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Who Should Be the Eagles Starting QB?

Eagles at Redskins 9/10/17

The Eagles brought this on themselves. The moment that Roger Goodell stepped up to the podium and said, “With the 53rd pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles select Jalen Hurts, quarterback, University of Oklahoma,” it was only a matter of time before there was a quarterback controversy in Philly. Most people expected the calls for Jalen Hurts to come after a bad game by Carson Wentz sometime during the season, not in the middle of a historically bad season. Now the controversy is here and it is no one’s fault but the front office. So what should the Eagles do? Who should play QB moving forward?

The Case for Carson Wentz

Past Success

Carson Wentz isn’t just a player who was good that one time in 2017. He has been remarkably good during his time in Philadelphia. Wentz was promoted to the starting job two weeks before the 2016 season began after the incumbent starter, Sam Bradford, was traded to the Vikings. In his rookie season, Wentz set an NFL record for rookie completions and had the 4th most passing yards in a single season of any Eagle ever. He did all of that with Jordan Matthews and Dorial Green-Beckham as his top 2 receivers.  

We all know the story of 2017. Wentz was headed for an MVP award before his season was cut short with a devastating injury against the Rams. In 2018, Wentz was shut down early after playing in 11 games after it was discovered that he sustained a back fracture derived from his knee injury the season before. Wentz then played a full 16 game season in 2019 and broke the Eagles single-season passing record, throwing for 4,039 yards and 27 TDs against only 7 interceptions. He accomplished this feat without the benefit of a single wide receiver totaling over 500 yards.  

That brings us to this season. Wentz is struggling as we have never seen him struggle before. He has imploded in 2020, throwing a career-high 15 interceptions with 5 games still remaining in the season. That is after throwing 33, 21, and 27 touchdowns in the previous three seasons with never more than 7 interceptions. Wentz has played behind 10 different offensive line combinations, been sacked on nearly 10% of his dropbacks, and been without Zach Ertz for the majority of the season. 2020 is the anomaly. His prior success has earned him the right to have, and play through, a bad season. 

The Investment in Wentz

The Eagles have invested a tremendous amount of resources into Carson Wentz. From the initial trade to get him (2016 1st, 2016 3rd, 2016 4th, 2017 1st, 2018 2nd, Kiko Alonso, Byron Maxwell, DeMarco Murray), to the $128 million contract he was given. The Eagles are tied to Wentz for the foreseeable future. Moving him after this season would cost the team $34 million in dead cap, an amount no team has ever come close to eating for a player. So, the focus should be on fixing him, not replacing him. 

What Happens if Jalen Hurts Plays Well

What do you do if Wentz sits and Jalen Hurts gives a spark to the team? Wentz is your franchise QB, not Hurts. While it would put the Eagles in a difficult position (a position of their own making I remind you) fear of a backup succeeding is never a good argument, so I dismiss this one entirely. That said, you can make a compelling case to continue to play Carson Wentz without resorting to this argument.

The Case for Jalen Hurts

If you are disgusted with Wentz (or even if you aren’t) you can still make an argument that the Eagles should play Jalen Hurts for a number of reasons.

Hold Carson Wentz Accountable

There are growing reports that Wentz has too much power in the building and that he doesn’t take to coaching well. If true, the Eagles need to nip that in the bud and hold Wentz accountable for his actions on and off the field. He has played poorly enough to justify being benched. It could serve as an opportunity for the team to remind Wentz who is really in charge and to hit the reset button on the power dynamic in the NovaCare Complex.

Hurts Might Spark the Offense

I have my doubts that Hurts would offer anything to the offense that Wentz doesn’t. Hurts struggles in the same areas that Wentz does. He is a slow processor with poor pocket management. But, he does bring more mobility to the table which is never a bad thing given how poorly the offensive line has performed. The offense is in such a bad place right now that it certainly couldn’t hurt to make a change.

Playing Through Struggles Hasn’t Helped Wentz

Wentz has been given tremendous latitude to play through his struggles. It hasn’t worked. He has become less decisive, less confident, and is holding onto the ball longer all while locking into his first read and becoming increasingly skittish in the pocket. Wentz has been sacked a career-high 40 times this season, despite only playing 11 games so far. With Lane Johnson out for the season and Jason Kelce banged up, help isn’t coming to the offensive line any time soon and it will continue to be open season on Wentz. He is falling into very bad habits and continuing to play him will only further ingrain these habits and make them harder to undo in the offseason. Shutting him down now, or at least giving him a break, could do far more to help him work through his difficulties than continuing to play him.

Find Out What You Have in Hurts 

The Eagles selected Hurts in the 2nd round of the draft. They will never know what they have in Hurts unless they play him. Far too many of the few draft picks the team has made in recent years have been project players or players who were never given an opportunity to see the field. The 2020 season is over. They might as well use what is left to evaluate young players on the roster. 

What Would I Do?

So there you have it; the case for and against benching Carson Wentz. So what would I do?

I would bench Wentz and give Hurts the next 2 games and then evaluate from there. I would do so with the idea that Carson Wentz is the starting QB in 2021 for the Eagles, with the idea that taking Wentz out of the line of fire is more beneficial to him in the long term. In an ideal world, Jalen Hurts would play well and see his value boosted for an offseason trade. In a less ideal world, he struggles and isn’t able to be used as a trade piece this offseason but he still provides stability at the backup QB position long term. This is how I would handle the decision if I believed that Wentz could be fixed and should be the starter in 2021 and beyond (which I do).  

If the team doesn’t believe that Wentz is the long-term answer then the decision becomes that much easier: play Jalen Hurts. What do you have to lose in that scenario?  The Eagles should get busy evaluating Hurts in live game situations if Wentz isn’t in their long-term plans. They are likely to have a top 5 (maybe top 3) pick in the 2021 NFL draft. That is in a draft that is projected to have 4 QBs go at the top of the 1st round. If Wentz isn’t the answer, you have to at least think about drafting a QB there. How can you draft a QB if you have never even given a shot to your 2nd round pick from a year ago?

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