The Curious Case of Carson Wentz by Joe Frake
The season kicked off at FedEx Field for the 2017 season opener and the stage was just set: Wentz dropped back, evaded left, evaded right, quickly set his feet and sent a moonshot down the field to the sure-handed Nelson Agholor for a 58-yard score. Wentz would proceed to throw one more score that afternoon in tune to a 30-17 trouncing of the now-known Washington Football Team. It seemed like the jigsaw tension always known to grip the bellies of faithful Philadelphians just started to ease. It all made sense now. He was THE guy. We finally had a ‘guy’ that would shoulder the burden of a fanbase so emotionally drained from constant disappointment and what seemed like inevitable suffering.
There was a different kind of buzz around Lincoln Financial Field on October 23rd, 2017. The formerly-known Washington Redskins were given the tall task of a soaring 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles team that just had, well, a different kind of buzz. Carson Wentz came into that game in strong contention with the likes of Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson for the League MVP award. Carson Wentz left that evening with a 6-1 record, a 34-24 victory, four touchdowns, and one magical 3rd and 8 scramble that essentially threw him into the lead spot for the league’s most coveted regular season award.
Per The Philadelphia Inquirer
Things just felt different with Wentz. He had essentially delivered on the massive risk Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman took mortgaging draft capital to move from 13th overall to 2nd overall to secure the South Dakota Bison. Less than two years removed from returning another championship to Bismarck, North Dakota, he was shouldering the burden of a championship-deprived franchise that had seen so much heartbreak and the most inconvenient and misfortunate events. But, by the miracle of the Football Gods, the city was finally gifted the one man who could handle such a Herculean task. He stood at 6’5’’, 240 pounds. He has extraordinary escapability, and is as tough as they come. He says all the right things, he does all the right things.
But here we are, on a very different October night. I was not exaggerating, either.
Things really do feel different with Carson Wentz.
Fresh off of his first victory of the season, Carson Wentz delivered what should have been an exciting, come-from-behind victory against the San Francisco 49ers on primetime television. Travis Fulgham, fresh off of practice squad, caught the go-ahead 42-yard touchdown pass from Wentz with 5:50 remaining. A pick-6 would seal the fate of the lowly Niners, and hardly bring the ease to that unsettled stomach of a Birds fan. Wentz also finished that night 18/28 with 193 yards in the air and an interception. His 45.1 QBR ranks 29th out of 32 quarterbacks in the league, and his 7 interceptions have him dead last in the league, per ESPN. He has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards this season. The Eagles, somehow leading the NFC East, have stumbled out of the gates to a 1-2-1 record and one of the league’s most grueling schedules to come.
Sure, each season has a rational explanation for why it played out the way it did for Carson. His rookie season he was thrusted into the starting job only a week before the start of the 2016 regular season. He was ill-equipped, a first-year head coach was attempting to instill a new practice to the disaster left behind by Chip Kelly, and he was a year removed from playing Division 1-AA football. It made sense why he would finish the year with only 16 touchdowns to 14 interceptions and nine fumbles. His second season was a strike of lightning in a bottle, and although he unfortunately could not finish the season, he still finished 2nd in the league in touchdown passes thrown and had guided the Eagles to an 11-2 record. His seasons that followed featured an astonishing amount of injuries to key players across the board. A lack of a true number 1 option. A chaotic locker room. One playoff birth cut short well into the first quarter. A Super Bowl that he cannot claim as his own.
There is an elephant in the room, and it is Carson Wentz. Perhaps it is time for me to say it: I am worried about Carson Wentz. I am passed the point of mere worry. This is a player who seems to have lost his elusiveness that had made him look like a mix between Tony Romo and the great Steve Young. This is a player who still struggles to keep the ball in his hands with 50 career fumbles. A man who was once renowned as one of the most precise red zone passers in the game, someone with off-the-charts football IQ, and the frame, build, and arm strength. The list goes on with him. He truly appears to be everything that you need in a franchise quarterback. But here we are, only a year into his newly extended 4-year $108 million contract and the question unavoidable for Eagles fans begins to catch back up: do the Eagles have their franchise quarterback?
So you think about the things you just scratch your head at with Carson Wentz. You think about the locker room tension, the anonymous quotes, the lack of production against elite NFL teams, the injuries, the inconsistency.
And with the 53rd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected someone who, damned if I say it twice, has a different buzz to him. A quarterback that had left the field in the 2016 National Championship with the lead at only 18 years old. The same quarterback that had lost his starting job and was the spotlight for criticism on one of college football’s pillar programs. He is calm, he is poised. But what he isn’t? Is a threat for Carson Wentz’s job. Because, in a way, it is still Carson Wentz. The same player who led an injury riddled squad to a division title and a playoff birth only a season ago. This is a guy who has frequently taken tough hits and thrown to some pretty poor targets. He has had some questionable decisions himself, but plenty of it can be explained and rationalized as understandable. Like I said, for some reason, there is just something about Carson Wentz that I can’t put my finger on just yet. However, I am not sure how many more “next years” there can be with Carson Wentz. Simply put, this is year five. This is the year he has had to have taken the leap. Perhaps 2017 really was what we all thought Carson Wentz was going to be. Maybe he still will be. But for some reason, I can’t quite breakdown what the case is with Carson Wentz. I am not sure how much time the Eagles should afford themselves to see what a missed opportunity that could be for what the Eagles will eventually need to truly evaluate: is Carson Wentz the franchise quarterback?