The Philadelphia Eagles remain steadfast in their commitment to quarterback Carson Wentz despite his poor play, but there are a handful of signal-callers who could replace him in 2021.
Wentz’s stats are horrendous in 2020; entering Week 12, he’s thrown 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, completed only 58.4% of his passes and has a 73.3 passer rating. He is carrying an expensive price tag in the midst of a four-year, $128 million contract. What’s worse, the Eagles stand to be in 2021 cap hell, projected by OverTheCap.com to be a whopping $65 million in the red.
So, either answers will need to come from within the organization, or Philadelphia must focus on cheap solutions through the draft, free agency, or pull off some kind of miraculous trade. Let’s take a closer look at what the Eagles’ potential options are to replace Wentz next season.
1. Jalen Hurts
This is the most obvious choice. Some argued Hurts was a second-round pick for Philly just in case Wentz went down. After all, he has an extensive injury history, and with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, it could be explained away that way, too. Now that Wentz is struggling to the extent he is, it’s fascinating to wonder whether the front office saw signs of the former MVP candidate’s stunning decline before acquiring Hurts in the 2020 draft.
While Wentz is an athletically gifted passer who can extend plays with his legs and is a threat to pick up yards on scrambles, Hurts has legitimate ball-carrier vision and has been deployed as a rookie most often through designed quarterback runs. But that’s not to say Hurts can’t sling it, because he wouldn’t have gotten drafted so high if that part of his game was nonexistent.
After getting beat out by Tua Tagovailoa at Alabama, all Hurts did was transfer to Oklahoma, pick up the offense on the fly and produce an electrifying final collegiate season in which he threw for 3,851 yards on 11.3 yards per attempt and tossed 38 touchdowns. Oh, and Hurts ran for 1,298 yards and 20 TDs.
Dear lord. Yes, Hurts struggles to pass with anticipation and can be more of a “see it” thrower as opposed to a gunslinger who helps receivers get open amid tight coverage. This doesn’t mean he can’t improve there in due time. He showed considerable improvement in accuracy, ball placement, touch and mechanics as his college career wore on.
Hurts would add a dimension to the Eagles offense Wentz simply doesn’t have, and could help open up their rushing attack so that they aren’t forced into so many obvious passing situations, wherein Wentz commits many of his turnovers.
2. Trey Lance
How about another North Dakota State product? What a blow that would be to Wentz, or perhaps the pair could rally around their shared FCS powerhouse program. Just because they hail from the same school and Wentz is a disaster of late doesn’t mean the franchise should automatically dismiss this as an option.
Lance would require the Eagles to spend another high draft pick at quarterback, which they obviously weren’t averse to doing in selecting Hurts. However, there’s little doubt Lance is going to land in the first round, and it may require Philadelphia to trade assets in order to move up the board to be in position to pull this off.
Like Hurts, Lance is a dual-threat dynamo who is actually more accurate, has a stronger arm, and hails from a pro-style offense, all of which put him ahead of where Hurts was as a prospect. In stark contrast to Wentz, Lance is not a giveaway machine, at least if his sensational 2019 campaign for the Bison is any indication. The 20-year-old prodigy threw 28 touchdowns and zero interceptions. That’s right. Zero. He scampered for 1,100 yards and 14 additional scores to boot.
At 6-foot-4 and 227 pounds, the measurements also work in Lance’s favor when comparing to the slighter Hurts. He’s built to take the punishment of the NFL when he takes off to run, or when he gets hit in the pocket. At least to date, he appears more decisive than Wentz, who holds the ball too long, and is moreover superior in throwing with anticipation than Hurts.
The hype is real for this young man. Perhaps if Philadelphia doesn’t accidentally win the horrid NFC East, the team will be in more realistic striking distance to land Lance.
3. Cam Newton
As a member of the New England Patriots, Newton is on a one-year prove-it deal. The only thing he’s really proved is how ill-equipped the Pats are on offense. Tom Brady saw how pathetic New England’s offensive weapons were and bailed to Tampa Bay with a far more powerful supporting cast.
All that said, it actually reflects well on Newton that he’s eating the Humble Pie in Foxborough, not making any excuses for his lackluster numbers, and has gotten on really well with legendary head coach Bill Belichick. With all the opt-outs on the Pats defense, too, the unit went from first in DVOA last season to DFL this year. Consider that when evaluating Newton’s seemingly underwhelming year of an 84.4 passer rating with four TD passes and seven picks.
Hard to imagine much more adverse circumstances. Then again, it’s not like the Carolina Panthers ever surrounded Newton with top-flight receivers. A tail-end-of-his-career Steve Smith? That’s about it. Now, Newton is making lemonade out of lemons in New England with the likes of second-year undrafted wideout Jakobi Meyers, perpetual cast-off Damiere Byrd and Ryan Izzo at tight end. The 2015 NFL MVP has also run for nine rushing touchdowns. Again, there’s that special mobility he brings to the gridiron.
Bearing all this in mind as context, Newton has actually done well to guide the Patriots to a 4-5 record as a starter thus far. Against the playoff-bound Seahawks and Bills, New England had a chance to win at the end thanks to Newton’s clutch play, but fell just a little short. If the Pats let Newton hit the open market without re-signing him, he’d be the best bargain the Eagles could find.
4. Gardner Minshew
No team has more salary cap space for 2021 than the Jacksonville Jaguars, who are projected to own the No. 2 overall pick and will be in the market for a new quarterback of the future themselves. While it’s a long shot the Eagles could bait them into taking Wentz off their hands, the fact that Jacksonville is likely going in a new direction under center is a prime opportunity for Philadelphia to swoop in and snag Minshew.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson operates a West Coast offense, which is precisely what plays to Minshew’s strengths. The 2019 sixth-round pick has a chip on his shoulder, especially as the team is tanking in the hopes of landing a new organizational savior, casting him aside as perceptibly not good enough to be the long-term answer.
Whereas the incumbent options of Wentz and Hurts hold the ball too long, Minshew has a fast release, is excellent at making quick decisions and can share the wealth by spreading the ball around to all targets at his disposal. Wentz fixates too much on throwing to his tight ends or taking unnecessary risks with downfield throws, and Hurts is frankly an unknown commodity as an NFL passer.
What is certain about Minshew is his rookie contract is super cheap, which is ideal for the Eagles’ nightmarish cap situation and won’t require much if any maneuvering, particularly if the Jaguars are able to eat up any of Philly’s front-loaded contracts in a prospective trade. He’s also managed to throw 34 touchdowns to only 11 picks in 21 NFL games, despite playing behind a subpar offensive line and working with a cast of unproven, young receivers.
Going to a far superior organization in Philadelphia, provided the Eagles can stay healthy and give him another solid wideout to throw to, may be just the change of scenery Minshew needs to prove he can be a continuing success story. Minshew Mania in Philadelphia seems like a match made in football heaven.
5. Matthew Stafford
Among all the options on this list, Stafford is definitely the most expensive. It’d take a lot of contract restructuring, severing ties with current players, and even some flexibility on the part of the Detroit Lions’ longtime quarterback for this marriage to work. But crazier things have happened, and if Stafford sees a way out of Detroit and into a division that seems up for grabs every year due to poor overall quality, he may well jump at it.
Thirteen teams are projected to have negative salary cap space under the proposed $176 million mark brought on by COVID-19. The Lions are just outside that group according to OverTheCap.com, but dealing Stafford away would take his $33 million number off the books, and he’s been the subject of trade rumors before.
How could the Eagles possibly afford that? Well, that’s where the whole restructuring of Stafford’s deal and roster retooling must come in. If Philadelphia converts a decent chunk of the Monopoly money in that contract to signing bonuses, it won’t count against the 2021 cap. Stafford should be more than willing to do this entering his age-33 season for the shot to play for an organization that just won the Super Bowl only a few postseasons prior.
Here’s the other wrinkle: if the cap ceiling goes back to normal for the 2022 league year, the Eagles’ overall financial burden won’t be as much of a crisis as it is now. If Stafford’s deal remained unchanged, there’s a potential out after next season. Per Spotrac, even if Stafford were released outright in 2022, he’d only be a $9.9 million dead cap hit for that year.
A big roadblock to this whole possibility is Wentz himself. There’s no question he’d be furious if the Eagles brought in another veteran who could easily take his job on top of drafting a potential successor in this year’s draft. It’d create serious friction in the locker room, even if most players want Stafford to be the man at the controls on offense.
Stafford is a less mistake-prone version of Wentz who’s more experienced, more accurate and has a little more natural arm talent, if not quite the same ability to scramble for yards. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, because yours truly wants to see a somewhat competent franchise support Stafford and help him realize his full potential instead of wasting away on a perpetually inept Lions team for whatever’s left of his prime.
With multiple quality seasons still in the tank, though, Stafford has the means to build on his ranking of 17th on the NFL’s all-time passing list. It’s no small achievement to throw for 43,606 yards in the National Football League, particularly with nary a rushing attack nor a consistent defense to help the cause, as has been the case for Stafford’s tenure in the Motor City.