Eagles

Eagles never wavered: Carson Wentz was always their guy

Eagles never wavered: Carson Wentz was always their guy

The Eagles never wavered. 

From the moment they fell in love with him during the 2016 pre-draft process, enough to aggressively leap to the front of the draft, Carson Wentz has always been their guy. Despite his injuries and despite heroics from forever legend Nick Foles, they never moved from that stance. 

Not once. 

Wentz got paid on Thursday night. His four-year contract extension that will keep him in town through the 2024 season is reportedly worth $128 million. That’s a ton of money — like multiple Brink’s trucks of money — but this deal felt inevitable. 

When you draw it up, it’s exactly what you want,” Eagles owner Jeff Lurie said about Wentz at the annual NFL owners meetings in March. “Highly competitive, very type-A personality, demanding, very smart, obsessed with winning and winning big, respected by everybody. You can’t really draw it up much better. And we’re lucky to have him.

You can argue about the merits of the contract. Many will. Perhaps the Eagles are taking on too much risk by signing a guy who has ended the last two seasons on the shelf to this type of deal. But even if you disagree with how much he got paid, you have to be impressed by the conviction we’ve seen from Howie Roseman and the Eagles. In their minds, Wentz is going to be an MVP-level quarterback again and nothing was going to stop them from making sure he never leaves. Now, he isn’t going anywhere for a long time. 

They could have waited. The Eagles could have let this year play out. They could have even let Wentz play on his fifth-year option in 2020. They weren’t interested in that. Because if Wentz is the player they expect him to be — as hard as it might be to believe right now — this deal will end up being a bargain. 

This was the first offseason in which the Eagles were able to negotiate with Wentz and they never shied away from publicly letting it be known that they wanted to get it done. That seems like a poor negotiating tactic, but the Eagles weren’t trying to negotiate as much as they were simply trying to lock this guy up. He’s their franchise quarterback. He has been since they drafted him No. 2. Really, he has been since Doug Pederson and the rest of the organization’s decision-makers got to know him at the Senior Bowl and Combine in 2016. 

One moment that still stands out to me was during Super Bowl week in Minnesota. Every single player was lined up in numerical order for the team photo. Except Carson Wentz. No. 11 was smack dab in the middle of the shot. It was the franchise’s way of telling the world that he was still their guy. 

That didn’t change after Foles became Super Bowl LII MVP. 

That didn’t change when Wentz got hurt again in 2018. 

And that didn’t change even as Foles went on another run last year. 

As much as it became fun fodder for fans during the 2018 playoffs when it looked like Foles was about to recapture his magic, the Eagles never wavered. They were never going to change directions and go with Foles. 

A couple months ago, I asked Roseman if they began preparing for Wentz’s contract the day they drafted him. He laughed and said no, but admitted that maybe they should have. 

“I think that once you see the kind of impact that he had on the field, the kind of player he is, the work ethic that he has, you start planning out how you’re going to build a team around a highly-paid player at that position,” Roseman said. “That’s something that we’ve been talking about really for the last two years.” 

It’s all about Wentz. It always has been. 

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Why almost everyone is wrong about Eagles' Carson Wentz

Why almost everyone is wrong about Eagles' Carson Wentz

Carson Wentz isn’t playing as well as 2017 or even last year. He’s missed some open guys, made some bad decisions, struggled late in games. He definitely shares some blame in the offense’s inconsistency.

Facts.

Carson Wentz doesn’t suck. He’s not the worst quarterback in the world. The Eagles didn’t screw up giving him a huge contract. He’s not a bust. He’s not an abject failure. He’s not the next coming of Vinny Testaverde.

Facts.

Yes, contrary to popular belief, there is a middle ground when it comes to No. 11.

It’s actually possible to be critical of Wentz without hating him.

It’s actually possible to recognize what he does really well while also acknowledging his shortcomings.

It’s actually possible to accept his strengths without ignoring his weaknesses — or vice versa.

Philly sports fans have crazy strong opinions, and that’s one of the things that makes this the best sports city in the country.

Those opinions can tend to be extreme, and when it comes to Wentz, they almost always are.  

That’s just the way it’s evolved.

Some athletes just seem to engender extreme opinions. Allen Iverson. Donovan McNabb. Ryan Howard. 

Wentz is right there now with them.

Either it’s Wentz can't play or it’s none of this is Wentz's fault.

The reality is that like any devisive topic, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

And that’s OK.

Quarterbacks struggle. They’re human. Even the best ones miss open receivers, have lousy games, have bad years.

Doesn’t mean they can’t play. 

Wentz has missed more open receivers this year than he did in his first three seasons, but he’s also not getting any help. Doug Pederson seems to have lost his magic touch as a play-caller. The running game and offensive line have been up and down. The wide receivers have been atrocious.

And still the guy has 16 touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Wentz doesn’t have an Amari Cooper. He doesn’t even have a Riley Cooper.

The Wentz haters will tell you Nick Foles won a Super Bowl with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. The Wentz defenders will point out that Jeffery and Agholor aren’t the same guys they were two years ago.

The Wentz haters will tell you he’s essentially a .500 quarterback over the last two years. The Wentz defenders will point out he has the ninth-most TD passes, 12th-highest completion percentage, ninth-most passing yards and third-best interception ratio in NFL history by a QB in his first 50 games.

The Wentz haters will tell you he’ll never win a Super Bowl. The Wentz defenders will tell you the Eagles never would have been in position to win the Super Bowl if he didn’t go 11-2 in 2017.

And on and on we go.

Remove agendas from the equation? 

You have a quarterback bordering on the elite just entering the prime of his career who’s had a Pro Bowl receiver for one of his 50 career games and threw him a couple 50-yard touchdowns the one chance he got.

And you also have a quarterback who needs to be sharper, needs to be more consistent, needs to be better.

One doesn’t contradict the other. One doesn’t render the other impossible.

Wentz is really good, but he isn’t perfect. 

And if that doesn’t neatly fit with your agenda? Then maybe it’s time to find a new one.

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Jalen Mills has always had the swagger that amps up his teammates

Jalen Mills has always had the swagger that amps up his teammates

A few weeks ago, days before his season debut, Jalen Mills stood by his locker at the NovaCare Complex and his voice barely rose above a whisper. The boisterous corner was uncharacteristically quiet. 

Mills was conserving energy. He knew he needed it because he knows his teammates feed off it. 

If there’s one word to describe Mills, it’s swagger. And that swagger is the hallmark of the Eagles’ green-haired, finger-wagging, trash-talking, dance-crazy, fashion-forward, always-confident cornerback. 

It always has been. 

“My mom always taught me to express yourself,” Mills said. “Whether it’s by dancing, hyping guys up, whatever it may be. Just always express yourself.” 

Although they sometimes get used interchangeably, confidence and swagger are much different. Plenty of confident people are quiet; Mills isn’t one of them. While confidence is internal, swagger is its physical manifestation. True swagger can’t come without confidence. 

Mills has both in heaps. 

Confidence is a necessity for an NFL cornerback because if you’re an NFL cornerback, you’re going to get beat. And after you get beat, you’re gonna have to stand back on that field, look across at Julio Jones or Amari Cooper or Odell Beckham Jr. and fully expect to shut them down. 

Since Mills returned to the lineup a month ago, he has helped stabilized a secondary that desperately needed it. He’s done it with his play, but don’t discount the energy and, yes, the swagger that he brings to the Eagles’ defense. 

The origin 

When you ask Mills for the origin of his confidence, you get an interesting answer. 

“Adversity,” he said. “I’ve been faced with adversity my whole life. I’ve lost a lot and I always had to get back up. It’s just natural.” 

That has served Mills well in his football career. The ability to bounce back from adversity is an important trait for an NFL cornerback. 

Even in his early days as a football player Mills was a frequent dancer, but his signature finger wag didn’t until come much later. He thinks he started using the finger wag his senior year at LSU a few years after seeing Morris Claiborne do it. 

Claiborne was the No. 6 pick in 2012, but in 2011 had a breakout season and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. Mills was a senior in high school in 2011, ready to follow in Claiborne’s footsteps at LSU. 

“He used to always do it,” Mills said. “You see older guys going to your school and you look up to them. It kind of translated over.”

Early in his NFL career, Mills said he wasn’t really able to have the swagger he does now. It wasn’t because he lacked confidence, but because as a rookie, he was just concerned about getting everything right and learning the defense. A few years later, he’s not worried about making mistakes anymore; he’s free. 

But even before he became the Green Goblin, his teammates and coaches saw glimpses of his personality and confidence when Mills was a rookie seventh-round pick in 2016. 

“I love the hell out of that kid. I really do,” defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said in December of 2016, Mills’ rookie year. “He’s a competitor. People talk about speed, people talk about ability to play the ball. To me, the number one criteria for playing corner is you have to be a competitor, and he is.”

It rubs off 

Mills was a rotational player as a rookie, but became a starter during the 2017 Super Bowl season and has been a starter, when healthy, ever since. 

And his Green Goblin persona has grown. 

“I didn’t notice that just when I got here,” fellow cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc said. “I noticed that from being on opposing teams, watching film. Like, ‘damn, that 31, he got that dawg in him. He’s gonna bark, but then he gonna bite. He’s not all bark. His play back it up.’ You know what I’m saying? 

“It’s football. You’re going to get beat sometimes, but you’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. J don’t shy away from that. He likes to compete.” 

Rasul Douglas says every player in the Eagles’ defensive back room has a role. It’s clear that Mills’ job is to bring energy before and during games. It’s a role he takes seriously. And Mills feeds off energy from his teammates too. 

But even his non-defensive back teammates say Mills provides juice for the whole defense. In recent weeks, it’s shown. 

“Even outside of football, I’m a big energy guy,” Mills said. “I can feel somebody’s energy whether they’re up or down. I don’t even have to know them. So I know for sure that it rubs off on guys. I just try to, when I’m out there having fun, whether I’m dancing or doing whatever, I try to get guys into it. You may have guys that are so locked in, but the end of the day, this is a game we’ve been playing since we were 7, 8, 9 years old, so have fun too.”

No one seems to have more fun than Mills. 

There have been times during his three years in Philly where he’s been maligned by Eagles fans, but Mills’ confidence never wavered. He always believed in himself and based on the last few weeks, the Green Goblin has gained plenty of believers too. 

He’s played so well over these last few weeks, that maybe it’s time to start thinking about a possible extension for Mills, who is in a contract season. 

It’s been over three years since Mills showed up with green hair in July of 2016. He never thought it would last this long. 

“No,” Mills said with a smile. “But I think I’m gonna be stuck with it the rest of my career.”

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