December 11, 2017
We can get one thing out of the way up front: without Carson Wentz, the Eagles will quickly go from the NFC favorite to just another team hoping things break their way in the playoffs. This is not an insult to them as much as it is an acknowledgment of how thin the margin of error is in the playoffs. Even teams that look like juggernauts have been upset after catching a bad matchup, and the guy who makes Philadelphia's offense go will now be able to do nothing but smile from the sideline.
Knowing this, the Eagles have to find a way to soldier on anyway. And from where I sit, part of that equation feels like it should be opening a dialogue with Colin Kaepernick.
No, I don't think Kaepernick represents some sort of savior figure who can replicate anything Wentz has done. I don't even think you bring him in to supplant backup Nick Foles at this stage of the game. The Eagles are too deep in the season to throw a new guy into the mix sight unseen, with precious little time to build an understanding of the playbook. It would be a difficult job for anyone to replace Wentz, let alone a guy who'd be coming in off the street.
But it would be a disservice to their ultimate goal to not at least have a conversation with the current NFL outcast.
This is damning with faint praise, but you aren't going to find a better option to throw into the mix than Kaepernick at this point. He is far removed from his peak seasons on Jim Harbaugh's 49ers, but he is more than equipped to be the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option. He has played within the pressure cooker that is playoff football, and has experience in big games up to and including the Super Bowl. In fact, if not for some strange playcalling at the end of his lone Super Bowl appearance, Kaepernick might have the distinction of being a Super Bowl winner.
That doesn't wash away the decline of his play over the last couple seasons in San Francisco, but compare him against the other options Philadelphia would be stuck with, in the event they don't bring him in. We're talking about a list that includes guys like Matt McGloin, whose only career win as a starter came against the two-headed quarterback monster that is Matt Schaub and Case Keenum. We're talking about possibly relying on current third-string QB Nate Sudfeld, a sixth-round pick who has never thrown a professional pass outside of the preseason.
Yes, the bar is that low, and Kaepernick certainly clears it.
There is always the argument about the potential "distraction" Kaepernick's presence could cause. It's a lame excuse, particularly given Malcolm Jenkins' vocal role in discussing the movement Kaepernick spearheaded. The Eagles have been at the forefront of championing social causes, with lineman Chris Long's activism being a bigger story than his on-field play for most of this year. If having to answer a few questions about Kaepernick would really be enough to derail this very good Eagles team mentally, they were never strong-willed enough to win anything of importance in the first place.
I don't think that's the case. I think this Eagles squad draws strength from its blend of voices and backgrounds in the locker room. Their starting quarterback is a Bible-thumping, good-old-boy from North Dakota. Their big midseason acquisition was an ornery running back from London, and his counterpart is a bruiser whose college career is best known for a sucker punch he threw at an opponent during a post-game scrum. Hell, they have a defensive lineman who is being sued for being an alleged homewrecker, and it hasn't stopped him from being one of the most impactful tackles in football.
The Eagles have plenty of combustible and contrasting personalities, and they've managed just fine so far. The implication that someone wouldn't fit into their locker room because he expressed disdain at how black Americans are treated by police is misguided at best, and insidious at worst. Short of the locker room standing up and saying, "We don't want him around," the players handling their business is not a crutch to lean on.
The overwhelming sentiment when the topic was initially broached on Sunday evening was one of pessimism. "If the Eagles get to their third-string quarterback, they're already doomed!" was a common response. Fair as that point is, it is also dismissive of the opportunity in front of the Eagles. They are still in position to take home-field advantage in the NFC, and those type of seasons don't come around very often. As crappy as the situation is, you do what it takes to build the best and deepest football team you can in a tough set of circumstances.
Throwing up your hands and saying there's nothing else you can do with a potential Super Bowl on the line is bogus. At the very least, Kaepernick would represent a wild card in the event Foles wasn't up to snuff or suffered an injury. Pederson could get him on the move in a way he wouldn't be able to with Foles, and if he got thrown into the fire teams would at the very least have to account for mobility in the pocket once again. It may not be much, but it's certainly better than effectively giving up.
Even if your argument is that Kaepernick won't have enough time to prepare, that idea falls apart under scrutiny. Is Sudfeld, who has never played a down at NFL speed, really "more prepared" to step into an NFL game than Kaepernick would be with a few weeks of time to learn the playbook? If the Eagles were able to win their next two games, they could clinch the No. 1 seed in the NFC on Christmas thanks to their record in common games with Minnesota. Were that to happen, the Eagles could theoretically give Kaepernick reps in their final regular season game against Dallas, allowing him to get his feet wet.
The worst thing you could say about Kaepernick is that he devolved from a promising talent to a game manager over the last couple years of his career, while stuck on one of the least talented and poorly-coached teams in football. You're not going to find a better emergency option than Kaepernick short of summoning Tony Romo and his jacked-up back out of retirement, especially when you consider he'll have the assistance of Philadelphia's coaching staff and supporting cast.
Save your ideas on what patriotism is for someone who is interested in humoring the argument. The Eagles are late in the game with few options to turn to, and Kaepernick is the best one left. This team will go as far as the running game and the defense can take it, so the least you can do is make sure they have more than one quarterback who can be counted on in a pinch.
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