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February 25, 2021

John McMullen: Closing the door on Carson Wentz and the locker room

Opinion Eagles

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Eagles_Cowboys_Carson_Wentz_closeup_Week8_Kate_Frese_11022034.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Quarterback Carson Wentz during the Philadelphia Eagles game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It's time to put a bow on the Carson Wentz nonsense and to do it, let's try a little experiment.

Allow an independent testing firm to contact the last 65 people you've had an interaction with and let's see if every single one of them likes you. That's the size of an NFL team, pre-pandemic at least when you factor in the 53-man roster and the practice squad.

Of course, that study is tongue planted firmly in cheek because we don't have the resources to get Scientific America to bite on this but, if you're being honest, you all know the results of your personal study unless you're Brandon Graham. I'm still looking for the guy who doesn't like BG but I'm also sure he exists — maybe the sensitive type that doesn't enjoy trash talking after getting boat-raced around the edge.

From my interactions with Wentz, which are strictly as an acquaintance in a working environment, I can report he's a good dude, one who does far more for the community than 99 percent of us. And yes he has the means greater than 99.9%, but that first part still rings true. On an everyday basis, however, Wentz is more of an introvert with a much-hyped Type-A personality.

That dynamic was perhaps best described by Wentz's former teammate Chris Long.

On a personal level, that means Wentz is not going out of his way to glad-hand everyone each and every day although he was a notorious welcome guy on social media right up until he wasn't. In other words, Wentz understood his role as the face of the franchise and realized he needed to make an effort. Ultimately, though, that was swimming upstream against his natural personality.

Long had Malcolm Jenkins on his podcast this week and the two 2017 team leaders had a back and forth about Wentz and the perception that some found him off-putting.

“I mean, dude, we played with some locker room cancers. The guy (Wentz) is a good dude; he’s got things to work on,” Long surmised on his Green Light with Chris Long Podcast.

“All of these things that have happened to him, it may be hard to overcome those things in Philly, but now that he’s somewhere else, those lessons are going to be things that he, I hope, will learn from and lean on and make him a better player, especially when it comes to the locker room stuff,” Jenkins added. “Because like you’ve said, he’s not a locker room cancer. We played with him, and that’s not it.”

Remember the cachet Long and Jenkins had, however. The same is not true of a rookie or younger player just heading into a new locker room and when the leader isn’t touchy, feely, perceptions can take a negative turn.

Talking to coaches about Wentz from Day 1 — everyone who worked closely with him from Doug Pederson to Frank Reich to John DeFilippo plus Mike Groh, Press Taylor, and Rich Scangarello — on a professional level Wentz was always described as a "why guy" and let's face it, the next coach I meet that doesn't prefer the player who accepts everything no questions asked will be the first.

Even Reich, his much-discussed savior, admitted Wentz was hard-headed and there's good and bad that comes with that. It's absolutely true that Wentz did not enjoy the hard-nosed coaching style of DeFilippo and the man tasked with replacing Flip in that regard, Mike Groh, and hopefully, Wentz realizes that was a mistake with Indianapolis otherwise his reboot is doomed to failure.

In many ways, Wentz is simply a modern athlete at the NFL's most important position. Privilege and entitlement are baked into that.

Believe me, using the word privilege for this column comes with hesitation. That's because a simple noun has been hijacked in the modern politically-charged environment by those who want to divide us and those they've purposefully indoctrinated in a remorseless fashion to advance an agenda: the obfuscation of the real privilege which has always been and will always be tied to class.

Those are admittedly controversial issues that reach far beyond childhood games adults get paid handsomely to play but maybe the actual landscape is better defined in professional sports than anywhere else because some of the most inclusive environments in the country are housed in locker rooms (at least pre-pandemic when shooting the s**t in closed quarters was actually allowed).

In the NFL — the quarterbacks are the privileged class.

Yes, Wentz was entitled in Philadelphia with his disdain and distrust of the organization growing from the drafting of a safety net after a series of serious injuries, one who happens to be a more natural leader in Jalen Hurts.

By the time Wentz was benched he had already checked out mentally, turning his relationship with Pederson into a text-only one and plotting his exit strategy.

Those waxing poetic about embracing competition are mired in old-school beliefs or their own high-school days. That's just not how the NFL works now.

The first domino led to more falling in what turned out to be a fractured relationship and one that forced Howie Roseman to allow Ryan Tollner to shop the former QB1 to the one place he wanted to go, taking pennies on the dollar when it came to return on investment, and forcing Jeffrey Lurie to scramble for his accountant's number to explain a $33.8 million write-off.

In case you've stayed provincial, Wentz isn't the only NFL QB to flex what muscle he has this offseason, however.

Deshaun Watson is privileged in Houston as well, to the point of believing that his immense gifts as a player give him the right to chime in on hires above his enormous paygrade like head coach and general manager.

Out in the Pacific Northwest, a misjudged skill-set coupled with a Super Bowl pedigree and a superstar wife was enough to push Russell Wilson from overachieving third-round pick to superstar and the highest-paid player in the history of football which of course also means personnel power, right?

No player has ever had more on-field success than Tom Brady and the seven-time Super Bowl champ went the NBA route, picking the desirable locale in Tampa and recruiting from there.

The MVP, Aaron Rodgers, had to have three fingers of his favorite adult beverage when the Green Bay Packers ignored his desires in the 2021 draft and chose his potential heir apparent, Jordan Love, instead. A-Rod also let everyone know about it at every turn.

The list doesn't end there but you'll notice the privilege is color blind because it's never been about that, it's about the perceived talent and importance of the player lifting them above everyone else in the organization which will always fuel resentment in at least some quarters.

“The coachability and stubbornness, he ain’t the only player, but we expect something more out of a quarterback. Right?” said Long. “That’s the bottom line. He’s not the only quarterback who is stubborn. This has existed as this extreme conversation when, he’s got things to fix, but I don’t remember ever thinking, ‘what an asshole.’”

Wentz had difficulty handling those who expected him to be the guy who lights up the room at parties but that's not why he's gone. He’s out because unlike Watson, Wilson, Brady, and Rodgers -- true superstars at the position -- Wentz's play didn't live up to his privilege.



John McMullen is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media, the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey and also contributes Eagles and NFL coverage for SI.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com.

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

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