The franchise quarterback returns, while a Philadelphia legend departs. Will the Eagles be better or worse under center in 2019?
Key addition: Clayton Thorson (draft, fifth round)
Key departure: Nick Foles (free agent, Jaguars)
Why they could be better: Carson Wentz is finally healthy
Wentz’s struggles in 2018 – as much as a 69.6 completion percentage, 7.7 yards per pass attempt and 3:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio can be described as struggling – were easy to see coming. He was a third-year quarterback only nine months removed from a torn ACL and spent the majority of the offseason rehabbing rather than working on his timing in the offense and building a rapport with receivers. No doubt he was putting unrealistic pressure on himself, too.
The injury is finally behind Wentz though, as is the broken back bone that shelved him in December. He’s entering his fourth season, so his comfort level in the offense should be nearing its peak, and he has all spring and summer to get on the same page with his numerous weapons. With his health and contract situations resolved, all Wentz needs to worry about now is playing football – which, as you might recall, he’s pretty good at.
Why they could be worse: Unproven backup
The Eagles really like Nate Sudfeld. They promoted him from the practice squad to the 53-man roster during the 2017 season to prevent another team from signing him. They let him serve as the backup quarterback in the Super Bowl. And they tendered him at a second-round level as a restricted free agent this offseason, effectively ensuring his return while paying him over $3 million.
This will be Sudfeld’s third year in the system, so he should know what he’s doing at least. Yet, the fact is he’s attempted just 25 passes in the NFL. There’s simply no telling how good he is. It’s nothing like bringing Nick Foles off the bench. He had won 24 games, threw 66 touchdown passes and went to a Pro Bowl before adding Super Bowl MVP to his resume. Sudfeld has talent and familiarity with the offense, plus a quality supporting cast. He probably wouldn’t be a disaster, but could he save the Eagles’ season if called upon? Impossible to say.
The X-factor: Can Wentz stay healthy for 16-plus games?
People are quick to throw around the injury prone label, often unfairly, but Wentz has been seriously hurt in each of his last four seasons going back to college. He broke a bone in his throwing wrist at North Dakota State, suffered a hairline rib fracture in preseason during his rookie year (though he played all 16 regular season games), then had the ACL and the back. Injury prone or not, that’s an alarming trend.
These are unrelated injuries, so it’s possible Wentz has been unlucky. It’s also very likely the Eagles’ fortunes this season are hinging on this hope. Wentz could help himself by getting rid of the ball quicker on occasion or giving up on a few more plays. Then again, he’s the quarterback. He’s going to get hit sometimes. All anybody can do is wait and see if he keeps getting up.
Are the Eagles’ quarterbacks better or worse?
The overall talent in the room undeniably dips with Foles’ departure. Yet, ideally, Wentz is the only signal caller taking meaningful snaps for the Eagles, and he should take another step forward in 2019 provided he can stay on the field. This is a matter of perspective, but to me, having an MVP-caliber quarterback at 100 percent is far more important than the guys sitting on the bench.
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