INDIANAPOLIS – The Eagles' decision to allow Nick Foles to become an unrestricted free agent on March 13, announced on Wednesday at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine but decided through the course of this offseason, is but one piece of a quarterback position puzzle that is far from being complete.
It's not a surprise, No. 1, that the Eagles are giving Foles an opportunity to test the market and create his next step. This is the right thing to do, and Foles will likely find a good landing spot and sign a lucrative contract and the Eagles will get back a compensatory draft pick in 2020.
In the meantime, there is a quarterback room to build. Carson Wentz leads the way as one of the game's elite quarterbacks when healthy. Wentz is recovering nicely from the back injury that robbed him of the final three regular-season games and the playoff run from the 2018 season, and head coach Doug Pederson thinks Wentz could be ready for Phase 2 of the offseason when the Eagles hit the practice field in the spring.
Obviously, Wentz is the key to the entire Eagles' operation, but as the team knows all too well, the quarterback position has to be stacked three players deep. The Eagles, Howie Roseman specifically, called Wentz and Foles "top 15 quarterbacks" in the NFL. The Eagles will be in great shape should Wentz get healthy and stay healthy and play 16 games in 2019's regular season.
They also have to be prepared for everything. And that means Nate Sudfeld, entering his fourth NFL season with limited time on the field, has to step up. And it means the Eagles must bring in a quarterback from the outside – a veteran or a draft pick – to challenge the room and to develop into a starting-caliber player.
"That's a position, obviously, that you want to have as strong as you can," Pederson said. "Carson is going to be ready to go, Nate is ready to step up and we're excited about that."
Roseman called the quarterback position "the most important position in sports," and it's hard to argue. The Eagles have been well stocked at quarterback for years, and never more than in the last two seasons with Foles backing Wentz and then stepping in when needed and winning Super Bowl LII.
Let's examine, then, the quarterback depth chart as it stands now and project what it could look like when the NFL Draft concludes.
Starter: Carson Wentz
Wentz "knows he has to stay on the field," Pederson said, and he's working hard to get healthy after the back injury shelved his 2018 season. Wentz isn't necessarily going to alter his style of play – he's an athletic, aggressive player – but it is important that Wentz takes himself out of "danger" moments in games. He's got to be smart and avoid contact when he has the chance.
As a football player, Wentz has it all. The Eagles are fortunate to have him and he's been incredibly productive in 40 career starts – he has 70 touchdown passes against only 28 interceptions with a 92.5 passer rating – and the next step is to avoid the injury bug.
The bottom line is this: Wentz is a standout quarterback and the Eagles must continue to build around him – that means fortifying the offensive line and adding weapons in the running game and in the passing game. Two seasons ago, Wentz was a Most Valuable Player candidate in the NFL. There's every reason to think he'll be at that level for seasons to come, good health needed.
No. 2: Nate Sudfeld
In three career games, Sudfeld has thrown a grand total of 25 passes, completing 20 of them. A restricted free agent, Sudfeld will likely be tendered at a high level in the next two weeks and the Eagles will retain him for 2019. After that, it's all about the contract. Will the Eagles sign Sudfeld to a multi-year extension? Will Sudfeld go out and find a starting opportunity?
Those questions remain to be answered. For now, the Eagles must get Sudfeld ready to lead the offense, as he is "one injury away" from being a starter here.
"Nate's done a great job. Nate has really put himself in a position to compete for it," Pederson said. "We don't just go around and give out jobs. At the same time, we want him to compete for that spot. Feel like he's earned the opportunity to do that. I'm comfortable with him, what he's done. He's been with us here for a few years. He understands our system. It's a matter of him just embracing that and moving forward with it."
Said Roseman: "We have a lot of confidence in Nate. He's had an incredible opportunity to learn from two of the best quarterbacks in the National Football League and this is a big opportunity for him, a big year for him. We're excited about Nate Sudfeld."
No. 3: ?????
Roseman said the Eagles don't assign numbers to the quarterback depth chart, meaning the goal is to develop the entire position and make starters out of all three (or four) players. In other words, the Eagles aren't looking at a No. 3 quarterback as a thrower who has a low ceiling. They want a starting-caliber quarterback all the way through the depth chart.
So, what do the Eagles do here? They've got eight draft picks, including three among the first 57 picks. Could the team invest one of those in a quarterback? It would be a bit of a shocker – OK, maybe more than a shocker – but if the Eagles really want to bring a young quarterback on board, they'll have their chances in the first two days of the draft. If not, maybe the Eagles use a later-round pick on the position.
The Eagles can also add another quarterback via the free agent market. There are expected to be some attractive veterans available, notably Teddy Bridgewater, Tyrod Taylor, and Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Beyond that? The Eagles are doing their homework. They know how it worked when they acquired Sudfeld – a player who was originally added to the practice squad after being released by Washington. The Eagles scouted Sudfeld when he played at Indiana University and stayed on him through his time with D.C.
The other important element is the developmental part, and the coaching staff has done a great job there.
Quarterback is a key position, and while the Eagles have a lot of work to do throughout their roster, they know just how valuable depth is under center.
"It's always going to be a priority to add to that room," Roseman said. "That being said, we couldn't be more excited to have Carson as our starting quarterback, obviously, and we've spent a lot of time developing Nate Sudfeld. Nate is an unbelievable worker. He's got the talent to do whatever he wants in the National Football League and you've seen him continue to build in all the areas that maybe coming out (of college) he needed to.
"At the same time, we're going to look at every option to improve our football team and we'll look at every position to try to improve and that's our job."