Carson Wentz’s struggles, injury scare clear way for Eagles to roll dice on Colin Kaepernick

In most circumstances, the Eagles’ uninspired loss at home to the Seahawks would have spelled the end of their season. It marked the second week in a row they failed a test against one of the league’s contenders, this time to drop them a game under .500, putting them three back in the NFC wild-card race with five to play. 

Were it not for the happenstance of being in 2019’s weakest division, Philly couldn’t be blamed too severely for packing it in and just going through the motions the rest of the way. Thankfully for the team’s sake, the NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys have proved just as inept against the top tier of the NFL. They too failed in their bid to upset New England, as Philly did the week before, meaning the Cowboys only have a single-game lead for what promises to be the division’s only playoff berth. 

Whereas Dallas appears to be hamstrung by clueless coaching, the entire offense is out of sorts for the Eagles. The line’s performance has dropped off, especially with the absence of Lane Johnson, whose rookie backup had to be benched at halftime. Guard Brandon Brooks, arguably one of the best interior linemen in the league, also had to leave in the first quarter with an illness due to his anxiety disorder. The receivers have been riddled by drops, and that’s even when they’re at full strength, which they weren’t on Sunday. The league’s official count puts them in the top 10 in drops with 14, though by a local reporter’s account, it was actually 23 going into Sunday. 

Against Seattle, Carson Wentz had one of the worst outings of his career, and this is facing a far cry from the peak years of Seahawks’ defensive dominance under Pete Carroll. Wentz missed open looks while staring down other receivers. He was off target on screens, including a drive-killing overthrow to Miles Sanders to limit what might have been an early touchdown drive to a field goal. Wentz’s overall completion numbers on the day look respectable, but that’s mostly because, with the quarterback’s confidence shaken and his hand hurt, the play-callers limited him to short if ineffective dump passes. On the day, Wentz only compiled 256 yards on 45 throws, yielding an anemic 5.7-yard average per attempt.

Wentz dinged his hand attempting to recover one of his two lost fumbles, part of a four-turnover day. Reporters observed him leaving the training room with his throwing hand wrapped in ice and a huge bandage after the game. X-rays were conducted on the hand during the game, and the results were negative, though further tests Monday did reveal a bone bruise. Last year’s back injury, originally diagnosed as fine, has to cause concern for anyone wanting to casually wave off an injury scare for Wentz. Even if it isn’t a debilitating issue, it provides the Eagles an opportunity to give him a breather, let him recover physically and gather his nerves. 

There might be mitigating circumstances for some of Wentz’s problems — bad weather, depleted supporting cast — but this is the NFL, so disproportionate blame for losses comes with the territory every bit as much as effulgent praise accompanies triumph for the quarterback. Hordes of Eagles fans spent Sunday afternoon lamenting the team allowing Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles escape to Jacksonville, though he isn’t exactly setting the world on fire there, and keeping Wentz on account of the draft capital the team used on him in 2016. 

As little as Eagles fans want to have Dallas used as an example for their team, Dak Prescott offers a teachable lesson within the division. Quarterback progression is not always linear. Some quarterbacks go through periods of regression within their development before hitting their peak. Prescott has emerged out of the other end of a slump period when he looked like he might be middling at best. Wentz has had a down season after what had mostly been upward trajectory through his first three years, though injuries might have delayed this cycle of development by costing him time and reps.

Normally, the best course of action would be to ride it out. Sometimes quarterbacks just have to work through the tough times and smooth out mechanical or mental errors with the lessons learned by mistakes. But the fact that the Eagles remain in contention despite their poor record, and the fact that Wentz has at least something of a medical issue, allows them to be bold in this instance. Turning to the 40-year-old Josh McCown would be the move only if they wanted to wave the white flag on 2019. No, the Eagles should be the team that brings Colin Kaepernick back into the NFL.

After all, the Eagles were one of the eight teams to attend Kaepernick’s rescheduled workout last week. Philly has long been identified as one of the more likely landing spots for Kaepernick if he did return, as the team has been more receptive than most to players committed to social justice issues. What’s more, bringing in Kaepernick now allows Philly to be proactive about its QB situation. McCown already retired before joining the Eagles for a backup job this year. It’s unlikely a veteran of that age would be worth such a potentially significant role. Kaepernick easily upgrades the Eagles at potential backup, and if he does well enough down the stretch, he could potentially serve as competition for the starting role with Wentz next season. Depending on how ownership circles really feel, the league might have a measure of gratitude to the Eagles for bearing the brunt of the media circus likely to accompany his return — and for defanging one of the more damaging critiques of the league in recent years.

This cycle of speculation has played out over and over since Kaepernick was last employed, though the league has only itself to blame for keeping it going in this case. Even if the unilaterally scheduled workout was a bad-faith effort at showing an attempt to get Kaepernick a job, it did bring him back into the headlines, in a context that reinforces his readiness for action. The Eagles as an organization aren’t obligated to bail out the NFL by any stretch, but they can do themselves and the league at large a lot of good by taking the plunge.

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