For now, his report card is "Incomplete."
Barring another kind of injury that has prematurely ended two of Carson Wentz’s three previous seasons, we’ll have a much better idea at the end of this season of where the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback stands among the greats and what direction his career is headed.
For now, his report card is one big "I" for "Incomplete."
His rookie season of 2016? Incomplete. This, despite not missing a game.
But starting with a 10-game suspension that Lane Johnson was forced to start serving after Week 4 that was complicated by injuries to other other offensive linemen and a deficent cast of wide receivers, there was no way to accurately grade him.
His 2017 season? Same.
Wentz was a bona fide MVP candidate when he wrecked his knee in Los Angeles. But since he came back a lesser force in 2018 and has never really come close to recapturing that magic, a valid question remains about whether that season was a fluke and how much offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who departed for other jobs after the season, had to do with it.
In 2018, he wasn’t ready to start the season because of his knee, then couldn’t finish it because of a broken back. And it ended with backup Nick Foles once again handling all of the postseason work.
Now, with seven games to go in 2019, a mediocre statistical season (62.7 completion percentage, 15 TDs, four interceptions, 6.8 yards per attempt, a 5-4 record), Wentz not only has no playoff experience but no signature moments in which he’s hoisted the team on his back and delivered it safely through a firestorm to the other side.
History has shown that Wentz has been magnificent when running way out ahead with a full complement of good to outstanding players around him and merely mortal in all other situations, like when the team is not at full strength or falls behind early and he has to throw more than they’d prefer. Since he entered the NFL in 2016, Wentz is 15-2 in games when he attempts 31 or fewer passes and 13-19 in all others.
Furthermore, Wentz has directed just four fourth-quarter comebacks in his career, which ranks 34th of the 51 active quarterbacks in the league today. However, only two of those above him have fewer years in the league.
This does not necessarily make him a failure. But it certainly doesn’t qualify him for Canton, either.
What it means is simply a big, fat ... “I.”
These next couple months likely will go a long way toward at least beginning to change that dynamic.
The Eagles host the defending Super Bowl champions when Tom Brady and New England (8-1) come to town Sunday. The following week, they host Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks (8-2). A rematch with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, who won in a runaway the first time, looms next month.
If Wentz should play well and they’re fortunate enough to qualify, then he’ll have some real work ahead, because no evaluation process can be complete without a body of postseason of work.
And if he should falter, even because of injury — maybe especially because of injury— and they don’t make the playoffs, that could tell us a lot too, depending on how it all unfolds.
Still, not until multiple playoff games are completed can a complete picture of Wentz begin to emerge. Unless he never plays in one, which is somewhere nobody wants to go right now.
And even then, there may be no definitive conclusion for at least another half a decade.
Look at the Saints’ Drew Bees. He didn’t make the playoffs until his fourth season, didn’t win his first playoff game until a year later and didn’t win his second playoff game until his ninth season, long after he moved on from his original team, the San Diego Chargers.
Another example: Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Lost four of his first five playoff games and, like Brees, didn’t get his second playoff win until his ninth season.
But for Wentz and the faction of fans who still haven’t totally bought in to what the Eagles believe he’s capable of delivering, a more encouraging picture could begin to be painted if he takes over a game or two and is the biggest difference in some wins that they’re not supposed to get.
This Sunday, for example, New England is favored by 3½ points and features a defense that until giving up 37 points in its last game was on pace to surrender the fewest points in the history of the league since it expanded to a 16-game schedule.
To his credit, Wentz never thinks how neat it would be to be a game-saving hero. He’s strictly a results-oriented player who doesn’t concern himself with statistics.
And it’s why, according to practice-squad quarterback Kyle Lauletta, Wentz concentrates strictly on something that’s unfairly stigmatized: game management.
“I mean, he’s really a team guy and I think he, you know, he’s just worried about doing his job, moving the ball making the right decisions,” Lauletta said. “I don’t think he needs to feel like he’s got to do more than he needs to do or more than he should. He just needs to play within the offense.
“The way this league is set up, you take a sack and get behind the sticks, it really reduces the probability of converting on third down. So the best thing you can do is just get rid of it quickly and live to fight another down.”
Which could explain Wentz’s mediocre statistics better than anything. They actually could mean he’s doing the best job possible with what he has and not taking the kinds of reckless chances that other with less patience and overall understanding of the game may feel is necessary to win.
Because the Eagles have lacked a vertical dimension since DeSean Jackson was injured in Week 2, Wentz’s best success has been with short passes, or at least ones that don’t travel very far in the air. Wentz knows they can win with that approach too, providing he doesn’t get too stupid or brave out there.
“You can definitely win with this,” he said. “I’m never worried when we come out of games and maybe we didn’t have any explosive plays. ... At the same time, I’m confident that we will find ways to make big plays.”
Or more specifically, winning plays.
For Wentz, boring and methodical and unspectacular may not necessarily be bad things. In fact, given their personnel situation, they may be the best things.