Clayton Thorson has the poise and confidence of a player who started 53 games with 36 wins in his collegiate career at Northwestern and who isn’t awed, not in the least, at the enormity of the moment of being a Philadelphia Eagle. He came through his first weekend on the field at the team’s Rookie Minicamp in fine shape, comfortable in the huddle and learning quickly on the field.
Having Thorson off to a good start portends well for the Eagles as they build their depth behind franchise quarterback Carson Wentz, and the Eagles added to that promising picture on Monday by adding veteran Cody Kessler on a one-year contract. Luis Perez, signed before the draft after a stint with the AAF, was waived to make room on the 90-man roster.
Kessler has 12 starts in his three NFL seasons, eight in his 2016 rookie season in Cleveland and another four starts last year in Jacksonville. The Jags released Kessler last week and the Eagles, continuing a remarkable and efficient and a roster-building run of adding veterans to bolster depth, got a deal done.
What does Kessler mean as far as the depth chart goes? It’s going to play out on the field, but at the moment it looks like this: The Eagles have Wentz, a player who they are building around for the present and the long term. Nate Sudfeld returns for his third season as an Eagle and his fourth in the NFL as a rising prospect whom the Eagles feel very confident in, also aware that Sudfeld has never started an NFL game and that there is an experiential learning curve happening with Sudfeld. Thorson, a 2019 fifth-round draft pick, had a strong weekend and continues his assimilation into the Eagles’ offensive scheme.
Kessler brings what the rest of the quarterback crop – not including Wentz, of course – does not have: Starting experience in the NFL. He was thrust into the 2016 mess in Cleveland, starting eight games and completing 66 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and only two interceptions in nine games. The Browns stunk that year and Kessler took a beating in and out of the pocket, but he showed toughness, he showed some moxie, and he moved the offense as much as that offense could move. After two seasons with the Browns, Kessler played in Jacksonville in 2018 and went 2-2 as a starter with 709 passing yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in the five games he played.
All of this is about creating, as we’ve said time and time again in this offseason, as much competition as possible at every position on the roster. The Eagles have done a terrific job of doing just that. They know what they’ve got in Wentz, entering his fourth season. Sudfeld has done all the right things since the Eagles claimed him off waivers from Washington prior to the 2017 season. He’s only thrown 25 regular-season passes, though, so there’s that. Kessler obviously brings in more gameday experience.
Thorson is a player to develop for the future, and he seemed to understand that when he spoke to reporters on Friday at the NovaCare Complex after Day 1 of the completed-on-Sunday Rookie Minicamp.
“I think just the complexity of going from college to the NFL,” Thorson said when asked about what he knows of making the tough transition. “I think, thankfully, the system we had at Northwestern allows me to have not as steep of a learning curve, but there are a lot of differences as well. Just really learning from Press Taylor (quarterbacks coach). He’s really teaching me a lot. Things are kind of interchangeable in this system, so its been good so far.
“I think it’s more the mental side. Obviously, there’s some technique in that, but the mental side and different things are going different ways and are different than in college. That part of it is the biggest thing.”
We know that Carson Wentz stirs this Eagles’ drink and that putting as many pieces around Wentz as the Eagles have done in this offseason is part of the master plan to build a dynamic, varied attack. Wentz is the guy. There is no disputing that. And the Eagles truly, honestly believe that Sudfeld is ready for the jump from third quarterback to No. 2. He’s taken a lot of reps on the practice field and in the preseason in this system, and he’s played well. Thorson is a quarterback to develop for the future.
And Kessler? A move that makes every bit of sense. He’s been a starter in the regular season and he’s won games. He’s been in trying circumstances in both Cleveland and Jacksonville. He’s overcome adversity. And he’s here to make the Eagles a better team – deeper and stronger and more experienced at the quarterback position.
As they’ve done with Andrew Sendejo and Blake Countess at safety and with Richard Rodgers at tight end and with Vinny Curry at defensive end and Tim Jernigan at defensive tackle and Zach Brown at linebacker and guard/center Stefen Wisniewski – among other moves – the Eagles have directly addressed positions on their roster and added depth and competition. It sounds so boring, doesn’t it? Depth and competition. How much does that really help?
The truth is, it helps a lot. The Eagles saw an opportunity with Kessler and they pounced, and now they’ve got an intriguing and highly – here’s that word again – competitive situation at quarterback behind Carson Wentz that only makes this team better for 2019.