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Lawlor: The Future Is Now


I was writing a piece on potential Eagles roster moves on Saturday morning. The Boston College-Georgia Tech game was on TV in the background. ESPN ran a news alert in the scroll at the bottom of the screen that caught my eye. I saw something about the Eagles. I rewound it and saw the breaking news from Adam Schefter. Sam Bradford had been traded to the Vikings. 

In a word, wow. 

There was speculation about this trade with fans and the media from the minute that Teddy Bridgewater got hurt. The Vikings have a very good team, but suddenly found themselves without a quarterback. They talked about going forward with Shaun Hill, but clearly they had to do something. I figured they would have interest in Bradford, especially with Pat Shurmur on the staff. Shurmur coached Bradford in St. Louis and here in Philly last year. 

At the same time, Howie Roseman isn't in the business of giving away starting quarterbacks. I knew Roseman would ask a high, but fair price. I just didn't think the Vikings would pull the trigger and make the deal. I was wrong. Vikings general manager Rick Spielman did agree to the deal. You can understand his thinking. The Vikings have one of the better rosters in the NFC. They were a playoff team last year and expected to compete for the Super Bowl this year. The Vikings have a future Hall of Fame player in Adrian Peterson and he's not getting any younger. That team is built to win now. There is also the business side of things. They are moving into a brand new stadium. 

The Eagles got a 2017 first round pick and a 2018 fourth round pick (that could go higher if the Vikings have a great year). The Eagles gave up their starting quarterback, but that paved the way for Carson Wentz to take over right away. The future is now. 

I completely understand the thinking of Roseman and the Eagles. They loaded up at quarterback this offseason so the team would be competitive this season and so they would have options. If Bradford had gotten hurt, Chase Daniel could have taken over as the starter. If Wentz proved to be in over his head, the team would have had Bradford and Daniel to play this year while Wentz sat and learned. The least likely possibility was Wentz impressing the coaches to the point that they were comfortable with starting him all season and making Bradford someone that could be traded. Likely or not, that is exactly what happened. 

Getting the first round pick is huge. The Eagles will be building around Wentz for the next few years. That pick could land a starting receiver or running back or offensive lineman for Wentz. First round picks are very valuable and the Eagles will have a good idea of what they need at that point. We'll get a chance to see Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham and Wendell Smallwood play. As much as I would love for them all to be great, history tells us that won't be the case. Wentz will need weapons and that pick could land him one. 

It is fair to question whether Doug Pederson is rushing things. Why not go with Chase Daniel, even for just a few weeks? You could then split practice reps between Daniel and Wentz. You could play Wentz for a series or two in games to let him get a feels for things. There is sound logic in something like that. 

I think going with Wentz tells us a couple of key things. First, it tells us that Pederson is really impressed with his rookie quarterback. You don't make this move for the heck of it. Wentz is the future of the franchise. You must be completely comfortable that he is ready to play. That isn't to say he will be perfect. There are going to be ups and downs. The coaches have to be comfortable that Wentz can handle the highs and lows. Some young players struggle at the NFL level because they can't handle failure. Remember, these guys were the best players on their high school teams. They were stars in college. They get to the NFL and suddenly they are facing guys just as talented as them. Mistakes are going to happen. You have to be strong mentally and emotionally to work through those mistakes. Obviously Wentz has sold the coaches that he has the mental make-up to handle playing this year. 

There is no question about his physical ability. We only got to see Wentz in one preseason game, but instantly you saw his physical gifts. The play where me moved up in the pocket and hit Zach Ertz for a nice gain was impressive. The play where the rusher came off the edge unblocked and Wentz had to scramble to his right, but still fired a laser to Paul Turner was special. Not a lot of quarterbacks can make that play. Wentz has a great arm. He runs very well. He is the complete package in terms of skills. 

The other big thing I think we can take away from the Wentz decision is that Pederson likes the overall team. The defense played better than anyone could have expected this summer. The Eagles led the NFL in scoring defense, rushing defense, interceptions and pass breakups during the preseason. They gave up almost 30 fewer rushing yards in a game than any other team. That is freaky good. I don't expect the defense to necessarily dominate to that level in the regular season, but they should be one of the better units in the league. 

Special teams was a major strength in recent years and I expect that to continue. The Eagles had some long returns, including the Turner touchdown last week. They covered kicks well. There was a forced fumble on a kickoff return. The one big negative was the blocked punt in the Colts game, but that came in the second half and the Eagles didn't have their best players on the field. 

I think one of the real pleasant surprises this summer was the play of the offensive line. Bradford threw 40 passes. He got sacked twice, both by blitzing linebackers. One of them was a missed assignment. The other sack came when the Eagles tried a play-action pass and the backside linebacker didn't take the fake. Overall, that is outstanding pass protection. The Eagles mixed and matched lineups because of the possible Lane Johnson suspension so it wasn't just five guys playing well. There quite a few players who contributed to the success of the line. I was impressed with Allen Barbre at both left guard and right tackle. I thought Stefen Wisniewski played well when he started at guard. Isaac Seumalo got better each week and you can see his potential. Jason Peters had some dominant blocks in the Colts game. Arguably the best Eagles lineman in the preseason was Matt Tobin. He played left tackle, some even with the starting unit, and was really good. 

The biggest fear you have with a young quarterback is putting them on the field behind a shaky line. That leads to a lot of pressure, which in turn leads to bad decisions and plenty of mistakes. You don't want those mistakes to become habit. Some young quarterbacks can get ruined by playing behind the wrong line. David Carr got killed when he was with the Texans and it ruined his career. He looked permanently shell-shocked. 

Pederson thinks the Eagles will be good on defense and special teams. He saw good blocking from the starting offensive line. That means Wentz will have time to get the ball to his receivers so they can make plays. The line also should be able to help the run game perform at a good level. Every quarterback's best friend is a good run game. Wentz will need the runners to help him out, especially early in the season as he is really learning on the fly. 

I think Pederson is confident in his rookie quarterback and the pieces around him. Some speculated that the Eagles gave up on the season when they traded Bradford. I don't see that as the case at all. I don't think the Eagles make this move if they don't believe the team will be competitive. The Eagles made it clear all offseason they weren't in rebuilding mode. They want to compete. Wentz will be the only rookie in the starting lineup. They have the pieces around him to help him succeed this year.

One thing I know for a fact is that the move to Wentz brings a lot of excitement for the 2016 season. I can't wait to see Wentz in action. If he pans out, that changes the fortunes of the Eagles franchise for years to come. Having a young, talented quarterback at the heart of your franchise gives you a chance to compete every year. We saw that with Donovan McNabb. Now, hopefully, we'll also get to see it with Carson Wentz.

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