It might be a slight exaggeration to suggest that it was love at first sight for the Eagles with Carson Wentz. But only a slight one.
They were mesmerized early on by his arm and size and athleticism at the 2016 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. A little while later, when Roseman and the new head coach, Doug Pederson, interviewed Wentz, he had them at hello.
“You read the book Blink [by Malcolm Gladwell], and obviously first impressions do matter,’’ said Howie Roseman, the Eagles’ executive vice president of football operations. “Just seeing him throw live at the Senior Bowl, it was compelling. Then meeting him in person.
“I remember after we interviewed him, we called Jeffrey [Lurie, the Eagles owner] and he said, ‘Give me a comparison of who he reminded you guys of.’ And we said Brent Celek.’’
Not Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger.
“This Midwestern, tough, smart personality, which, when you kind of think about it, was kind of a unique answer,’’ Roseman said. “But when you think about it, [Celek] was somebody who handled Philly as well as anyone possibly could.
“The more time we spent with [Wentz], the more comfortable we got. We spent time with him at the combine. We spent time with him in Fargo. We spent time with him in Philly. As our fans are starting to see, it doesn’t take long before you have tremendous confidence in him, not only as a player but also a person.’’
Wanting Wentz and being able to get him were two entirely different matters, however.
The Eagles had the 13th pick in last year’s draft after finishing 7-9 the year before. By mid-March, it already seemed fairly certain that Wentz was going to be the first or second player off the board.
Roseman had multiple trade conversations with the two teams at the top of the draft, the Tennessee Titans and the Cleveland Browns, about a move-up. But the Eagles’ lack of a second-round pick (they traded it to the Rams in the Sam Bradford deal a year earlier) made that next to impossible.
“We knew from the conversations that we’d had with [the Titans and Browns] that we couldn’t get from 13 to 1 or 2 with the resources we had,’’ Roseman said. “We were told pretty clearly that, without a second-round pick, it wasn’t doable.’’
If they couldn’t get up to 1 or 2 in one fell swoop, Roseman and the Eagles decided to try to do it in two swoops. On March 23, they acquired the eighth pick in the draft from the Miami Dolphins for the 13th pick, cornerback Byron Maxwell, and linebacker Kiko Alonso.
“The thinking was that once we were in the top 10, now we were in the ballgame and had enough ammunition to get to 1 or 2,’’ Roseman said. “By the same token, we felt if we couldn’t trade up, which was our No. 1 priority, we at least would be in better [draft] position.
“But the thought process was, once we got in the top 10, and because we were able to do it for players and not picks, we still had the ammunition to try to get to 1.’’
Even at 8, however, the lack of a second-round pick still proved to be an insurmountable obstacle to moving up to 1.
On April 14, exactly two weeks before the draft, the Los Angeles Rams traded up to the top spot from No. 15, giving the Titans their 2016 and 2017 first-round picks, two seconds and a third in ’16, and a third in ’17.
But the Eagles weren’t out of the Wentz sweepstakes quite yet. Both Wentz and the draft’s other top quarterback, Jared Goff, were represented by the same agents, Ryan and Bruce Tollner of Rep1Sports.
After the Rams moved up, Roseman called Ryan Tollner to see whom he thought L.A. was going to take with the first pick. Tollner told him exactly what Roseman had hoped to hear.
“My inclination all along was Jared,’’ Ryan Tollner said. “I didn’t know that definitely. The Rams weren’t willing to make that statement to me or really anybody else.
“But from the moment the Rams made the trade, I think Howie began to position for that second pick under the assumption that he would be getting Carson.’’
That’s where the Eagles got a second break. The Browns, who owned the second pick, needed a quarterback in the worst way. But they didn’t share the Eagles’ high opinion of Wentz.
They liked Goff but realized he wasn’t going to be there at 2. As for Wentz, they didn’t view him as a guy with the ability to be one of the league’s 20 best quarterbacks.
“Even though you have a desperate need for one, you have to resist the temptation of taking a guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day,’’ Browns chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta said last August.
Rather than draft Wentz, the Browns decided to continue stockpiling draft picks. A week after the Rams-Titans deal, the Eagles acquired the Browns’ pick for their 2016 and 2017 first-round picks, their ’16 third- and fourth-round picks, and a 2018 second-rounder.
After the trade, Roseman said the Eagles would be happy with whichever quarterback fell to them. But he knew they were getting Wentz. He wouldn’t have made the deal otherwise.
“We felt very confident in the information we had,’’ Roseman said. “Certainly, until the pick is announced, there is some doubt. But we felt fairly certain how the first pick was going to go.’’
The Rams continued to go through the motions as far as evaluating both quarterbacks. They brought in Wentz for a two-day visit right after the Eagles-Browns trade, followed by a two-day visit with Goff.
But Roseman and the Eagles were comfortable that Wentz would be there for them at 2.
“We got as much insight and information as we could,’’ he said. “Also, a lot of the dots just connected. Jared’s a California kid. The team was returning to L.A. [from St. Louis].
“There was a funny moment when Carson and Jared got interviewed when they went to visit the Rams on their top-30 visits. Jared was dressed in an L.A.-cool shirt. Carson was like in flannels in 80 degrees.
“I remember showing Coach and Jeffrey [and saying], ‘If you want to feel even more assured that they’re taking Jared and that Carson will be there at 2, just look at this picture.’ ’’
Only time will tell whether Roseman’s 2016 predraft machinations to move up and get Wentz were worth it. The ’16 draft marked just the seventh time in the last 60 years that quarterbacks went 1-2.
Just twice have both quarterbacks been successful – in 1971 when Jim Plunkett and Archie Manning were the first two picks, and in 2015, when Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota went 1-2. And it’s probably still too early make a judgment call on Winston and Mariota.
Wentz started 16 games as a rookie, and while his numbers weren’t particularly impressive, the moment never got too big for him.
Goff spent the first nine games on the bench for a team that finished 4-12. He lost all seven of his starts and finished with just five touchdown passes, seven interceptions, and a 54.6 completion percentage.
“[Wentz] is everything I thought he’d be and more,’’ said NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, who also is the analyst for Eagles preseason games. “To me, it goes beyond the physical ability. When I sit down with Carson, I get the same feel as when I sit down with Matt Ryan or Drew Brees or Tom Brady. It’s just his quiet leadership and presence. And that’s huge at that position.
“As far as Goff is concerned, I feel badly for him. The tape I watched last year, he was lost. But he wasn’t getting a lot of help from anywhere. I understand he’s been playing well this summer.
“I still believe he has arm talent. He doesn’t wilt under pressure. He’s got better weapons this year with the additions of [rookie wide receiver Cooper] Kupp and Sammy Watkins. It’s a whole different conversation at wide receiver now.
“If they can protect him and run the ball early, I think you’ll see a different guy. I still think he has the talent and ability to be a high-level quarterback.’’