January 03, 2017

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Carson Wentz is the real deal.

The Philadelphia Eagles and their fans got the answer they wanted about the rookie quarterback faster than expected. Wentz wasn't supposed to play much this season after being selected No. 2 in the draft.

But the Eagles (7-9) traded Sam Bradford to the Vikings eight days before the season opener, recouped a 2017 first-round pick and gave Wentz valuable experience as they build toward the future.

Thanks to No. 11, they have reason to be optimistic about 2017 and beyond.

''He's the guy and he is one impressive quarterback,'' safety Malcolm Jenkins said.

Coach Doug Pederson raved about Wentz before Philadelphia even traded up to get in position to draft him. He was impressed by his progress throughout the season.

''To do the things that he's done just is amazing, and really looking forward to the offseason and building for next year,'' Pederson said.

Wentz threw for 3,782 yards, set a rookie record with 379 completions, had 16 touchdown passes, 14 interceptions and a 79.3 passer rating. He also became the first QB to start 16 games for the Eagles since Donovan McNabb in 2008.

The Eagles struggled after a 3-0 start, but finished strong with consecutive wins against the playoff-bound Giants and the NFC East champion Dallas, which rested many of its starters .

''This whole season, I learned a ton about different guys, about myself, the game and going into the offseason it's full speed ahead,'' Wentz said. ''I'm no longer trying to learn a new playbook. We've had a full season under our belts so it'll be a fun offseason.''

Here's some things to look for in the offseason:

PLAYMAKERS WANTED: The Eagles haven't had a 1,000-yard rusher or receiver since 2014 when LeSean McCoy had 1,319 yards rushing and Jeremy Maclin had 1,318 yards receiving. Former coach Chip Kelly traded McCoy after that season and allowed Maclin to leave for Kansas City in free agency. Tight end Zach Ertz led Philadelphia in receptions (78), yards receiving (816) and TDs receiving (4). Jordan Matthews (73-804) was the only wide receiver with more than 40 catches and he didn't even rank in the top 30 in the NFL. Ryan Mathews was the leading rusher with 661 yards and his future is uncertain after suffering a herniated disc in Week 16.

ROOKIE CONTRIBUTORS: Wentz wasn't the only rookie who made a good impression. Cornerback Jalen Mills, a seventh-round pick, saw plenty of action and will be part of the secondary going forward. Halapoulivaati Vaitai started several games at right tackle after Lane Johnson was suspended and proved he can be a regular. Running back Wendell Smallwood (312 yards rushing) also showed flashes.

BIGGEST NEEDS: Besides playmakers on offense, the Eagles need help at cornerback and a strong edge rusher on defense. Starting CBs Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll had their struggles so an upgrade is necessary. Starting defensive ends Brandon Graham and Connor Barwin combined for only 10 1/2 sacks so they need a player who can get to the quarterback and finish.

FREE AGENTS: Carroll and DT Bennie Logan are the only starters who will become unrestricted free agents. The list also includes OL Stefen Wisniewski, who started six games at left guard, and special-teams ace Bryan Braman. Linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Najee Goode also will be unrestricted free agents. Tight end Trey Burton and running back Kenjon Barner are restricted. Braman said he doesn't expect to return.

COACHING CHANGES: Pederson still has to evaluate his staff, but it's unlikely he'll make any major changes. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz both should get opportunities to interview for head coaching vacancies. Otherwise, they're expected to return.

CAP SPACE: The Eagles will roll over $8.25 million in cap space but have $166 million committed so they won't have much spending money in free agency unless they cut some high-salaried players. The following players are candidates to get released: Barwin ($7.75 million), Mathews ($4 million) and McKelvin ($3 million). LT Jason Peters ($9.2 million) and versatile RB/PR Darren Sproles ($4 million) are less likely to go because they're still effective players but that would free up more money.

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