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Carson Wentz has become the NFL’s biggest gamble

Carson Wentz is broken. Can he be fixed?

While much of the football world waits to see if the Texans will trade Deshaun Watson, the Eagles are still desperately trying to find a home for Carson Wentz. The Eagles are ready to go in a different direction at quarterback and need to get rid of Wentz’s $128M contract, but they also want to get value for a player who was an MVP candidate only a couple years ago. It’s a buyer’s market on the quarterback, but who wants to buy?

What began with a flurry of interest from a number of teams has now now died down. The Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts appear to the be the last teams willing to at least listen to Philadelphia’s current demands long after the rest of the league submitted offers. While we don’t know precisely what the Eagles want, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that the team wants “strong compensation.” It seems like Philadelphia would want a first round pick and more for Wentz.

Could that happen? Perhaps. Should it happen? Absolutely not, unless a general manager wants to risk his reputation on a fundamentally broken player who needs to be rebuilt. If you bet wrong on Wentz your career might well be over. No general manager can conceivably take this risk, absorb Wentz’s contract, offer high draft compensation, get it wrong, and still keep their job.

If you get it right though, if you fix the problems and bring back the player who powered the Eagles’ run to the Super Bowl before Nick Foles finished the job — well, it might be the biggest bargain at the position since the Titans landed Ryan Tannehill for peanuts. That’s an enticing gamble for a lot of GMs, especially Bears GM Ryan Pace who seems to have fallen in love with the idea of trading for Wentz with his job on the line. Colts GM Chris Ballard is also looking to keep a promising team on an upward trajectory after Philip Rivers’ retirement.

What went wrong with Wentz last year? Can he be fixed? These are the things a franchise needs to weigh before trading for the QB.

Carson Wentz reportedly has an ego problem

One of the more mystifying pieces of information to come out of Philadelphia during the offseason, and subsequent firing of Doug Pederson, was that he and Wentz no longer had a good relationship. From the outside looking in Wentz seemed to have a quiet, mild-mannered demeanor about him, but behind closed doors this was anything but the case.

In a ranging breakdown of Wentz’s regression, the Philadelphia Inquirer painted the picture of a player who had greatness thrust upon him by those around him, and fell for the hype a little too much.

“Every great quarterback wants to be coached and they want to be coached hard and by the best, and it doesn’t seem like [Wentz] wants that,” one source said. “It’s kind of like whoever’s coaching him is working for him. But it can’t be that way.”

Here was a player who at 25-years-old was viewed as the catalyst in a turnaround for Philadelphia football the city had been craving for decades. Nick Foles got all the glory in the end for beating the Patriots, but inside the organization there was no mistaking who the Eagles viewed as “their guy” for the future. Foles was traded away to the Jaguars, Wentz would resume the mantle, and the assumption, at least at first, is that the team would pick up where it left off.

Obviously that didn’t happen. The team began to lose, and while it was apparent that Wentz had the relentless, Type-A personality teams look for in quarterbacks to lead them to wins, he didn’t display the same willingness to put losses on his shoulders too, even when they were his fault.

“He doesn’t understand that he lost games for us,” a veteran player said. “He will never admit that and that’s a problem because he can’t get it corrected.”

Not only did Wentz not accept blame, he wasn’t held accountable for making excuses for poor performance. It’s noted that Wentz would routinely be shown mistakes he made in the film room, only to shift blame to others and not accept responsibility for his own failings. To make matters worse, Press Taylor, who was the Eagles quarterback coach at the time (and only a few years Wentz’s senior) didn’t hold him accountable either, allowing the excuses to flow without correction.

“For instance, there would be a play when he didn’t throw to an open receiver. The read was drawn up as designed, the coverage played out as expected, and he would be asked why he didn’t pull the trigger.

And Wentz would say the look wasn’t there, or he would overemphasize the pass rush, and when it was suggested the play be run again in practice as to get it right, he would object.”

Wentz became conditioned to believe he was perfect, because there were a lot of voices in the organization telling him he was perfect. GM Howie Roseman reportedly has a giant Fathead of Wentz on the wall of his office, a shrine to the draft pick he thought he hit a home run on. It’s one thing to be thankful you took a player you believe to be the future, another entirely to venerate them for all to see. On some level you can’t blame Wentz for thinking he was the greatest thing to grace The Linc, because he was routinely told he was.

There’s major on-field problems too.

There’s a consistent theme to Wentz’s collapse where nothing is entirely his fault, not really. It seems hilarious to talk about him not accepting blame, then not foisting all the blame on him — but this is a nuanced situation.

The ego, the unwillingness to be coached, shifting blame. Those are symptoms of an ego run amok. Failing to deal with pass pressure on the field, making ill-advised throws, not standing tall in the pocket, well, that’s what happens when you’re sacked as often as Wentz was.

Protection became a major issue for Philadelphia. This was a unit that was never spotless, allowing 36 sacks during the 2017 Super Bowl season (16th in the league), but middling was good enough when paired with Wentz’s playmaking ability.

Injuries wrecked the left side of the line in particular, and without his blind side protected Wentz went down, a lot. Patchwork jobs on the line trying to keep Wentz up had the opposite effect, and in 2020 the team led the league in sacks allowed with a stunning 65.

The inability to protect Wentz drastically altered his play style, and suddenly the once-steady hand that led the Eagles to the Super Bowl was replaced with a completely different player. Losing faith in his protection, you could see Wentz’s eyes drop off his progression and check down the pass rush — whether it was there or not. It was an all-consuming concern for the quarterback, and often you could see him check the rush even when protection was adequate. Then he would need to return his eyes to the second level, relocate his receivers, pausing just enough for the coverage to get there if he forced an ill-advised throw. Often he would simply miss a lurking safety or dropping linebacker.

It’s not so much that Wentz was afraid to take a hit, and more that he played like he had no faith in the teammates around him. At least those responsible for pass blocking. I believe this is the true heart of his problems in 2020, and would also explain why he wouldn’t honestly answer questions about him missing reads. Nobody wants to be the guy who throws his teammates under the bus, or lose the respect of those around him. The issue is he didn’t learn how to put trust back into these players, even when they earned it.

By Week 12 the complete collapse of Wentz as an elite quarterback was seen on Monday Night Football. Wentz may have had lower points in his season than a 23-17 loss to Seattle, but after throwing 45 times for a paltry 215 yards, missing open receivers and being sacked six times it was clear he was done. The next week the Eagles made the switch to Hurts mid-game, and so ended Wentz’s season.

Can you rebuild all this?

This is a situation where we’re not just talking about a small hitch in Wentz’s game, or a minor issue that can be ironed out, but a player who needs to be broken down and built back up, both physically and mentally.

Wentz’s newfound propensity to check the pass rush needs to be erased, and he needs to be willing to trust the offensive line. That’s a difficult prospect considering this would be a new team, with a new set of players to mesh with. The saving grace, however, is that both Chicago, and Indianapolis, who are rumored to be the front-runners for Wentz, have fairly solid offensive lines. The Colts allowed 21 sacks this season, partially attributable to Philip Rivers’ unnatural release speed and feel for pressure, but also a testament to their talent. The Bears allowed 36 this season, markedly worse, but the unit seemed to improve as a whole as the season went on.

Either landing spot would give Wentz far more to work with when it comes to protection than he received from Philadelphia, but getting him to a point where he trusts standing in the pocket knowing these guys have his back, that might be another story.

This is a mechanical concern, but one I think is fixable. It’s not like Wentz is inherently scared of contact the way you saw David Carr or Jimmy Clausen become gun shy. It can be corrected with time and bonding.

The far greater concern as I see it is the ego issues. Every player should believe they’re the best, because it’s the fuel athletes need to succeed — but when that steps over the line to believing there’s nothing to learn, or everything is someone else’s fault, that’s far worse. I don’t know how a coaching staff can have a realistic expectation they can “fix” Wentz when there’s evidence from inside his current organization that he doesn’t think anything needs to be fixed. That lack of humility will not be coddled by coaches who didn’t draft him, or a general manager worshipping the ground he walks on.

This leaves us with a giant conundrum. Carson Wentz has been statistically brilliant for three solid years of his career, and a dumpster fire in 2020. Conventional wisdom would say this means last season was an outlier, and there’s something to work with — but it carries a colossal risk. Wentz is on a contract that will make him the 4th highest paid quarterback in the league in 2021, with a cap hit of $34.7M. He will make more than Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, or Russell Wilson. Framed this way the idea of taking a flier on a player who needs to be fixed is absolutely ridiculous, but the allure and the promise Wentz can return to form will be far too great for someone to pass up.

Whether that’s the Bears, the Colts, or someone else, they will be going all in on a hand without even knowing the cards they’re holding. That should absolutely terrify any fan of a team interested in making a serious run at Wentz.