As soon as it happened, when Tennessee defensive tackle Isaiah Mack hit Eagles quarterback Nate Sudfeld and Sudfeld went tumbling backward with 26 seconds remaining in the first half of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Titans, you knew something was wrong. Sudfeld got up as the referees huddled to discuss the roughing the passer penalty on Mack and held his left hand/wrist, motioning to the sideline, an indication of the pain he was in as he trotted in that direction.
That pain turned out to be a broken left wrist, head coach Doug Pederson said after Philadelphia’s 27-10 loss at Lincoln Financial Field. Sudfeld is scheduled for surgery on Friday, so let the healing begin. Pederson said it is not a season-ending injury for Sudfeld, the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback, and the exact length of his absence has not yet been determined.
The next step for the Eagles? No panic. They certainly understand the value of the backup quarterback, so there is no side-stepping the importance of the injury and how the Eagles handle it. They’ve got Cody Kessler on the roster and he completed 3 of 6 passes for only 12 yards in his quarter of action with deep reserves and on-the-bubble players around him, and they’ve got rookie Clayton Thorson, who struggled as he completed 2 of 9 passes with an interception in his preseason debut.
Pederson said all the right things after the game, that he doesn’t anticipate Sudfeld being lost for the season and that he has confidence in both Kessler and Thorson, now the immediate backups to franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
"Nate's going to be fine. He's going to be back. We're optimistic about that and then at the same time, this gives Cody and Clayton opportunities to continue to prove themselves right now and we’re comfortable with them," Pederson said. "With the ones, with the starters taking the majority of reps in camp, it also gets Carson and those guys enough time to get themselves prepared for the opener, as well."
The Eagles will evaluate their options on Friday and through the weekend. They'll have a much better feel for when Sudfeld is projected to return in the aftermath of surgery and consultation with the medical team. Let’s explore those options now …
Option A (in no particular order)
Ride the storm. Go with Wentz and Kessler and Thorson through the remainder of the preseason and give Kessler and Thorson plenty of reps, however many rough patches they may encounter. Kessler has been in the league a few seasons, has won some games, knows his way around the pressure of the regular season. He has elevated his game in the last couple of weeks – Pederson spoke confidently of Kessler in a television broadcast production meeting on Wednesday before the preseason opener – and every rep he takes will help.
“It’s just nice to get those first team reps out of the way,” Kessler said. “You know, live game reps. The first play (after Sudfeld’s injury), they brought Cover-0 on me (an all-out blitz) so it was kind of an introduction to playing here, which is nice. It’s something to build off of, something to learn from. I made some good reads and some stuff I could have fixed. That’s kind of just part of it.
“I think I’ve played a lot better lately because I’m settling into the offense more. Every day, that’s going to improve. I feel for Nate. I know he’s going to be there for me. I feel like we have a long way to go in this preseason and it’s my job to improve every day.”
Thorson, a fifth-round draft pick, said he didn’t feel hurried, didn’t feel an increase in tempo. He just missed on throws – too wide on what should have been an easy pitch-and-catch completion to Donnel Pumphrey, too high over the middle, just too frenetic overall – and he’s got a lot of improving to do. He knows it. The Eagles know it.
Howie Roseman and his staff have an emergency list of players that they are always considering, so you wonder who is on the list of veteran quarterbacks who could come in and quickly knock off the rust. You know the names. It’s not necessary to throw out speculative names here because, well, that’s just too much of a guessing game. I don’t know who is on the list. I don’t know what Roseman is thinking. But I do know that the Eagles have done their research and they prepare for everything and, well, this is a situation that could very well warrant the signing of a veteran quarterback.
Maybe. Maybe not. I just know that it’s an option to consider, and the Eagles are going to consider everything at this point.
Is there a quarterback out there the Eagles could acquire in a trade? Hey, it’s just an option. And the Eagles have to consider everything. So, this goes on the list. Roseman makes trades, as we very well know.
Not sure exactly what this is, but maybe the Eagles wait until the end of the preseason to re-evaluate the situation. They lost a backup quarterback for an undetermined amount of time – how early in the regular season could Sudfeld return? – so maybe it’s best to sit and let the situation cool, give Kessler and Thorson some extra reps and coach them up for the remaining three weeks of the preseason and then address the position with either a quarterback who is released or a veteran quarterback who could come in and pick up the system quickly and play the role of a backup.
The point is, the Eagles know both that Sudfeld’s injury changes the complexion of the quarterback room in the short term (relatively speaking) and that it’s also not the end of the season, if the recovery news post-surgery comes back as the team expects. Maybe it's even better than the team expects. Maybe it's a much shorter-term recovery given that it's Sudfeld's left wrist, that it's a clean break, etc. We just don't know right now.
"I can come out of retirement," Pederson said after Thursday night's game.
He was joking, of course. Pederson showed some mobility on the sideline dodging some out-of-bounds players on Thursday night, but he's a shell of the reliable backup he used to be. This is, clearly, not an option.
All we know for sure is that it’s a real bummer for Sudfeld, who unleashed a beauty of a throw for a 75-yard catch-and-run by wide receiver Marken Michel and who did a bunch of good things as he completed 10 of 18 passes for 177 yards and the touchdown before the injury. Everyone feels for Sudfeld.
At the same time, the Eagles have to consider their next steps. They are important ones to take at the game’s most critical position backing up the franchise quarterback, Carson Wentz.