The jury is still out on Carson Wentz.
As the Eagles quarterback gets set for his fifth pro season and a training camp unlike anything the NFL has ever seen, perception and reality of Wentz is still disconnected across the sport.
Around Philadelphia, Wentz is mostly talked about as a special player. A unique talent. A soon-to-be (if not already) elite quarterback. The franchise guy. The face of the franchise. One of the best players in the sport.
Around the league, that’s not the case.
Wentz’s peers recently didn’t have him ranked among the top 100 players in the league, a list which included both Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray. And while it’s easy to discredit players’ opinions on a list they may not have put intense thought into, Wentz was ranked No. 3 in the sport just three years ago by the same group.
Executives polled by The Athletic rated Wentz a Tier 2 quarterback, and number 11 overall right now. Good, but not great. A player you can win with, but certainly not one that carries a franchise. It fits with what the last two years have been for Wentz. Ups and downs. Good and bad. By my estimation (I have Wentz rated as the 13th best QB heading into 2020), the executive survey is the fairest recent ranking out there.
Pro Football Focus is actually lower on Wentz heading into 2020, ranking him as a Tier 3 quarterback. Here’s how that ranking was described: ”Volatile or conservative quarterbacks who will rely even more heavily on supporting cast and playcalling. Tier 3 quarterbacks can post top-10 production in any given year in the right situation.” Some other quarterbacks listed with Wentz in Tier 3: Derek Carr, Joe Burrow, Ryan Tannehill and Baker Mayfield.
But the disconnect isn’t just with Wentz supporters vs. Wentz doubters. It’s within the Eagles, a team that used its second-round pick on Jalen Hurts. You can twist yourself into a pretzel trying to understand why an analytically-driven front office would use a significant asset on a player that, in a perfect world, would never start a game during his rookie deal. It would be a waste of time. The Eagles have doubts about Wentz’s long-term viability, and that’s why Hurts is here.
I believe there’s a better than 50/50 chance that Hurts is the Eagles starter in 2022, and that goes well beyond where Wentz ranks on summer lists and tiers. The dark cloud hanging over the Eagles involves the salary cap, and COVID-related financial issues no one could have foreseen.
With the salary cap set to drop, not rise, next season due to the pandemic, Wentz’s $34M cap hit will account for nearly 20 percent of the Eagles space in 2021. That’s enormous. If Wentz were truly an elite player (like we saw out of him in 2017), the Eagles would have zero pause in paying him that. If another year of full regular season health arrives in 2020, perhaps the Eagles will be willing to restructure Wentz’s deal to save space, forfeiting the chance to get out of the deal in 2022.
But here’s the reality, not perception: The Eagles need to make another long-term decision on Wentz soon. If his play continues to be what it has been across 2018 and 2019 (good, not great), the decision won’t be easy. Wentz appears to have those around the game split on his ability, but his sizable cap hits in comparison to a falling cap is not up for debate. Wentz has to now prove he’s worth a bigger chunk of the cap than the Eagles originally thought they’d be handing him.
Hurts is here, and will be cheap for the next four seasons. The Eagles are staring at the worst salary cap situation in the sport one year from now, with a quarterback that is set to start making significant money. If the Eagles harbor doubts about Wentz’s ability to re-rise into Tier 1 or at least be a consistent top-10 player at the position, a tough call is coming sooner than you may think.
Lists and rankings may be meaningless in a vacuum, but the snapshot of where Wentz is perceived to be among the NFL’s best shouldn’t be ignored.
If it feels like Wentz is going on his second or third straight “prove it!” year, you probably aren’t living some sort of groundhog day football nightmare. It’s part of the Wentz story, and one that keeps evolving. In 2020, it’s not just about staying healthy. It’s about consistent, high-level play.
If Wentz is a consensus superstar this season, this lingering long-term question disappears. But if he’s not and there continues to be a huge perception vs. reality split about his performance, his Eagles future will truly come into question for the first time.