The calendar hasn’t even flipped to September, and already Philadelphia Eagles fans should be concerned for Carson Wentz’s health.
All-Pro right guard Brandon Brooks was already lost for the 2020 season after tearing his Achilles in June. On Thursday, second-year left tackle Andre Dillard joined Brooks on the injury list with a torn biceps, likely ending his campaign as well.
That’s two of the Eagles’ five starting offensive linemen, or 40 percent, out for the year before Week 1.
It doesn’t bode well for Wentz, who’s seen each of his last three seasons ended early by injuries of his own and now has competition for his job in rookie Jalen Hurts.
The organization may not have intended to put the franchise quarterback on the hot seat when it selected Hurts in the second round. That inevitably is what will happen though should Wentz go down and the Eagles not miss a beat with his replacement at the helm.
Need evidence? Look no further than the portion of the fanbase who to this day would still prefer Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles under center.
Outside opinions probably don’t hold as much sway in most cities, but in Philly, vocal clamoring for the backup — amplified by an unrelenting sports media machine — if nothing else puts pressure on everybody from Wentz to perform to the front office to make unpopular choices.
And the Eagles are no strangers to making those choices. In the last 12 years alone, the organization traded Donovan McNabb when Kevin Kolb was waiting in the wings, dealt Kolb after Michael Vick took over, swapped Foles for Sam Bradford and flipped Bradford once it had Wentz.
Is it really unthinkable the same fate might await Wentz should he leave the door open for Hurts?
The good news for Carson Wentz
For what it’s worth, the narrative Wentz is injury prone is overblown. After all, he did play in all 17 games for the Eagles in 2019.
What I see is a series of non-recurring, unrelated injuries — a freak, non-contact ACL tear, a stress fracture in his back and a first-time concussion from a blow to the back of the head that would’ve knocked out anybody — that suggest Wentz has been a tad unlucky.
His concussion in particular, suffered during the Eagles’ playoff loss to Seattle, provided easy ammunition for critics, but was the end result of a borderline illegal hit.
As for the injuries up front, the offensive line as it stands right now doesn’t look like a total disaster.
The silver lining — if there is any — is the Eagles re-signed Jason Peters to take Brooks’ spot in July. Peters can simply move back to left tackle, where he’s enjoyed a Hall of Fame-caliber career and is almost certainly still an upgrade over Dillard, who took his lumps as a rookie.
The Eagles could also move to add a veteran via free agency or trade.
The bad news for Carson Wentz
That doesn’t mean Wentz will be better off though, as already the depth chart is growing perilously thin.
While the quarterback’s blindside might be a little safer with Peters back in his old spot, the 38-year-old is prone to injury too, missing more than 20 percent of the offense’s snaps in each of the last three seasons, per snap counts tracked by Football Outsiders.
The current backups at left tackle are Jordan Mailata, a 2018 seventh-round pick and former rugby star whose only prior experience with organized football is preseason games, and sixth-round rookie Prince Tega Wanogho, another relative newcomer to the sport.
Meanwhile, third-year player Matt Pryor, adequate in limited action at right guard, likely takes over for Brooks. Pryor held his own in his lone NFL start in Seattle, but it’s not nearly a large enough body of work to project the results over a full season.
None of the other reserves currently on the roster possess meaningful NFL experience.
Looking at the current state of his protection and Wentz’s own track record, it’s fair to worry he faces an uphill battle to stay on the field for a full slate again in 2020. At the very least, it would behoove him to shorten his internal clock and get the ball out of his hands with some urgency.
There’s more at stake for Wentz than wins and losses though. Fairly or unfairly, he’s under intense scrutiny from fans who feel he hasn’t recovered his pre-torn ACL MVP-caliber form, from a front office that drafted his potential successor in April, and even peers who did not vote Wentz one of the top 100 players in the NFL.
Wentz seems to understand all of that, too, having shown up at camp noticeably bulked up.
Like talk that he’s injury prone, some of that is unfair. Making a full recovery from an ACL injury can take two years. The Eagles receiving corps was beset by injuries in 2019, leaving Wentz with practice squad talent as some of his primary weapons. And the shadow cast by Foles guiding the team to its first Super Bowl championship? People forget Wentz set the table for it by leading the team to the top playoff seed.
The Eagles can’t easily get out from under Wentz’s contract before 2022, either, so regardless of what happens this season, he’ll almost certainly be around for at least two. And even after everything that’s been said, the belief here is the Eagles neither want nor intend to move on from Wentz.
Yet, there’s no denying Hurts is the elephant in the room, while Wentz’s history with injuries suggests at some point is understudy will get a shot.
The pressure is on Wentz to prevent that from happening, and it starts with surviving behind whatever patchwork O-line the Eagles trot out there in 2020.