By: Joe Staszak

For of all sad words of tongue and pen the saddest are these “it might have been”. I don’t think poet John Greenleaf Whittier had Carson Wentz in mind when he wrote that line back in the 19th century, but the Philadelphia Eagles “franchise” quarterback is about one missed assignment away from having that line engraved on his tombstone. All told a guy whose middle name should be, “if he’s healthy”, Wentz has missed 11 and a quarter games over the last two seasons if you include the play-offs, a place where great quarterbacks make their bones. Unfortunately, Wentz’ bones have come in the form of x-rays and MRIs.

His regular season record over the past seasons is 23-17. But when your number of postseason starts, wins, and touchdown passes all add up to zero, you have ultimately fallen short of your job description. The bottom line is, after three seasons, Wentz really hasn’t had much more success outside his Dakota than John Lennon had outside of his.

Wentz is heading into his 4th season for the Birds and fair or unfair, the goal that his peers and fans alike have cast upon him is the Super Bowl. Or Bust. Unfortunately, the last two seasons for Wentz have been busts, both ending with major injuries. That makes four in the last four years dating back to his senior season at North Dakota State. That’s a problem if you are supposed to be the franchise’s savior. And it’s a problem that might not be going away any time soon.

If this trend continues, Wentz might very well end up a cautionary much like the recently retired Andrew Luck. The tragedy is  this. When Wentz does play he can look like a combination of Ben Rothliesberger, John Elway, and Clark Kent. His career has been a collection of towering highs and funk-like lows. The majority of the callers and folks I run into on the street are confident that Wentz is the real deal. But there are some skeptics out there who still long for the legendary Nick Foles and lament the fact that Wentz is still here, citing primarily his injury history and to a lesser degree his play last year. I warn the Wentz disciples to proceed with caution because right now he has more red flags than Aaron Hernandez has kills.

Now, once upon a time Carson-The-Injury-Plagued did manage to play a full season. It was his rookie year and it was his only full season. He came out slingin’ and led the Eagles to a 3-0 start. In those three wins over the Browns, the Bears, and the Steelers respectively, Wentz tallied 5 TDs and threw 0 INTs. In that Pittsburgh game, a 34-3 victory, he completed 74% of his passes, threw for 301 yards, connected on 2 touchdown passes and didn’t throw a pick He also posted a QB rating of 125.9. Mind-blowing numbers for a guy that no one had heard of 6 months prior. Wentz and his teammates eventually settled down and won only two of their next 11 and ended up with a 7-9 record.

Despite the disappointing season, Wentz ended up throwing for 3782 yards, 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 79.3. Not bad for the red-headed touchdown Jesus. The 3782 yards was the 4th highest total for an Eagle quarterback in a season, behind Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham. It was also more than Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Brett Favre all threw in their inaugural campaigns. And oh by the way, his interception total was half that of Peyton Manning’s in Manning’s rookie campaign. In his 2nd season, he put the NFL on notice ripping off 10 wins in the first 12 games.

Unfortunately, he tore up his knee late in the 3rd quarter of game 13 in Los Angeles, but not before throwing four TD passes, one of them coming after he tore up that knee diving towards the end zone. Nobody can argue his toughness. He ended up throwing 33 TDs and just 7 interceptions last year and he placed 3rd in the league in the MVP voting.

But the beginning of his so-called demise subsequently happened when his understudy came along, put the team on his back, carried them through the play-offs and led them to their first Super Bowl championship. He was also named the MVP of that game. So perhaps we should call Wentz “The Second Coming of Nick Foles”. But he has to earn that moniker first, because like it or not, until Wentz wins a Super Bowl, maybe two, he will always be in the shadow of Never Nervous Nicky. That bronze statue of Foles, Doug Pederson, and The Philly Special may be sitting outside the Linc, but make no mistake, that statue sits squarely on Carson Wentz’ back (maybe that statue contributed to his injury last year).

That brings us to the year in question. Last year Wentz was coming off that back injury and he came back in week three, replacing Foles, and he staggered through the next 11 games. He won just five games and four of them were over teams with losing records. Some of his numbers were actually better than the year before though. His completion percentage jumped almost 10 points to 69.6 from 60.2 in 2017. He still threw for over 3000 yards and his quarterback rating jumped to 102.2 from 101.9. But as a wise coach once said, “you are what your record says you are”. His 5-6 record left the Birds limping at 6-7 with about a three percent chance of making it to the postseason. He looked more like a project and less like a leader of men at times.

Now stop me if you’ve heard this before. Nick Foles then took over the reins and led the Birds to the play-offs, winning three straight games and earning the Birds a berth in the wild card round. Then Foles outdid himself with a play-off win over the Chicago Bears on the road. He is the only quarterback in the history of the league to beat the league’s top defense in back to back seasons in the playoffs. The Minnesota Vikings were the other team the previous year. What’s even more impressive is that, in that game, Foles led the Birds on a 12 play, 60 yard drive, culminating in a game-winning touchdown with a touchdown pass to Golden Tate on 4th and goal with :56 seconds left.

Great for the team, not so great for Wentz. It just put more pressure on that broken back. After the 2017 season Wentz even alluded, that he was a little jealous of Foles’ success, and that watching the Super Bowl MVP hold up the Lombardi trophy, on the stage, after that Super Bowl win over the Patriots, “stung”. It didn’t help when defensive end Chris Long put together a shrine of Foles in his locker last season.

But unlike Foles, Wentz failed to close out some opportunities in a couple of games last year, specifically the Tennessee game, a 26-23 overtime loss, and a 21-17 loss to the Panthers after having blown a 17 point lead. Which leads me to question his clutchness. I pose this question on the air frequently: Does Carson Wentz have the clutch gene? At this point we don’t know, but his failure to win close games at the end is a red flag because until Wentz proves he can win games in the 4th quarter and overtime, his crunch-time resume will fall short of the bar that Foles has set.

By all accounts, Foles’ teammates all loved the guy. But unfortunately the same cannot be said for Wentz. Back in January a story surfaced that painted a somewhat different picture of the Eagles’ locker room, as various teammates and other sources close to the team, came out anonymously and said that the franchise quarterback was “selfish”, “uncompromising”, “egotistical” and “one who played favorites”. Another red flag. Wentz was getting killed by his teammates while Foles was getting loved.

This season Wentz won’t be just battling his opponents. He will be battling the ghost of Nick Foles. Foles is Wentz’ Jacob Marley and Wentz is Ebenzer Scrooge.

So where does that leave us? In my opinion, we don’t have enough empirical data to label him yet. I need to see more. He is considered the franchise quarterback, and certainly can blow your doors off. But there are some question marks. He’s injury-prone, he’s fighting an aberration, he’s coming off a subpar season and the clutch gene is murky at best. He’s never played in a play-off game, let alone win one and oh by the way, he’s not having the best training camp.

There are no excuses this year. Wentz is one hundred percent healthy, he’s had a full training camp and he has more weapons to play with than North Korea. He is expected to take the next step and he’s expected, at least in these parts, to win the Super Bowl. That’s gi-normous pressure on the 26 year old. But the great ones thrive on it. This is a prove it season for Wentz.
He has to stay healthy and win some play-off games. He’s got to keep his ego in check and he has to stay healthy. Did I mention that he has to stay healthy? His ability will be based on his availability.

A 16 game season should be priority number one for the big man. After all he’s getting paid $32 million per game. If he does stay healthy, it may be Wentz standing on that podium in February. If that happens it means he has exorcised his predecessor, proved to everybody that he can stay healthy, proved he can handle enormous pressure and proved to everybody that he is the real deal.