Nowhere To Go But ... ?
Carson Wentz trade reports continue to grip the Delaware Valley with white knuckles, as fans wear out refresh buttons on social media apps wondering if next second will be the second an inevitable deal is struck. Attention spans are locked into the "when" and "what;" when will this ordeal finally end, and what will Howie Roseman accept in return for the quarterback who was an MVP front-runner just three seasons ago but statistically among the NFL's worst quarterbacks in 2020. Overshadowed amid the vintage Philly yelling, screaming, second-guessing and haggling about Wentz's trade value, culpability, and whether or not he's a petulant quitter, are the far more significant questions of why, how and where. Why is Wentz so determined to divorce himself from the franchise, how could the Eagles have allowed this failure to happen, and where is the team is headed after its $100-million quarterback has tapped out.
A stiff-arm of this magnitude is culture shock for a franchise previously known for shipping away quarterbacks advantageously, not being held hostage by them. Figuring out the why and how is far less complex than determining where the Eagles go from here. As we've reported on Inside The Birds, Wentz's dissatisfaction is from a culmination of events, not stemming from one incident or one occasion, not directed at one coach or executive. Wentz's benching following a Dec. 6 loss to Green Bay and his strained relationship with head coach Doug Pederson didn't solely influence his decision to ask out. The Eagles have since fired Pederson and overhauled the coaching staff, yet Wentz has continued to exercise his right to remain silent amid reports, including our own, of an imminent departure. Just look at what's transpired since Wentz strapped on his Superman cape in December of 2019 and lead a walking-wounded Eagles team to a 4-0 record over the final quarter-season and NFC East title for the second time in three seasons. The Eagles approached the offseason as if personnel wasn't an issue. They fired the offensive coordinator and hired three different assistants to pair with Pederson and quarterbacks coach Press Taylor, creating an awkward cluster you-know-what in the offensive room that prompted Pederson to emphasize the importance of "one voice." The team then made made modest – to use a generous term – upgrades at receiver, its most depleted position from last year, leaning instead on drafted rookies and a 33-year-old DeSean Jackson to stay healthy (spoiler: he didn't). At the draft, the Eagles curiously used their second-round pick on another quarterback, then insisted that the selection of Heisman finalist Jalen Hurts at 53rd overall was no threat to Wentz's job, just part of the team's sudden, cutting-edge thinking about the importance of securing cost-efficient backups at the game's most important position.
Even if Wentz had believed the company line, you could understand if there was some side-eye about picking another quarterback instead of any other position that could've helped the team immediately. Roseman also did nothing to pad running back depth behind Miles Sanders, watched injuries pile up on the offensive line before deciding Jamon Brown would help (spoiler: he didn't), then succumbed to Jason Peters' every demand as Wentz was nearly dismembered by opposing defenses en route to absorbing an NFL-most 50 sacks. Adding literal insult, a report surfaced from NFL Media's Michael Silver during the height of Wentz's struggles that the quarterback's practices weren't up to par, and that Pederson's environment enabled the Wentz's poor bad habits. Media is only allowed to watch the first 10 minutes of warm-ups, so the insinuation was the criticism could've only been leaked by someone directly involved with the team. "Are my practices perfect? No," Wentz said when asked to defend himself in a press conference. "That's why it's practice. You guys are out there every day [for warm-ups] and then you guys are asked to leave. So the media's not even out there, so I don't know where that's coming from." But surely he could guess. There was also the Nov. 25 press conference in which Pederson, asked if he'd be making a quarterback change, awkwardly answered, "Not on Wednesday, no." Toss in those examples with past instances of anonymous teammates ripping Wentz in the media, starting with the original PhillyVoice story from 2019, and the reality that the Eagles did little to change the locker room culture by bringing in professionals who wouldn't bury the quarterback in times of adversity and perhaps you can see Wentz's view that the organization didn't really have his back. Maybe you don't think those transgressions are egregious enough to trump the $100 million they paid him. That's all for the court of public opinion to mull. But what's more troubling about Wentz's fall-out with the Eagles is the message being sent. My, how the tables have turned. Wentz isn't the first disgruntled Eagles player to ask out – Corey Simon, Lito Sheppard and Asante Samuel each come to mind – but he's the first franchise quarterback to pack his bags and inform the club he doesn't plan to return. It's the first time a player of Wentz's significance has turned his back on an organization that prides itself on player relationships – and on being the party to declare when it's really over. The Eagles were the ones to decide when Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins were no longer useful to them, not the other way around. Under Jeffrey Lurie's ownership, the Eagles have averted the kind of dry eras of persistent losing that's been associated with the Jets, Raiders and Browns because they've generally advertised themselves as a healthy, functional, big-market franchise where the game's best players are welcome. Free agents have come here. Drafted players have signed extensions here. And Lurie's head coach hires have generally performed well here. But now, coming off the second-fewest wins of Lurie's tenure and about to be left at the altar by their most nationally visible player, the Eagles head into this offseason prepared for at least one year of salary-cap hell, about to embark on major roster turnover, and with no certainty at the sport's most important position. There's also a first-time head coach who hired first-time coordinators, a general manager who's reputation is spearheading three different head coach searches, and an owner who's become more heavy-handed in decision-making. The Eagles must nail this April's draft and hope better days are ahead for last year's top-rookie trio of Jalen Reagor, Hurts and Davion Taylor. Sirianni needs to be the great communicator and paragon of command and presence that Lurie labeled him before fans observed otherwise at the coach's introductory press conference. The Eagles enter 2021 at a major crossroads, hoping the path they're navigating is the most fruitful one. But as Roseman once said, hope is not a strategy. – Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) is co-host of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and staff writer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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