Until the Eagles open their title defense on Sept. 6 against the Falcons, the most popular game in town will be the guessing game concerning which quarterback – their franchise superstar or their Super Bowl MVP – will take the field that evening.
We're a little more than three months from the answer to that riddle and the organization is doing exactly what it should to slow-play the whole thing, even if putting a leash on Carson Wentz is about as easy as roping an onrushing wave.
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Wentz greeted the media before an OTA practice last week with a wait-until-you-see promise that he fulfilled with an impressive display of mobility during individual drills. He's only five months removed from having his left knee repaired and not allowed to fully practice yet, but for a guy who was doing a little one-step hop just a few weeks ago, the progress was remarkable. Three-step drops, five-step, shifting his weight from one foot to the other in rapid succession, a little improvisational scrambling – all without another player within 10 feet of him, of course – but it looked pretty good. No doubt there will be more of the same to watch during the drills prior to Tuesday's practice.
The coaching staff and front office have to be giddy thus far, and there's no doubt Wentz will chase full recovery like a Labrador puppy chases a balled-up sock. Nevertheless, the organization wisely hedged its bets during the offseason by keeping around Nick Foles at a pretty hefty price.
The extent of the price was more greatly revealed last week when it was reported by Mike Silver of NFL.com that the Eagles turned down a trade offer that would have given them the 35th pick in the draft in exchange for Foles. The offer was made by the Browns back in March, well before the draft, at a time when Howie Roseman was itching to fill that second-day gap with a choice or two.
A pick early in the second round might not sound like much – particularly after the Bill Polian nonsense about the asking price starting with two first-rounders and two second-rounders – but it was probably pretty reasonable for a guy with Foles' resume, notwithstanding that little Super Bowl thingie. The Patriots got the 43rd pick for backup Jimmy Garoppolo, for instance, in a situation that wasn't entirely parallel, but close enough.
On the surface, any deal proposed by Cleveland is usually worth pursuing since the Browns are never right, but the Eagles are in the odd position of not knowing exactly what to expect from either Wentz or Foles, let alone Nate Sudfeld, the 6-foot-6 strong arm whose NFL experience is limited to 23 pass attempts.
Silver's report led to a minor journalistic food fight with Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk.com, who accused Silver of being a mouthpiece for Browns coach Hue Jackson, even though Silver had not named his sources. Well, one-two-three-four, I declare a Twitter war.
Florio said Jackson is undermining new general manager John Dorsey, and forwarded that as proof Cleveland is still a dysfunctional organization. Apparently, he considered that breaking news. At the risk of too much inside ball here, outing or attempting to out the sources of another reporter – Silver denied Jackson gave him the trade info – is considered extremely bad form in our business. But standards aren't what they once were, and neither apparently is Nick Foles, who was about a hundred miles from newsworthy and hardly the subject of trade talk this time last year.
For his part, Foles has said the right things about not being set free to pursue his manifest destiny as a starter. There are a few reasons for that, not the least of which is being thankful for avoiding the ritual dunking in Lake Erie that has submerged 27 Browns starting quarterbacks since 2000, a list that begins with Doug Pederson. Tyrod Taylor, acquired from Buffalo with the 65th pick, will get that pleasure instead as he babysits for first overall selection and future bust Baker Mayfield.
Additionally, Foles got a reworked contract that will pay him a minimum of $9 million this season – a healthy reward for a backup quarterback – and it could balloon to $23 million if he devours an à la carte menu of incentives that includes $500,000 for every regular season win in which he takes 33 percent of the snaps, and $1 million for every postseason win with the same requirement.
The Eagles, naturally, hope he doesn't earn a dime of the bonuses since that would mean the Lab puppy choked on the sock at some point, whether during the rehabilitation process or later in the season when his rambunctious game put him on the sideline again. (Oddly, from the team's perspective, if Foles earns all the incentives, that would be cool, too.)
Even if Wentz doesn't miss a beat, however, nine months is a very optimistic recovery goal after ACL surgery and it is most likely Foles will need to start a game or two or three. Those could ultimately allow the Eagles to win their division or gain home-field advantage through the playoffs.
Predicting the future in the NFL is a fool's occupation. The Eagles' 2017 season is handy proof of that. Roseman is no fool, and even though Wentz is coming along well and that draft pick was tempting, the choice was obvious. What blooms in May can easily wither and wilt by autumn.
Foles is no dummy, either. If the decision was between perhaps playing in Philadelphia and definitely playing in Cleveland, that's a no-brainer, too.