearing his ACL.
Minnesota did not want to punt on the 2016 season with Bridgewater out. Four days later, they made a trade with the Eagles for Bradford, sending first- and fourth-round picks to Philly.
Wentz spent the summer as the No. 3 QB on the Eagles depth chart behind Bradford and backup Chase Daniel, but there was no shot Daniel would be the Birds' Week 1 starter. The Eagles believed they'd redshirt Wentz coming off FCS college ball while Bradford played. The opportunity to get major draft capital for Bradford paired with the ability to kick-start Wentz's pro career into career was too enticing to pass up.
Wentz was now the Eagles' QB1. The future had arrived.
On the first drive of the Eagles' season, the first-ever NFL drive for Wentz, he lofted a 19-yard touchdown to Jordan Matthews down the right sideline. Lincoln Financial Field went into a frenzy. Their savior at QB was here, as they had been starved for a true franchise quarterback since Donovan McNabb's prime.
The Eagles got off to a hot 3-0 start that year, as Wentz threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions. The "Wentz Wagon" was speeding down Pattison Avenue. The team would cool off and miss the postseason, finishing 7-9, but Philadelphia believed they had something special brewing at QB. Even the most optimistic of Eagles fans, however, couldn't have predicted the highs to come the following fall.
Another season, another opening drive with some fireworks.
Playing against Washington, the Eagles were facing a third and 12 from their own 42. Wentz scrambled around the pocket wildly, evading would-be tacklers and launching a 58-yard touchdown to Nelson Agholor:
Carson Wentz dances in the pocket and finds Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard touchdown pass. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/6bwFcf2Bep— The Game Haus Sports (@TGHSports) September 10, 2017
That was everything that made Wentz's skillset so tantalizing. He could make magic out of nothing. A negative play became not just a positive one, but a game-changing turn of events. That defined Wentz's 2017 style. He did it all season long, thrilling Eagles fans as he pulled a Houdini act on pass rushers while throwing touchdown after touchdown.
Over the first 12 games of the season, Wentz had led the Eagles to a 10-2 record while throwing for over 3,000 yards and 29 touchdowns against just six interceptions. The Birds were cruising to the Super Bowl and Wentz was the favorite to win the MVP award.
It was a dream for Eagles fans.
That dream quickly evaporated, as the hopes of Wentz's MVP win and a Super Bowl title seemingly went out the window, as a nightmare scenario played out against the Rams at the old Los Angeles Coliseum. On a run to the end zone that was later called back, Wentz dove, got sandwiched between two Rams defenders and tore his ACL.
Wentz heading to locker room.— DAN (@danWorthington) December 10, 2017
please let this guy be OK pic.twitter.com/HISKDF7tNv
Wentz left the game and his career was never the same.
Before my journalism days here at PhillyVoice, I was obviously a super-duper hardcore, insane Eagles fan. I was at that game in L.A. Walking out of the stadium after news broke that Wentz tore his ACL, I felt like I had just left a family member's wake. The Eagles would never win the Super Bowl. I would never see that triumphant day. Nothing ever broke right for this team. They had an MVP quarterback and the best team in the NFL and it all went down the drain.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know what transpired just two months later. Still, it cannot be overstated the gloom that permeated the fan base in the aftermath of Wentz's catastrophic injury.
Nick Foles entered the game in relief of Wentz in the fourth quarter and game-managed the Eagles' way to their 11th win of the season. They had clinched their first NFC East title since 2013 and were in the driver's seat to clinch home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Eagles would not win that year's Super Bowl without playing two home playoff games. They would not have had that privilege if not for Wentz's masterful 2017 play. Criticize him all you want for the mind-numbing events that later transpired, and I certainly have and will, but that's a fact.
Wentz never played this well again. He flashed some big-time moments, but the "wow" factor of his playmaking that was on display in 2017 was gone. Even when he had success in 2018 and 2019, it never felt as transcendent as it did in 2017, the thought that you might be watching the greatest QB to ever put on a winged helmet, a guy that would be enshrined in Canton one day while wearing a couple of Super Bowl rings on his fingers.
Wentz balling out that season wasn't necessarily predicated on him dropping back and throwing darts all over the field. It was based on instinct and athleticism, turning routine moments into extraordinary ones. The injury sapped him of some of those physical gifts. He could no longer play hero ball like he once did. I'll shortly get to how his confidence was later shattered, but on a simple level, he could no longer move like he did during that shoulda/woulda/coulda MVP season. In a vacuum, Wentz without the dynamic ability was only an above-average QB, not one taking the entire NFL by storm.
Was his play that year unsustainable? Was he always due to regress? I guess, but watching him that season, there wasn't a single thought that it was fluky. The eye test backed everything up. He was The Guy. Three years later, he'd be a pariah.
Nick Foles was the man who saved a doomed season, winning Super Bowl LII and forever etching himself into Philadelphia lore like few have since the Founding Fathers themselves. Foles turned in two dominant performances in the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl, delivering Eagles fans the parade down Broad Street that felt so unlikely several weeks prior. He played the best two games I've ever seen an Eagles QB play.
All the glory went to Foles for his storybook ride to becoming Super Bowl MVP, all the while Wentz watched from the sidelines. Foles became the man of the people, the guy who got it done on the biggest stage in American sports, a Philly legend in the truest sense.
Wentz would never be able to escape Foles' shadow, not in the locker room nor amongst the fan base. His confidence was never the same. Hey, we're all human, right? How hard must it have been to be the best at what you do only for some guy to come in, replace you and, against all odds, out-perform you? Coupling the physical issues of his ACL injury with the mental toll it assuredly took watching Foles hoist that Lombardi Trophy, you can see the wild change in Wentz's career trajectory.
Wentz finally returned to the field in Week 3 of the 2018 season, a home matchup against the Colts and his former offensive coordinator Frank Reich. He played well enough, throwing for 255 yards, one touchdown and one pick in a 20-16 win.
There was rust, sure, but that was to be expected. The rest never fully faded in 2018 though. Wentz had nice moments, but even in victory, Wentz never truly resembled his 2017 self. The dynamism was gone from his game. He was pressing. He didn't trust his coaching staff nor his teammates. This is where stepping in for Foles after the Nick's Super Bowl win is so hard. He wanted to best what Foles accomplish, but nothing could top being the first Eagles QB to win the Super Bowl.
Everything felt off.
Wentz was once more hurt and Foles yet again came in to replace him. It was revealed that Wentz had a fractured vertebra, a level of pain that's hard for me to imagine. Coming off a frustrating overtime loss to the Cowboys, the Birds were 6-7. Wentz's season was over and everyone thought the same of the Eagles.
Never count out Nick Foles though.
Foles led the Eagles to three wins to end the regular season, snagging a Wild Card spot and making the playoffs. Foles' clutch gene carried the Birds to a postseason win over the Bears in the iconic Double-Doink Game, which Eagles fans will cherish forever.
Wentz had yet to play a snap of postseason football. His backup was 4-1 in the playoff in relief of him. Yet again, that's where the question of confidence came into play.
Foles left during the 2019 offseason, signing a big deal with the Jaguars, and the thought process was that the Eagles would unquestionably be Wentz's team.
PhillyVoice published an expose about Wentz's behind-the-scene relationships within the Eagles organization that January. It blew up, drawing national attention. As I wrote, Wentz's 2018 season was not the redemption story that both Wentz and the team hoped it'd be.
Here's an excerpt from reporter Joe Santoliquito's story:
Whereas some circles blamed the Eagles’ offensive failures on new offensive coordinator Mike Groh, numerous sources in and around the NFL and Eagles said they thought Wentz may have been the root of the Eagles’ offensive problems. Groh is a “good coach,” who was “bullied” by Wentz, according to sources. The problem with the offense this past season shouldn’t lie with Groh, it should “lie with Wentz,” they said.
Last Tuesday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared Wentz the starting quarterback moving forward.
One thing is certain: Every one of our sources said the same things almost verbatim about the relationship between Wentz and Nick Foles: “They love each other, they respect each other and they support each other.”
But while the sentiment in the Eagles’ locker room is that Foles is “universally loved,” Wentz isn’t.
That sums things up!
This all goes back to the confidence factor. It was dwindling for Wentz.
Some teammates publicly came to Wentz's defense, but the cat was out of the bag, bringing to light things those on the outside did not see when it came to the Birds' franchise quarterback.
It appeared that Wentz had put all the doubts and concerns aside. After a 5-7 start, Wentz led the Eagles to four-straight wins to close the regular season, winning the NFC East after a Week 17 win over the Giants. For the first time, Wentz would play in a playoff game.
Wentz did not come close to replicating the thrills of his 2017 season, but he did set a franchise record with 4,039 passing yards, rallying the troops after a bumpy start. Things were turning a corner and it looked like he was back on track to being the QB this city had long believed him to be.
Wentz's playoff debut lasted just nine plays. A pretty dirty hit from Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney knocked Wentz out of the game with a concussion. 40-year-old QB2 Josh McCown was no Foles, as the Eagles lost 17-9.
Wentz had yet to play a snap of playoff football since.
The Eagles value depth at QB more than any team. It's been a hallmark of the organization since the Andy Reid era. A backup quarterback had won four playoff games and a championship for them over the last three years, so you can totally understand why.
Their QB1 and franchise guy hadn't finished the last game of the season for the team each of the previous three seasons. If the team believed they were contenders, they could not risk going into another year without an adequate backup behind Wentz.
They shocked everyone, likely including members of the organization too, when they selected former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts with 53rd-overall pick. The team was hoping to get back to the Super Bowl and they "wasted" a second rounder on a guy who, in the absolute best-case scenario, would never start a game for a team.
The pick had Eagles fans in hysterics.
This gets back to Wentz's confidence factor. He was still reeling from the Foles situation and now had a Day 2 pick who oozed intangibles and had a winning background gunning for his job.
Wentz would never recover.
What a lot of people, myself included, thought to be one of Howie Roseman's most bonehead moves as general manager turned out to likely be his greatest ever, as Hurts has since led the Eagles to a Super Bowl appearance and an MVP-caliber performance of his own.
The Eagles had hoped to contend for the next 10 years with their quarterback situation. That looks, as of this moment, to be playing out correctly, but it's not the guy they expected to be holding the reins.
Let's be frank. Wentz was incredible in 2017, okay in 2018 and pretty good in 2019. In 2020 though? He absolutely stunk, playing like one of the the worst QBs in the NFL, if not the worst overall.
Former head coach Doug Pederson had enough. Wentz was 3-9 as a starter in 2020, throwing for just 16 touchdowns compared to 15 interceptions. He lost four fumbles. He had the worst completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating of his career.
Trailing 20-3 in the third quarter in the team's Week 13 game against the Packers at Lambeau Field, Pederson pulled the plug on Wentz, benching him and throwing a rookie Hurts out there.
That was it. The Rubicon had been crossed. Wentz would never play another snap for the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was an inevitability.
The Eagles parted ways with Wentz after that season from hell, shipping him to the Colts for a conditional first-round pick and a third-round pick. The trade resulted in a $33.8 million dead cap hit for the Eagles. At the time, it was the largest dead cap hit in NFL history. It was worth it.
The thought process was that if Wentz could reunite with Reich in Indy, after the duo had so much success in 2017, Wentz would be back to that MVP candidate form.
That's certainly not what happened.
In hindsight, it was an absolute steal for the Birds. The Hurts era started in earnest and the Eagles restocked the cupboard.
Wentz actually played relatively well for the Colts for most of the 2021 season. He had them at 9-6 entering Week 17. It was a formality that Indy would clinch a playoff spot. Due in part to Wentz, that did not come to be.
In Week 17 at home against the Raiders, the Colts blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost 23-20. Wentz had just 148 passing yards.
Week 18, however, was even worse. In Jacksonville against a Jaguars team that would finish with the NFL's worst record for the second-consecutive season, the Colts collapsed in embarrassing fashion. The Jaguars beat them down 26-11. Wentz had two turnovers and threw for 185 yards.
His Colts career was over.
After that burnout, the Colts traded Wentz to Washington. The two teams swapped 2022 second-round picks (Indianapolis moved up five spots) and the Colts pocketed a pair of third rounders. I still don't quite get how the Colts got that return while also getting Wentz's gigantic contract off their salary cap sheet, but, hey, that's the disaster that's Washington for you.
Wentz started his Commanders tenure decently enough. He was 1-1 in his first two games, throwing seven touchdowns and three interceptions. Week 3, however, would be monumental for an innumerable reasons. Down at FedEx Field, Washington would host the Eagles. It was Wentz's first game against his old team.
The Eagles destroyed him.
Wentz was sacked nine times while averaging a putrid 4.9 yards per pass attempt. It's like I said earlier: without his ability to hoodwink defenders and move outside of the pocket, his game could never be the same. The Birds' defense swarmed him all afternoon.
What Wentz likely pegged as a revenge game to turn over a new leaf in his career became one of his worst performances. If anything, it was a revenge game for the Birds.
Eagles fans took over the stadium, too. Eagles fans outnumbered Commanders fans. I was there in the press box. The stadium announced the Commanders' defensive starters instead of their offensive starters. I was of the mindset that they did that because they didn't want a downpour of boos for Wentz in their own home.
The Commanders cut Wentz on Monday. I don't have the slightest clue where he'll play in 2023 and, based on just gut feeling, I could see a situation where he retires. He's made a boatload of money, has gone through a grueling few years and maybe he just wants to be family man. It's hard to picture him accepting a backup job and, again, I can't fathom someone signing him to be a clear-cut starter.
A saga like this could only begin in Philadelphia!
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