Photograph: Michael Conroy/AP
Philadelphia Eagles fans had an especially wonderful day Sunday. Not only did Jalen Hurts, the Eagles’ new franchise quarterback, throw three touchdown passes in a lopsided victory over Atlanta, but Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ former franchise quarterback fewer than two years ago, played 100% of his new team’s offensive snaps – and lost.
His new team is the Indianapolis Colts, who traded a third-round draft pick in 2021 and a conditional second-round pick in 2022 for Wentz, who the Eagles’ selected with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft, and was signed to a four-year, $128m contract extension in June 2019. The second-round pick becomes a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75% of the Colts’ snaps.
Wentz took the Eagles to the playoffs in 2019, where he got hurt, again, and the Eagles lost. The bottom fell out so quickly and spectacularly for Wentz – who was sacked 50 times and replaced as a starter by Hurts late in an awful 4-11-1 2020 season – that no one would have blamed the Eagles for taking an unconditional second-round pick in 2021 and running away.
Then it got interesting. Wentz got hurt early in the Colts’ training camp, then missed time when he was put on the team’s Covid-19 list because he is unvaccinated and had close contact with someone who tested positive. Further, Wentz was unapologetic about not being vaccinated, saying at a news conference that it “was a personal decision for me and my family.”
That did not go over so well in his old town. The 75% snap threshold is critical, because the Eagles can at least scrounge a first-round pick out of what Mike Missanelli, a long-time Philadelphia sports-talk-show host, says is “the biggest organizational disaster in Philadelphia sports history.”
The Eagles screwed up, Missanelli says, by spending a second-round pick last year on Hurts, the former Alabama and Oklahoma quarterback who is nimble and creative – an alternative to Wentz, an injury-prone QB with a strong arm. Wentz all but pouted after he played poorly and was replaced by Hurts, then was traded away for practically nothing.
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“Now Wentz turned out to be a little bit of a baby,” Missanelli tells the Guardian, “but drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round, when you needed players to start for you at various positions, was frankly malpractice. To say nothing of the lack of foresight on how drafting Hurts would affect Wentz. There is no way I would have been comfortable if I were Wentz when my organization, which is supposed to be solidly behind Wentz, drafts another quarterback.”
But the possibility of picking up a first-round draft choice turns this into a season-long sideshow. Normally, Philadelphia is the type of place where sports villains are booed out of town and hated forever. But this is different: Eagles fans want Wentz to play a lot – but also lose a lot, which would lead to a draft pick earlier in the first round, presumably a better player.
Joe Giglio, another Philadelphia sports-talk-show host, put it this way on Twitter last month: “Rooting very hard for my guy Carson Wentz to get healthy, stay healthy, play all 17 games, and lose every single one to give the Eagles the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.”
As Glen Macnow, a veteran Philadelphia sports-talk-show host, explains it to the Guardian: “Most of the fans loved Wentz over those first few years and thought he would be the QB for a decade. He went south – in performance and attitude, and then went stone-silent.
“The people here have every right to feel like a jilted lover. The problem is, now they’re stuck having to root for him despite it all, because the potential first-round pick carries so much value. It goes against every Eagles fan’s DNA.”
Until he suffered a season-ending knee injury, Wentz was magnificent in his second NFL season, leading the Eagles to 11 victories in 13 games in 2017, making them serious contenders to win the franchise’s first Super Bowl. His backup, Nick Foles, carried the Eagles the rest of the way, earning a permanent spot near the top of the city’s rich sports pantheon.
“Not everyone hates Carson Wentz, especially those who feel a bond with him through his professed Christian faith,” Marcus Hayes, a sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, tells the Guardian. “Philadelphia wanted to love Wentz and hates to admit when it is wrong.”
Then Wentz admitted in a March interview with SiriusXM radio host Pat McAfee that he started thinking about leaving Philadelphia right after he had been benched, and in the process “revealed his character to even his most devout supporters,” as Hayes put it.
Wentz did relatively well in the Colts’ 28-16 loss on Sunday at home to Seattle, completing 25 of 38 passes for 251 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions. He did lose a fumble.
But Seattle’s Russell Wilson did better – and, of much more importance to Philadelphians, so did Hurts, who completed 27 of 35 passes on the road for 264 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. Hurts was sacked once for three yards, rushing for 62 yards; Wentz was sacked three times for 28 yards and rushed for 23yards.
And there was a bonus: Dallas lost Thursday to Tampa Bay, Washington lost Sunday to the Chargers and the Giants lost later in the day to Denver, putting the Eagles all alone in first place in the NFC East for now – though there is a long, long way to go.
As Will Donahue, an Eagles’ fan, tells the Guardian of Wentz: “I hope people don’t forget how bad we all wanted him to succeed – how bad we wanted him to be our best franchise QB ever. He was grafted into the Philly family tree and just couldn’t handle the pressure. I don’t think he understands how personally we take this stuff.”
Except, in this weird case, they now have a reason for Wentz not to get (a) benched, (b) hurt, or (c) sick with Covid. Then they can hate him forever.