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January 05, 2023

NFC East: Is Carson Wentz's time as an NFL starter over?

The wild career of former Eagles franchise QB Carson Wentz takes another rough turn with him potentially done as an NFL starter.

How did it end up like this?

Rewind things five years ago: Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz was out for the playoffs with a torn ACL. Backup quarterback Nick Foles was under center for the postseason run, but Philadelphians were weary of what kind of success Foles could have. The betting markets and national media echoed those sentiments, as the Eagles were underdogs going into their home playoff game against the Falcons.

Hope was out the window. "The Year" was over before it even fully began. The would-be MVP was gone, as the Eagles' best chance of winning a championship in more than a decade seemingly evaporated before fans' eyes. 

Morale was low. The Eagles probably couldn't go the distance with Foles, but a healthy Wentz would assuredly give the Eagles their first-ever Super Bowl win in the next handful of years when he returned to the field.

Well, we know how that story played out, one too cheesy even for a straight-to-Netflix movie. 

The Birds squeaked out a win over Atlanta before Foles went supernova, destroying the Vikings with the crashing of a thousand waves and dropping 41 points on the greatest defensive mind of all time in the biggest game in the history of Philadelphia sports. 

A staunch Wentz supporter in my pre-Big J journalist days, even I couldn't fathom No. 11 playing any better than Foles did in those NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl wins.

Wentz led the Eagles to the Promised Land. Foles got them over the top. It would be Wentz winning Super Bowl MVP the next season. I was sure of it. 

That didn't happen.

Wentz was uneven in 2018 before suffering a season-ending back injury. Foles once again returned to the save the day, leading the team on a three-game win streak to end the season, improbably making the playoffs and upsetting the league's No. 1 defense in the iconic Double Doink Game. 

Foles departed the ensuing offseason, as Wentz no longer had to look over his shoulder at one of the most beloved athletes this city had ever seen. It was his team. The Birds handed him a contract worth up to $128 million to hammer that home. 

Though there was inconsistency, Wentz gave the Eagles the NFC East title in 2019. He would finally play in a postseason game. He did play, but he completed just once pass before being knocked out of the game on a questionable, to put things lightly, hit from Seahawks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with a concussion. 

In three-straight seasons, Wentz did not take the final snap of the year for the Birds. 

The next year, 2020, was a disaster. Wentz looked wrong in every which way. He was benched in a Week 13 loss against the Packers for an ascendent Jalen Hurts and never played a snap for the franchise again. I imagine he wanted zero parts of a QB competition with Hurts for 2021. Nor was he happy in the first place when the team used a second-round pick on Hurts, a move that looks greater by the day and was rationalized at the time because of Wentz's extensive injury history. If he's not finishing seasons, someone has to, right? 

In under three years, Wentz went from the present and future king of Philly sports to a guy fans couldn't wait to get rid of (for good reason). 

He was traded to Indianapolis for the 2021. He looked pretty good, but crumbled down the stretch and was a main reason that the Colts missed the playoffs. 

This past offseason, the Commanders strangely traded draft capital for Wentz and took on his salary. He's started just seven games for Washington, going 2-5. He was injured, again, in Week 6 and lost his job to Taylor Heinicke. He came in relief for Heinicke in Week 16 (what a craptastic organization they got going on), started Week 17, threw three picks and lost his job again. Rookie Sam Howell will start the final game of the season for the Commanders. 

Wentz will not be a starter in the NFL in 2023. I'm left wondering if he's interested in taking a clear-cut backup job given the previous heights of his career, his pedigree and the money he's made. 

Will he ever start in the NFL again?

What the hell happened?

Wentz was so special in 2017. That was due to his elusiveness, making spectacular plays and throws out of nothing. That ACL injury sapped him of the most transformative aspect of his talent. I get people questioning whether he was that good to begin with, but, man, watching highlights from that Super year even now, he looked like the truth. He was unbelievable.  He was the chosen one! Obviously, the Eagles do not lift the Lombardi Trophy without his MVP-caliber season in 2017, giving the team the No. 1 seed in the NFC. 

I adored the guy as a fan and remained a believer until the abomination that was 2020. Firing interceptions into the end zone against the Rams in Week 2, I knew the guy I had built my Eagles fandom on for almost a half-decade was done. He made some of the lowest football IQ plays I've ever seen that season. 

What is this play?

At times, it was as if he never played QB before. 

He pressed more and more and no longer had the pure athletic gifts to compensate for it. The domino effect of Foles' success without a doubt wore on him. He'd have to reach the pinnacle of the sport to ever get close to his former understudy. Then the Hurts pick threw another wrench into the equation. That's tough and we're all human, but, NFL players are always going to be held to a higher standard. Wentz could not rise above that, especially as the injuries continued to pile up. 

The Commanders can cut Wentz with a dead cap hit of $0 this offseason, per Spotrac. They will do exactly that, leaving Wentz in no-man's land: not good enough to be a No. 1 and not equipped to be a No. 2. 

Does he ever start again in the NFL? Does he want to be a backup? Would he rather pack things home, head back to North Dakota, sit on all of the money he's made and spend the rest of his days hunting and being a NDSU legend? There are worse lives for sure. 

Three burnouts in three seasons means that no team is going to take a shot on him as QB1 in 2023. I was shocked anyone did for 2022, but that's Washington for you. 

I don't know what the future will hold for Wentz, but I did cling to a future for so long that had MVPs and Super Bowls galore. Wentz was a necessary piece in the Eagles' 2017 triumph and his exit was just as necessary for the Eagles to become the championship contenders they currently are. 

As wild as a career as Wentz has had, one of the weirdest I've ever seen, it's somehow less improbable than what Foles himself did. For better or worse, that's how he'll be remembered in Philadelphia: one notch below Foles' magic. 

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