PHOENIX – Inevitably, the conversation comes back to quarterback Carson Wentz. How is his health? How is his mental state? How much have you talked to him in this offseason? How is he feeling about new wide receiver DeSean Jackson? What can Carson do to be a better teammate?
This is what happens when you are the Face of the Franchise. Wentz, preparing for his fourth NFL season, is certainly that. The Eagles believe in him, even as perhaps the national view has changed its focus to Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield and the other young gunslinging quarterbacks in the league. Is Carson Wentz an overlooked star? Not to the Eagles, he isn’t, and that’s all that really matters.
While there have been other notable themes at the NFL Annual Meeting this week – rules changes, free agency updates, various roster questions – the central one for the Eagles moves back to No. 11. As he goes, so go the Eagles. It’s as cut and dried as that.
“I don’t necessarily think he has to prove anything,” head coach Doug Pederson said on Tuesday at the AFC-NFC Coaches Breakfast. “I think he wants to be out there for his teammates and help us win football games. It’s important to him. Carson is fine. Just go play. Lead our football team and do the things that he’s done, and I don’t worry about that.”
That, of course, won’t end the questions. When you are the quarterback of a team in the fourth-largest media market in the country with a fan base that is rapid from Manayunk to Malaysia, there are always questions, there is always interest.
For the next decade, and hopefully longer, Wentz will be the Eagles’ quarterback and he’ll have a sustained period of success more prolific than any quarterback in franchise history. Included in the plan are Super Bowl wins, and that’s really where the commitment to Wentz means everything. It isn’t just enough that the Eagles will some day extend Wentz’s contract – Howie Roseman said on Monday that the Eagles very much have that plan in mind, with no timetable to announce – it’s that the Eagles want to make sure they give Wentz the kind of weapons that will make him successful.
Those weapons include a great coaching staff, a quarterback-friendly scheme, terrific collaboration in the meeting rooms, a strong offensive line, weapons in the passing game, and a productive run game. The Eagles want to give Wentz the best of everything, knowing that he’s going to provide them the best he has to offer.
“I love the way he works. He’s in the building early. He’s preparing. The way he studies,” Pederson said of Wentz. “I love the way he practices, not only when he’s in the drill but when he’s off to the side, working with guys. I just love the way he leads our football team, and he’s just got to continue to do that and be Carson. Let his personality show, like everybody else, and he’ll be fine.”
Wentz is coming off a back injury that ended his 2018 season and while there is no specific date for him to step back on the field, Pederson indicated that he hopes it won’t be too far into the spring at the NovaCare Complex. The goal is to bring Wentz along slowly, make sure he’s right, and keep him on the field week after week. Being available is a critical next step for Wentz, who missed the final three games of the 2017 season and the Super Bowl run with his knee injury.
How Wentz recovered from that injury was remarkable. He turned rehab into a daily mission and returned to the lineup for Week 3 of the 2018 season. Along the way, though, Wentz spent many of those hours alone in his work, and he talked earlier in this offseason about becoming “a better teammate.” What does that mean to Pederson, a former NFL quarterback who learned during a 12-year career mainly as a backup from two of the very best, Dan Marino and Brett Favre?
“Be a little more vulnerable, a little more accessible. You’re obviously committed to your craft, you’re developing your skill, but it’s like you want to walk across the aisle and talk to the other side (of the room),” Pederson said. “That’s all part of a maturation process, a growth process. You learn through time.”
The time is, just like that, in its fourth season. The Eagles expect Wentz to start his peak run in 2019 and lead the team to victories and play the position the way it’s supposed to be played. That’s why they went out and got Wentz a speedy receiver in DeSean Jackson, why Pederson and his coaches have so thoroughly spent the offseason sorting through the offensive scheme, why the big jump expected for second-year tight end Dallas Goedert could help take the offense to new heights, why the return of left tackle Jason Peters and the extension of young left guard Isaac Seumalo and the extension of All-Pro center Jason Kelce mean so much. Wentz has continuity around him. He has explosiveness. He has all the pieces.
All of this is a reminder that the Eagles are not only committed to Carson Wentz, but they’re also committed to building around him to make him as great as he can be.
"He and I are tied, we’re married together, too,” Pederson said.
It is a wonderful place to be. The Eagles have had a strong offseason addressing needs, being “nimble,” as Roseman said, when opportunities to improve the roster have presented themselves. It’s all about winning games. It’s all about giving The Franchise everything he needs to be the very best quarterback in the NFL, something the Eagles know is possible, even if some have turned their attention elsewhere. The Eagles know what they have in Wentz, and they believe the very best is directly ahead.