By Ben Sullivan
The Eagles arrive today at NovaCare in South Philly for training camp, and it is fair to say that expectations are sky high in Eagles Nation:
SUPER BOWL OR BUST!
Whatever the Eagles did last season was a bonus. It’s possible no fan base was happier to see a Super Bowl title than Philadelphia two seasons ago. You don’t have a storybook season and complain if the epilogue is a little rough.
The Super Bowl hangover was predictable. The Eagles were 6-7 after a crushing overtime loss to the Cowboys, and Carson Wentz was diagnosed with what was reported as a fractured vertebra. One of those losses was a 48-7 drubbing to the New Orleans Saints, the worst loss ever for a Super Bowl champion. At 6-7, with their quarterback shelved, Philadelphia’s season seemed over. Everyone knew the Eagles were better than that, but Super Bowl hangovers are unavoidable.
Then the Eagles rallied. Foles played out of his mind after Wentz’s season ended, adding to his legacy. The Eagles beat the Rams, Texans and Redskins and got every break they needed to make the playoffs. Then in the playoffs they beat the favored Bears on the road and gave the Saints a tough test in the divisional round. Had Foles not pulled out a miraculous comeback against the Texans or the Vikings hadn’t choked away that last wild-card spot, we’d view the Eagles’ title defense as a failure.
The good news about inevitable Super Bowl hangovers is they pass. And the Eagles’ roster still holds up as one of the best in the NFL.
The Eagles have a lot to be excited about. Their offensive line is projected to be the best in the NFL, via Pro Football Focus’ preseason rankings. Tight end Zach Ertz is coming off a record-breaking season. They added some talent at running back and a trade for DeSean Jackson seems smart. The defense was crushed by injuries last season but that group should rebound. Doug Pederson is still the same guy who completely out-coached Bill Belichick, almost inarguably the greatest NFL coach ever, in a Super Bowl.
Yet there’s one big question the Eagles need to answer, and it’s the guy who looked like the MVP of the league late in the 2017 season. Wentz hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and with Foles off to Jacksonville there’s no safety net.
In each of the past four seasons, going back to his final year at North Dakota State, Wentz has dealt with major injuries: broken wrist in 2015, hairline rib fracture in the preseason of his 2016 rookie season, torn ACL in 2017 and fractured vertebra last season. The term “injury prone” can be used too often. Sometimes players catch bad luck in a violent game. But it’s a concerning pattern for Wentz, especially since the Eagles signed their franchise quarterback to a four-year, $128 million extension and their expected backup is unproven Nate Sudfeld.
Wentz obviously has MVP upside if he can stay healthy. He has already played at that level. There’s a good reason the Eagles gave him all that money and let Foles walk. Even with fractures in his back and a return from ACL surgery last season, Wentz had 3,074 yards and 21 touchdowns in 11 games with a 102.2 passer rating. Foles became a legend in Philly and Eagles fans will celebrate him there forever, but Wentz is still the one who can be a franchise quarterback for the next decade.
Wentz seems like the only big question. Everything else seems to be in place. Philadelphia has done a tremendous job building its roster. With any luck, maybe the Eagles are worrying about another Super Bowl hangover at this time next year.