By Jeff Diamond
Think back to early August, when Eagles coach Doug Pederson was talking about deactivating rookie quarterback Carson Wentz on game days. Wentz then fractured a rib in his only preseason game and put himself further on the Birds’ back burner.
What a difference a month and a half makes in the NFL.
With the Eagles off to a surprising 3-0 start after a 34-3 thumping of the Steelers, Wentz is making Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman look like geniuses after they were chastised throughout the offseason for mismanaging the quarterback position.
Let this be a lesson for all GMs and coaches: Be ready for anything to happen, and be flexible enough to change your approach when the situation warrants it.
Sometimes good fortune will smile on you, as was the case for the Eagles when Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a knee injury Aug. 30 and set up the domino effect of Sam Bradford’s trade to Minnesota and the elevation of Wentz to starter in Philly.
We now know the Eagles wanted to draft Wentz throughout the pre-draft process, but they had a long way to go to move up from the 13th overall pick. They also knew their intentions would be derailed if another team beat them to the punch.
So Roseman re-signed Bradford, and Pederson coaxed him into adding Chase Daniel, with whom Pederson worked in Kansas City. Both deals were highly questioned as overpays based on Bradford’s injury history and Daniel’s status as a career backup. Surely team owner Jeffrey Lurie was wondering whether his GM was making sound decisions at the most important position.
Philly moved up from No. 13 to No. 8 by trading Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso to Buffalo. After the Rams made a trade with the Titans to land the No. 1 pick (Jared Goff), the Browns made the unwise choice to trade away the opportunity to draft second and get Wentz.
The price for the Eagles to move up was steep — five draft picks, including two first-rounders, plus second- and third-rounders and a swap of fourth-rounders — but based on the returns through three weeks of the season, the trade was well worth it.
Wentz was impressive through his first two games. He stuck a dagger into the Browns’ hearts for not picking him as he threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns in the opener, including a perfect 19-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews to finish his first NFL series. Then he showed poise under the bright lights of Monday Night Football in Chicago and directed a 29-14 victory in Week 2.
But those were the Browns and Bears, skeptics said. Most figured Wentz would get a splash of NFL reality against the Steelers, who were 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004 and off to a strong 2-0 start. Wentz proceeded to outplay Ben Roethlisberger by completing 23 of 31 passes for 301 yards and a couple touchdowns in the victory.
Wenz’s stats are eye-popping for a rookie — five touchdowns, no interceptions, 103.8 rating and, best of all, undefeated. With a good offensive line to protect him, a strong running game so far (ninth in the league) and a surprisingly good defense, Wentz and the Eagles look like legitimate contenders for the NFC East title, and perhaps a playoff run.
As a cautionary note, let’s remember RGIII was Rookie of the Year in 2012 but lost his starting job in Washington a couple seasons later due to injuries and lack of production. Three outstanding games does not guarantee a Hall of Fame career. Consistent excellence for a decade or more separates the great ones, and all we can say at this point is Wentz is off to a great start.
Credit Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo for teaching Wentz the NFL ropes in the Eagles’ system and preparing him to play so smart and poised. And credit Pederson, a first-year head coach, for believing Wentz was ready to step in with so little preseason practice.
It was a leap of faith, but Wentz looks and acts like a veteran on and off the field.
Wentz has a winning pedigree, after all, with two FCS national titles in his two seasons as starter at North Dakota State. And don’t knock small school QBs. We’ve seen plenty of them attain great NFL success, including Super Bowl winners Doug Williams (Grambling State), Phil Simms (Morehead State) and, from a personal standpoint, Steve McNair (Alcorn State to a Super Bowl quarterback and NFL MVP with us in Tennessee).
Above all, credit Roseman, who took a ton of flak after paying big bucks to secure Bradford and Daniel before trading a bunch of high picks to acquire Wentz. That was too much money and resources to the quarterback spot, said the critics. I said it myself.
But I also said if Wentz ends up an All-Pro, championship-caliber quarterback, it all will have been worth it. I knew from experience that sometimes a GM has to take big risks to deliver big rewards. So far, so good for Roseman, Pederson and Wentz.
Never underestimate the good-fortune factor. Wentz eventually would have had the opportunity to prove himself, but at first, it appeared he wouldn’t get that chance until 2017. Bridgewater’s injury changed everything.
Now, in an interesting twist, the Eagles can cheer for Bradford and the unbeaten Vikings to beat the Giants on Monday night. Philadelphia, meanwhile, will enjoy an early bye before a tough stretch of four road games in five weeks, including games against all three of their divisional opponents on the road. The lone home game in that stretch comes against none other than Bradford and Minnesota.
But Wentz and Philadelphia thus far have realized an amazing combination of unforeseen events. Bold leadership and a vision from management and coaches has the Eagles flying high.
Jeff Diamond is the former president of the Titans and the former vice president/general manager of the Vikings. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year in 1998. Diamond is currently a business and sports consultant who also does broadcast and online media work. He is the former chairman and CEO of The Ingram Group.