Martin Frank - Delaware Online
PHILADELPHIA – There shouldn't have been any doubts about Carson Wentz as the Eagles' franchise quarterback based on his play before he tore his ACL in December of 2017.
But of course there were questions, mainly because Wentz missed the Super Bowl run with the knee injury, then missed a playoff run last season after a stress fracture in his back.
Then the Eagles were 5-7 on Dec. 1 after a loss to the Miami Dolphins. That came after two of the worst games of Wentz's career in a five-sack debacle against New England on Nov. 17 followed by a four-turnover nightmare (two interceptions, two lost fumbles) against Seattle.
We know what happened next. Wentz led four straight wins, bringing the Eagles to a playoff berth with a wide receiver unit consisting of four practice-squad players and an overmatched rookie.
Of course, the postseason was short-lived as Wentz lasted just nine snaps before leaving with a concussion. The Eagles lost 17-9 to Seattle.
Still, Wentz's play over the last month of the season only confirmed his burgeoning elite status. It also confirmed how the Eagles have to make sure Wentz continues to progress next season.
That means Eagles general manager Howie Roseman has to surround Wentz with capable – and healthy – wide receivers.
More importantly, head coach Doug Pederson has to hire an offensive coordinator who can get the most out of Wentz. It was clear that Mike Groh couldn't until it was almost too late.
Pederson fired Groh on Thursday after two seasons in which Wentz was 10-13 as a starter before winning the final four games of the regular season.
ESPN reported Thursday that Jim Caldwell could be a candidate to replace Groh. That would be a slam-dunk hire, similar to what the Eagles had in 2017 when Frank Reich was the offensive coordinator and Wentz was on his way to an MVP award before the knee injury.
Reich left after that season to become the Indianapolis Colts' head coach. Wentz hasn't been the same since. Sure, the injuries had something to do with it. But maybe Groh did, too.
Caldwell has a track record. He worked with Peyton Manning, both as an assistant and head coach with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-11.
He also worked with Joe Flacco in Baltimore during the Ravens' Super Bowl season in 2012 when Flacco was at his best.
If not Caldwell, it could be someone else with that pedigree. Perhaps former Washington coach Jay Gruden, or heck, maybe former Cowboys coach Jason Garrett. Both played the position, just like Reich and Pederson. They would have instant credibility.
Under Groh, who did not play quarterback, it took way too long before the Eagles figured out that Wentz was at his best when he was able to move outside the pocket and improvise.
Two of Wentz's best throws of the season (or any quarterback's season, for that matter) came under those circumstances – the 15-yard bullet TD pass to Miles Sanders in the back corner of the end zone against Washington on Dec. 15, and his 24-yard TD pass to Josh Perkins against the Giants on Dec. 29 when he rolled to his right, then threw all the way across his body to Perkins in the front left corner of the end zone.
We also saw that in the season-opener against Washington, the only full game DeSean Jackson played in. Wentz hit Jackson in stride for TD passes of 51 and 53 yards.
But after Jackson got hurt in the first quarter the next game against Atlanta (he didn't play a full game again), the Eagles had to improvise.
Finally, the Eagles were desperate after the injuries to Jackson, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, and they turned to Wentz to save them.
Now the Eagles have to save Wentz with speed at the wide receiver position. That was Roseman's intent when he traded for Jackson last spring. But they also have to save Wentz with an offensive coordinator who'll make sure the Eagles make the most out of his strengths.
"Now, obviously, that didn't work out in the exact way we were hoping for," Roseman said about his intentions of adding speed to the lineup. "So for us, it's an important thing to do.
"Obviously Carson has the ability to make all of the throws, and we don't want to take that out of our arsenal."
Moving Wentz around also makes him susceptible to getting hit, like he did Sunday when Seattle's Jadeveon Clowney hit him in the helmet as Wentz was diving forward.
Those are the risks, which Pederson alluded to on Wednesday when asked about Clowney's hit. It's the same risk that the Ravens are taking with Lamar Jackson, albeit on a much grander scale since Jackson runs much more often than Wentz.
Still, the Ravens are Super Bowl favorites with Jackson, who will likely win the MVP award. They would not be contenders without Jackson.
"Listen, all mobile quarterbacks, they become runners at some point," Pederson said. "That's just kind of the give-and-take with these guys. We've encouraged Carson to use his legs when he can. At that particular time, it was a broken play and he was making a play.
"It was unfortunate, the hit, but I do think that once they become runners, it becomes different. That's just the way the league is."
No, a new offensive coordinator can't prevent Wentz from suffering a blow like the one Clowney inflicted. Those hits can happen with Wentz standing in the pocket, too.
But the Eagles are going to need more from Wentz than ever before. It's up to the Eagles to make sure that happens.