The Rise And Fall Of Carson Wentz
By Rory Jones
After an underwhelming 2020 in the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Eagles’ season finishes this evening against Washington. The lack of playoff football can, at least in part, be attributed to inconsistent production from the Quarterback position. So much so that Carson Wentz – once dubbed the future of the franchise – has been benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. Is this the end for the 2016 number two overall pick in Philly?
Philly's Franchise QB
It’s a sunny afternoon at the Los Angeles Coliseum in December 2017. Carson Wentz throws his third touchdown against the LA Rams, with four minutes left in the third quarter. When he leaves the field, the high-flying Eagles are leading 31-28, and cruising towards a league-best 11-2 record.
At that very moment, the fairytale story of Carson Wentz and the Philadelphia Eagles was about take an unexpected turn. And the once prosperous relationship between the quarterback and organisation would never quite be the same.
Four plays earlier, Wentz had torn his ACL and MCL, a devastating knee injury that would end his spectacular second season. Until that point, he had established himself as the league MVP, and the NFL’s most promising young quarterback.
His 33 passing touchdowns were the most of any signal caller that season, despite him missing the final three games. After decades of disappointment, Philadelphia had found its franchise quarterback. He seemed destined to lead the Eagles into a new era, and compete for championships for years to come.
Three years later, and this Sunday might be the last we see of Carson Wentz in an Eagles uniform.
A Drastic Demise
Wentz’s struggles this season have been well documented. Having once led the NFL in touchdown passes, he currently leads the league in interceptions this season, with 15 in just 12 starts. Even his harshest critics – of which there are an abundance in one of America’s harshest sports markets – couldn’t quite have predicted his downfall in 2020. Not like this. Not this sudden.
A multitude of factors have led to Wentz’s now-awkward situation in Philadelphia. Poor quarterback play, combined with the impressive form of Jalen Hurts since he became the starter in week 14, have cast doubt over number eleven’s future.
Blame for his decline has been ubiquitous. Some believe the Eagles mistreated its star quarterback, by failing to provide adequate depth at the receiver position, or on the offensive line. Others believe Wentz’s own ego is responsible, after reports that teammates preferred playing for Nick Foles, and that he would call his own plays, regardless of what Head Coach Doug Pederson had drawn up.
There is likely some truth in both of those arguments.
Woe Is Wentz
To put it simply, Wentz has never reached the same heights as 2017. We have however seen glimpses of the player whom the Eagles handed $144 million eighteen months ago. As recently as last season, he threw for 4023 yards and 27 TDs to just seven interceptions. Those numbers appear even more impressive given the depleted receiving core and lack of talent on the Eagles’ offense.
What certainly hasn’t helped Wentz this season,is by far the worst receiving core in the NFL. Last season, he became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 4000 yards,without a receiver with more than 500.
A failure to surround Wentz with competent receivers and offensive linemen has clearly impacted him this season, too. Tight end Dallas Goedert and undrafted receiver Travis Fulgham lead the team with 524 yards. First round draft pick Jalen Raegor has had 30 catches for 381 yards, While J.J. Arcega Whiteside, a second round pick from last year, has 2 catches for 45 yards.
Another factor working against Wentz has been an inability to stay healthy. His short career has already been littered with injuries – most notably his ACL and MCL tear in 2017, and stress fracture in his back in 2018. Sacked 50 times in 2020 – the most of any NFL quarterback – the once abrasive, audacious playmaker has been reduced to a nervous shell of his former-self on the football field.
Despite these circumstances, Wentz too deserves criticism for his poor decision making, and reckless plays, which became a weekly occurrence this season. His tendency to force throws, and try to make heroic plays have contributed to many of his turnovers this season. He is devoid of the confidence and poise which captivated fans in 2017, and made him one of the league’s most exciting players to watch.
There are also concerns over his character. It seemed strange to the outside world that Eagles players seemingly played better around Nick Foles. Stranger still, in consecutive seasons, Foles replaced an injured Wentz to lead the team on a playoff run. A 4-1 playoff record over two seasons, including a Super Bowl win in 2017, led to murmurings of a quarterback dilemma in Philly.
The Shadow Of Nick Foles
If anything, the Eagles’ Super Bowl win might just have been the worst thing for Carson Wentz.
Foles is the man forever enshrined in both Eagles and Philadelphia folklore. The orchestrator of the ‘Philly Special’ – the greatest play in the franchise history, his statue stands outside of Lincoln Financial Field. His god-like legacy will continue to overshadow Wentz until he himself leads an Eagles team to another Super Bowl. Now, it seems that he will never get that chance.
When Philadelphia’s half-a-century wait for a Super Bowl ended in 2018, it was Nick Foles – not Carson Wentz – who led the Eagles to victory over the New England Patriots. As the midnight green and silver confetti serenaded the newly crowned World Champions, Wentz could only watch on from the sideline.
Handing The Keys To Hurts
Three years later, as the Eagles face the Washington Football Team in their season finale, Wentz will yet again be stood on the sideline, but in rather different circumstances.
Jalen Hurts on the other hand, has been a player growing in confidence, and revitalised a hapless Eagles team in his first two starts. With 5 passing touchdowns to just one interception in his first two weeks, Hurts also rushed for 179 yards and a touchdown in the two games against the New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals. Many Eagles fans were quick to announce a new starter in Philadelphia.
Last week was a different story as Hurts struggled against the Dallas Cowboys. Two ugly interceptions and a fumble seemed to overshadow his 81 yard touchdown to DeSean Jackson in the first quarter.
Jalen Hurts almost started to look like Carson Wentz in the Eagles offense. A player trying to do too much, forcing throws that led to turnovers. And while Hurts is the new-flashy toy in Pederson’s offense, giving up on Wentz might prove to be a costly mistake.
The Future: Philadelphia or Elsewhere?
Perhaps recency bias is obscuring our assessment of Carson Wentz as a quarterback. Prior to his injury in 2017, he was fast becoming not only the face of the Eagles, but also the NFL. Before Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes lit up the league in 2018, it was Wentz who was widely regarded as the NFL’s best young quarterback. But when the Eagles reached Super Bowl LII without him, he quickly became the forgotten man in Philadelphia.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, and general manager Howie Roseman face a difficult decision this offseason. Do they keep Wentz – the man they are paying $107.9 million in guaranteed money over four years, or do they try to trade him?
Wentz’s heavy contract makes him almost immovable, although here might be multiple teams interested in his services, should he become available. Indianapolis, San Francisco, or even New England could all be potential landing spots for a signal caller who has only just turned 28 years old.
Jalen Hurts will make his third career start on Sunday, in the closing scene of what has been a dramatic season for the Eagles. Since taking over the starting job in week 14, many now see Hurts as the quarterback of the future. Whether he is the long term answer is yet to be seen.
Once hailed as the saviour in Philadelphia, Wentz now finds himself on the outside looking in, as his time with the Eagles may be reaching its conclusion. The player who once captured the hearts and souls of Eagles fans, and whose breathtaking ability first inspired them to dream of Super Bowls, may be about to take an unceremonious exit.
Rory Jones is a sports journalist originally from West Yorkshire. He has been covering the NFL and NCAA for the last four seasons for both British and American publications. Rory is also the founder and co-host of The Sports Bubble podcast, which aims to raise the profile of the NFL in the UK. Find him on twitter @Rorysjones11