Wentz isn’t the first 6’5″ 235 pound QB who wore #11 to go early in the NFL Draft. There was another stud QB by the name Drew Bledsoe, and after being taken first in the 1993 draft he helped lead the Patriots back from irrelevance to perennial contender. When he got injured in 2001, the Patriots were forced to turn to an unheralded backup by the name of Tom Brady. That backup would of course lead them to the franchise’s first ever Super Bowl victory. After that win the Patriots decided to roll with the unheralded youngster, despite the fact that Bledsoe was a three time Pro Bowler and had been signed to a ten year, $105 million contract earlier in the year.
Even though Brady led them to a Super Bowl, there were some that still thought he was a nobody who had been surrounded by a good team. In fact, consensus was that he was kept and Bledsoe shipped entirely due to money (the eventual GOAT was being paid a comical $300k at the time, while Bledsoe had just signed that “franchise QB” contract).
In hindsight, there is of course no doubt that the Patriots made the right move. Brady has become, well, Brady. But at the time there were plenty who thought they should have stayed with the prototypical QB, not the guy who just won the Super Bowl. As Bob Halloran wrote right before that Super Bowl win, “I liken Brady to a sneeze guard at the salad bar. It’s functional, it serves a purpose, and seems like a great idea, but is it really necessary?”
The analogy isn’t perfect (Bledsoe was older than Wentz, and Foles is quite a bit older than Brady was at the time). But the Eagles did find themselves at a similar crossroads. Do you stick with the QB prototype, the guy you took with your early first round pick (Bledsoe was a #1 overall pick, Wentz #2)? Or do you ride with the castoff who had been doubted by everybody, who didn’t have the tools of the larger QB but who had won you a freaking Super Bowl? The Patriots surprised many when they stuck with Brady, who despite one good year did not seemed to be destined for greatness. By trading Bledsoe, they received a first round pick (they would pick Ty Warren, a starter on two more Super Bowl winners).
And so the Eagles were faced a similar decision: go with the stud they spent a bunch of draft capital on (Wentz) or the plucky journeyman WHO OH BY THE WAY WON THEM THEIR FIRST SUPER BOWL. The return for trading a guy like Wentz would have been huge. They got nothing in return for Foles. They did the safe thing. They did the thing that common sense told them to do. And in fact, the Philadelphia fan base for the most part went along with the decision. After all, until he got hurt in 2017, Wentz seemed well on his way to an MVP. He was also younger than Foles.
Wentz came back in 2018 and looked shaky, seemed a bit off his game, but the fan base attributed it to rust. Once he went down for the year and Foles came in again, the team seemed to come to life, and if not for an Alshon Jeffery drop, may have returned to the Super Bowl. Perhaps thankfully for the Eagles front office (can you imagine if Nick had led them to a second Super Bowl and then they let him walk?) Jeffery dropped that ball. It closed the door on the Nick Foles era. To add an exclamation point, the Eagles signed Wentz for $103 million (interestingly, just $2 million less than the Patriots showered on Bledsoe before dropping him) this past offseason. It was decided. It made sense.
And here we are, with a 5-5 team that can best be described as “mediocre”, with holes all over the place. That’s not all Wentz’s fault, of course. Until a few weeks ago the defense was awful, and the loss of DeSean Jackson has been devastating, as the team has zero speed at WR. Foles, meanwhile, went down to Jacksonville and somewhat ironically has now found himself as the incumbent with fans calling for the plucky upstart. So it goes in the NFL.
As that last Eagles drive fizzled out last night, thanks in part to some awful Wentz passes, I started to think about how much he reminded me of Bledsoe; same size, same contract, same top draft pick loaded with physical tools, same bittersweet feeling of holding a clipboard due to injury while a less physically gifted QB led the team to their first Super Bowl. The Patriots took the cheaper route, the road less travelled, and their return was a clutch guy with fewer physical tools but who found a way to win. The Eagles stuck with the big money guy. The Patriots made one of the best decisions in sports history. The verdict is still out on the Eagles decision, and it’s totally unfair and premature to judge it too harshly after 10 games. (And let’s be honest, there was no chance that Foles was ever going to turn into Tom Brady.)
But as I watch this team flounder on offense week after week, as leaks continue to come out saying that Eagles players liked Foles better, as I think about what the return for Wentz in a trade would have gotten us while still leaving a damn good QB behind center, as I think about how Foles seemed to play his best late in close games, I can’t help but wonder if they made the right choice.