Carson Wentz has been well worth the investment for the Eagles.
It’s been gradual, like anything else in pro football, but the steps Carson Wentz takes just seem to stride longer than those of most young quarterbacks. And to illustrate that, on Wednesday night, Eagles coach Doug Pederson took me through two plays that show exactly how, for all the physical ability that Wentz brings, he’s got the same sort of Wow factor on the mental side.
The first came on New Year’s Day, and the last game of Wentz’s rookie year.
“I’d called a run, and he got us into a better run,” Pederson said. “It was in our game plan, but the amazing thing was it was something that we didn’t really practice. Even though the play was in, it wasn’t tied into that particular huddle call. Dallas showed a look, and we were able to get to a better run and we were successful on the play. … Positive run in the red zone, got us from a bad play to a better play.”
And the second was subtly, but importantly different. With Philly holding a 24-17 lead and the ball in the fourth quarter against Washington two Mondays ago, Wentz took the offense from a merely good play call to the exact right one.
“Down in the red zone, I called a particular pass route, and he’d seen a coverage and it was a coverage we’d seen and studied that the Redskins did,” Pederson said. “And he saw it at the line of scrimmage, and he actually audibled and got us into the right play for that coverage. And it was a touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor.”
So our Lesson of the Week could be the lesson for any week, but is relevant now because of the trade of Garoppolo and the massive trickle-down effect it might have. That is: If you get the quarterback question right, like the Eagles have, whatever you paid doesn’t matter.
“You gotta have that quarterback on your roster, a guy you can trust and you can do a lot of things with. And then, you just build around him,” said Pederson, and you can almost hear him beaming through the phone. “It’s been fun.”
But the process of getting Wentz wasn’t easy—or cheap. Before EVP Howie Roseman and Pederson even honed in on Wentz in early 2016, they re-signed Sam Bradford at $18 million per, and gave Kansas City’s Chase Daniel a deal that was groundbreaking financially for a backup. Because that preceded two trades up the draft board to get Wentz, the Eagles took heat for what some believed was a scattershot approach.
Philly knew what it was doing. And no one talks about Bradford or Daniel anymore.
The guy they’ll take into Sunday’s showdown with Denver is now the envy of most NFL teams, and it happened because the Eagles prioritized the position and invested everything into it. That included, too, the research that revealed Wentz to be the kind of guy that we’re all seeing now, and that those two plays above showed him to be.
The coaches are seeing it in Wentz’s knowledge of the offense. It’s also showing up in his mechanics—he’s learned to set his target line with his feet better this year, and as a result his accuracy has taken a big jump. And it’s there, too, with his leadership and ownership of the team.
“You’re the quarterback and face of the franchise, he embraces that, and guys just gravitate towards him,” Pederson said. “And he leads not just by example, but vocally on the field. Even guys like Jason Peters, they have a lot of respect for him, just because of the way he prepares and what they’re seeing on the football field, how he interacts with them. Leadership comes naturally with him, it’s not forced.
“You saw it when he was in college, you saw it when you spoke to him at the combine. And you knew that was a natural, innate ability within him.”
Pederson says that the next set of improvements that he and the staff are expecting will come in how Wentz plays the situational game.
That’ll mean playing smart based on field position and clock. It’ll mean taking what Pederson calls a “touchdown-to-checkdown” mentality, and learning better when the smart play is the easier one. And it’ll mean being efficient with hot reads when the blitz is coming. Evidence shows that the stuff we’re talking about here will come around pretty quickly.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to imagine from a second-year player, that he’s that far ahead mentally with the game,” Pederson said. “And listen, he’s learning every single week. There are situations that come up, whether he sees it on the field or maybe he makes a mistake, he’s gonna learn from it and he’s gonna process that and he’s gonna bank that. And next time, he’s in that situation, he’s gonna make the play.”
Those little things will come. The big things, as the Eagles see it, already have. As a result, they have the one big thing that any franchise needs, and you can’t put a price tag on that.
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