Wentz may be the best and surest thing the Eagles have going for them
PHILADELPHIA--Seven seasons into his NFL career, Malcolm Jenkins arrived for training camp in late July with the Philadelphia Eagles and finally experienced something he had never experienced before: He wasn't completely certain who his team's st...
PHILADELPHIA-Seven seasons into his NFL career, Malcolm Jenkins arrived for training camp in late July with the Philadelphia Eagles and finally experienced something he had never experienced before: He wasn't completely certain who his team's starting quarterback would be.
Drew Brees for five years with the Saints, Nick Foles in 2014, Sam Bradford in 2015: They were givens. But last summer was something different.
Sure, Bradford was supposed to be the Eagles' starter again, but the front office had traded up twice to get North Dakota State standout Carson Wentz, and Bradford had taken that two-week hiatus to lick his wounds over the Eagles' change of heart about his future, and the new head coach, Doug Pederson, went on and on about how good the kid was going to be. So Jenkins knew Bradford was supposed to be the guy, but he didn't really know.
"It was a weird situation," Jenkins said Sunday.
As it turned out, of course, the situation got only weirder. Bradford wasn't the guy. Eight days before the season began, the Eagles traded him to the Vikings, handing their team over to Wentz, and that awful knee injury to Teddy Bridgewater stands now as the greatest benefit for a mostly forgettable Eagles season and a still-tenuous Eagles future.
As Wentz threw for 245 yards and two touchdowns and put together a solid performance against the Dallas Cowboys' second-teamers in Sunday's 27-13 victory, as he finished a season in which he started all 16 games and set an NFL rookie record with his 379 completions and generally looked the part of a franchise quarterback, it was striking to see just how important he already had become to the Eagles.
They would like to believe that Wentz's presence assures them of stability and prosperity for years to come, despite their 7-9 record this season. But from the two undrafted rookie free-agent running backs to the unaccomplished wide receivers to a defense that excelled only after Mark Sanchez started doing the things that only Mark Sanchez can do, Sunday offered a realistic contrast to that optimistic vision.
Wentz alone won't be enough for the Eagles to rise within the NFC East, and just because it appears that the Eagles have found a quarterback doesn't mean that they're bound to find everything else they need to turn themselves into a playoff team and Super Bowl contender.
"We're happy to have our quarterback now," Jenkins said. "That whole situation is settled. Nobody's looking at the quarterback situation. He's not looking behind him. Now, we're just figuring out how we're going to build around him."
Oh, well, is that all? If only it were so easy for a Howie Roseman-led player-personnel department to target enough talent to complement a young and potentially great quarterback.
The boldness and aggression that Roseman wielded to jump from No. 13 to No. 2 in last year's draft were worthy of praise, but it's one thing to read a market for a draft pick and, with the assistance of a few allies around the league, outbid everyone else to acquire that pick. Any executive can sign any player or trade for any asset if he or she is willing to spend more than the next executive. Just ask Ruben Amaro Jr. It's another thing to mine the draft and free agency for the diamonds that no one can see, to anticipate correctly which players already in your organization are worth long-term financial commitments, to cultivate a team identity and hire coaching and scouting staffs that can find and develop players who fit it.
The Eagles will likely need those sorts of players at several positions: wide receiver, running back, cornerback, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker. And if their recent history tells us anything, it tells us that whatever identity they might have and whatever plan they might implement at a particular time have fairly short expiration dates. Wait a year or two, and Roseman and Jeffrey Lurie are bound to try something else again. They got rid of Chip Kelly in part because the big changes he made last season didn't work out, but considering the roster overhauls that Roseman oversaw in 2011 and 2016, maybe the fact that Kelly made big changes wasn't the problem. Maybe the problem was that Kelly was the one making them.
Remember: All summer, the Eagles were committed to having Bradford begin the season as their starting quarterback, to having Wentz stay on the bench and learn through osmosis. And while it was always a safe bet that Wentz would play at some point this season, only Bridgewater's injury made it possible for him to become the Eagles' Week 1 starter. In an instant, Roseman was willing to rewrite the season's entire script for the sake of a first-round draft pick. It was the right move, but it wasn't his first move. Can you imagine if Bridgewater hadn't gotten hurt? If Bradford had stayed? If Wentz had no opportunity to show what he could and might yet do? Would the same apparent optimism exist?
"Maybe not," Jenkins said. "I think all the questions that got answered this year would have been pushed back a year. That maturation process gets pushed back, and then Sam most likely would have been out of here at the end of the year. In hindsight, you'd rather get that part of it over with and start moving toward building around him and him getting that adversity, those challenges, that learning process going as fast as you can."
They did, and now we know: Carson Wentz is the best and surest thing the Eagles have going for them. That sounds great. It may not be. They still have a lot of work ahead of them, more changes to come, and if they think that the hard part is over, they're wrong. The uncertainty isn't at quarterback. It's everywhere else.