Why Eagles’ Carson Wentz might be the next Derek Carr (and why that might not be the worst thing for Philly)

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Carson Wentz is far from the only problem with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he is a problem in 2020, a season in which he’s endured one of the sharpest passer-rating drops in NFL history. Not only that, but the quarterback’s contract dictates he’ll likely be back in the City of Brotherly Love through at least 2021. Should Eagles fans actually be lamenting the fact Wentz figures to stick around, though? Is there even any precedent for a QB with his resume — and abrupt decline — rebounding to be a viable starter?

Comparing Wentz to any other QB at any other point in time is like comparing apples to oranges, considering how much Wentz’s issues can at least partly be attributed to the Eagles’ organizational breakdown. But there is one other QB currently starting in the NFL who navigated an eerily similar trajectory: Derek Carr.

The Las Vegas Raiders signal-caller did not enter the NFL with nearly as much hype, arriving in 2016 as a second-round pick out of Fresno State, but almost everything else about his journey mirrors that of Wentz.

Both Carr and Wentz:

  • Flashed as full-time rookie starters
  • Emerged as legitimate MVP candidates in their first three seasons
  • Were quickly considered among the NFL’s top young QBs
  • Suffered serious injuries just before leading their first would-be playoff runs
  • Regressed to the point of appearing flat-out broken in the ensuing years

Carr is generally widely regarded as a good-but-not-great QB these days, but lest we forget, the buzz around him was equivalent to that of 2017-level Wentz right around the time of Wentz’s own introduction to the league. After throwing 32 touchdowns to 13 interceptions in 2015, Carr was even better in 2016, going 12-3 while tossing 28 TDs and just six picks before breaking his leg. He entered the 2017 season with not only a record $125 million contract but ranked No. 11 among all players by his peers.

His subsequent decline in 2017-2018, when he posted his lowest completion percentage (62.7) and yards-per-attempt (6.8), totaled 20 fumbles, 23 INTs and 71 sacks; and lost hordes of fans with infamous decision-making amid a 10-22 stretch by the Raiders, was such a stark reversal of production that predicting the team’s next QB draft pick became a monthly exercise. That exercise doubled in intensity once the Raiders overhauled their entire operation, ushering in their current coach-general manager package of Jon Gruden and Mike Mayock.

And yet, deep into the 2020 season, despite years of Mayock and Gruden sniffing around top QB prospects, Carr has now gone almost two full years as a top-10ish starter. Vegas may still not be ready for the biggest stage, and Carr isn’t immune to occasional clunkers, but the numbers do not lie. Since 2019, in his sixth and seventh NFL seasons, Carr has thrown 40 TDs to 12 INTs, averaged nearly eight yards per attempt, completed almost 70 percent of his throws and posted a 102.5 QB rating — all with Tyrell Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Nelson Agholor as his top wide receivers.

Is Wentz the same type of QB as Carr? Not really. Carr has always been more of a quick-strike passer, whereas Wentz has been at his best operating on the move. Does Carr’s underrated rebound suggest Wentz is due for the same return to form? Not really. Again, these are two different players with two different structures and situations, regardless of their surface similarities. But does Carr offer proof that an embattled, once-promising QB can, in fact, bring stability even after becoming a burden and enduring a total team collapse? Absolutely.

A year or two ago, it might have been dispiriting for Eagles fans to even ponder that Wentz becoming the next Derek Carr would be a good outcome. But this is the reality of 2020, where Carr himself might have had Philly atop the NFC East if given the chance. The optimist’s view maintains that Wentz remains a superior talent, who just needs to get out of his own head (and, perhaps, Philly’s broken infrastructure) to thrive once more. But the truth is, if the Eagles are tied to Wentz through 2021 and still view him as the centerpiece of the franchise, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for their guy to end up like Carr — a good-but-not-great QB with the ability to hover just outside the top 10 league starters.

Wentz, remember, isn’t young but also isn’t old — he’ll be 28 when 2021 kicks off, almost a year younger than “still-growing” starters like Jimmy Garoppolo. And he’s still less than a year removed from a strong finish to 2019, when he followed up an unusual slump with some of the most inspired performances of his career, albeit against mediocre NFC East opponents. Jalen Hurts may be tempting, but he also lasted into the second round for a reason and remains a complete unknown. So if you can get Wentz back to even half of what he was during his best days, you’re talking about putting yourself immediately back into contention.

That, of course, would also be contingent on the Eagles addressing the rest of their issues, which lie well beyond the QB position. And that, to be frank, seems like a much more formidable task.

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