Carson Wentz's behavior is unbecoming of an NFL quarterback who's supposed to be a beacon of leadership. And it would be unacceptable if he were Black.
For the last few weeks, as reports have trickled out about the Eagles quarterback's desire in being traded elsewhere and topped by his declination to tell his side Monday, these are the only two conclusions I could come to.
What's unknown is how the relationship between Wentz and head coach Doug Pederson got sideways, and perhaps Pederson is at greater fault than what meets the eye. From my view, Pederson waited a game or two too long before making the switch from Wentz to rookie Jalen Hurts. And had he waited any longer, he would have risked losing the locker room playing a quarterback who, for whatever reasons, was clearly broken.
Wentz's $128 million contract extension he signed in 2019 has not kicked in yet. And with four years of contract left to honor and no sign of Philadelphia running off his latest competition, Wentz reportedly wants out if he's not starting and doesn't care to correct the record or speak for himself.
The Eagles have been talking Wentz up at every turn. That may be to maintain leverage for a potential trade, and there's no reason to do anything but praise Wentz publicly when the relationship is already on its last legs anyway. But Pederson and GM Howie Roseman may actually mean what they say when they claim they want to work with Wentz on getting back to his normal self for 2021.
Roseman looked back at drafting Wentz -- and moving mountains to get the No. 2 pick -- for his perspective. "I don't think it's a secret that we moved up for him (in 2016) because (we believe in him)," he said Monday, the day Wentz declined to speak with the media. "When you have players like that, they're like fingers on your hand. You can't imagine that they're not part of you, that they're not here. That's how we feel about Carson."
In Philly, at worst, Wentz would go into OTAs, minicamp and training camp as the team's No. 1 quarterback. He'd get the majority of first-team reps, once again getting every opportunity to succeed. If he lost his job to the second-year quarterback at that point, well, the game's the game. But there's very little evidence the Eagles are ready to hand the franchise over to Hurts right now or in September.
Record in starts
Here's a list of facts about Carson Wentz and the Eagles since 2017 with as little editorializing from me as possible:
- Wentz was a top-three MVP candidate in 2017 before tearing his ACL in December. His Eagles rode into and throughout the playoffs as underdogs, beating the mighty Patriots in the Super Bowl with Nick Foles at quarterback.
- The Eagles regularly, publicly backed Wentz as the starter in 2018 when he returned to health. When he did, he went 5-6 as a starter before a back injury had him miss the rest of the season for a second straight year. The Eagles, as a team, played better in many facets with Foles at QB, and Philly came within a play of going back to the NFC title game.
- A Philly Voice report emerges after that 2018 season that paints Wentz as "egotistical" and "selfish," according to player and team sources. Eagles teammates publicly back their Quarterback, and Wentz meets with media to refute most of the story himself. But he does admit he could have been a better teammate throughout the year. "So I'm not going to sit here and say it was inaccurate and completely made up," Wentz told reporters then.
- Given the option between Wentz, a now-twice-injured starter on a rookie deal, and a playoff-proven Foles who required a payday, Philadelphia chose Wentz. They let Foles sign a career deal with Jacksonville and then inked Wentz to a four-year extension worth $128 million. There could be no mistaking Wentz was Their Guy.
- Wentz put the team on his back in December 2019, winning four straight games with a dearth of talent at wide receiver and capturing the NFC East title. He suffered a concussion early in Philadelphia's wild-card game and his season again ended early.
- The Eagles spend a second-round pick on Hurts in the 2020 NFL draft but, again, make clear that Wentz is absolutely the quarterback of the present and the future. Then Wentz's play falls off a cliff for reasons that are still unclear. Pederson sticks with Wentz for at least a game or two longer than most would have before going to Hurts, who provides an instant spark to the offense.
- And now Wentz is reportedly ready to leave Philadelphia and play elsewhere, at least if he is not given the job for next season.
That's audacious. And that Wentz isn't getting lambasted for this behavior — at the quarterback position! — shows a level of privilege that can only be attained if you're white.
A defensive back or receiver can kick and scream their way out of a city. That may not be expected or condoned in the sports realm, but it's understood that players at some positions can play that card. That's not the case for a face-of-the-franchise quarterback, and it never will be.
Daunte Culpepper was rehabbing a knee injury in a 2005 season where his Vikings played better with the backup than with him. (He also had the boat cruise scandal hanging over his head, though all charges would later be dropped.) Before his bonus kicked in, Culpepper demanded to be released or traded after conflicts with management, and he regularly provided his reasons for wanting out. His reputation, like his game, never fully recovered amid stints with the Dolphins, Raiders and Lions.
Former Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham retired at age 33 in 1996 when the rest of the NFL showed little interest in bringing on the selfish, injured Black quarterback who was admittedly in need a humbling. Just last season he shared some advice to Wentz via an open letter on the Eagles team site:
"Being a quarterback in Philadelphia, it's like being an anesthesiologist. There's no room for error. You've got to your job right the first time. Thankfully, we have outstanding fans and a tremendous owner in Jeffrey Lurie. Quarterback is a very, very difficult position in the NFL. And in Philadelphia, there's a lot expected of you.
"I hope I get to spend a moment with Carson Wentz. I'd tell him he's just got to keep on going, keep moving forward. Don't let anything get him down. When you get to a place where the team is not clicking, he probably puts that on himself. He doesn't have to shoulder the load by himself. He has a great owner. He has great coaches. Coach Pederson's a phenomenal coach. He's got talented players. Even with all of the ups and downs this season, they can turn things around and finish up strong."
Ten years ago, ESPN asked you to consider how we'd view Michael Vick if he were white, accompanied by a now infamous photo illustration. Replace Photoshop for a decent memory and consider how Eagles fans would treat Donovan McNabb, who led them to five NFC title games, if he pulled this. I mean … just consider how Eagles fans treat Donovan McNabb anyway.
Imagine if Lamar Jackson tried this. Dak Prescott got dragged last year for not accepting a deal he thought was unfair. Think about if Prescott took that deal, then wanted out before it began because he and Mike McCarthy didn't get along after Andy Dalton started playing well.
I covered Cam Newton as a Panthers beat writer for years. "If Cam Newton did this…" became a common refrain among Panthers fans when another NFL quarterback did something that drew less attention. This comparison blew up after Newton's Super Bowl 50 press conference where, yes, his attitude was poor and the optics were bad, but he didn't commit a crime. I mostly didn't engage with it because the double standard was obvious. I understood he was treated differently because he played the position like a proud, young, rich, Black man from Atlanta, and comparing everything back to Newton seemed unnecessary.
But ask yourself, what if Newton engaged in the same behavior Wentz has? What if Newton, with his injury history, had never won a playoff game, had gotten a nine-figure extension despite those facts, had reports that he wasn't a good teammate, admitted he fell short as a teammate, played so poorly in 2020 he was worthy of a benching and then allowed reports of his discontent to linger as he refused to address it at the end of the season?
You know the answer to that. And, coincidentally, many of those issues do translate to Newton. But the Patriots quarterback never blamed anyone but himself. Weekly he held himself accountable in multiple press conferences.
"I'd be the first person to tell you I need to play better," Newton said after the Patriots' Week 16 loss to Buffalo. "At the same time, it's just things that if I'm asked to do something, that's what I'm going to do. I've never been a person to be controversial in the locker room, contrary to any other person's belief. I try to be the best teammate I can possibly be. That's what I will continue to do. I will keep getting better each and every week, getting more comfortable in this offense for the last week that I possibly can. Let's see where it gets me."
Instead of getting roasted, Wentz is having people bend over backwards trying to figure out how he can get out of his contract and get on another team. It's baffling. Maybe he's worth it, but 2017 was a long time ago, too. Todd Gurley won Offensive Player of the Year the same season Wentz was nearly the MVP.
Wentz and his agents can potentially find a way out of Philadelphia that relieves the cap hit for the Eagles. One agent referenced to me an idea that's been floated where Wentz could pay back the prorated portions of his signing bonus to the Eagles. "But who in their right mind would do that at the pre-tax amount?" the agent asked rhetorically.
The two sides will figure it out if Wentz wants out badly enough. And another team (the Colts?) will deal for him if they want him badly enough.
But this is a quarterback who played the position as badly as any regular starter in the 2020 season, who soured when his coach made the only move he could make, whose team played better without him yet again and who opted not to compete for the job he was being handsomely paid to do.