Nick Foles, Carson Wentz and the Faking of an Eagles Quarterback Controversy

Mike Tanier@@miketanierNFL National Lead WriterMay 29, 2018

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz in action along with Nick Foles, right, during practice at NFL football training camp, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

There was plenty going on during OTAs last week for the Eagles. The defending champions began fielding tough questions about their impending White House visit. Veteran linebacker Mychal Kendricks was released, and newly signed linebacker Paul Worrilow suffered an ACL tear on the same afternoon. Michael Bennett, embroiled in legal obligations, was noticeably absent.

Bor-ing!

Who really cares about linebackers? And that sociopolitical stuff is so last week. You can't swing a coach's whistle without hitting an angry president these days. We need something to talk about that won't make your eyes glaze over or your father-in-law launch into a red-faced tirade.

Something like an Eagles quarterback controversy, and wouldn't you know...

NFL Network's Michael Silver reported last week that the Browns offered the Eagles the 35th overall pick in April's draft in exchange for Nick Foles. The report sparked a fresh round of speculation that Foles might be available for the right price—not to mention making extra waves thanks to some schoolyard taunts between the NFL's most territorial inside reporters.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Unfortunately, it also came after Doug Pederson addressed the media, so we didn't get to hear him answer questions like this about it: Coach Pederson, regarding the situation and circumstances Carson Wentz finds himself in, can you talk about the possibility of miscommunication regarding leadership potentialities under clearly defined parameters between him and Foles? (Rule 1 of Sportswriter Quarterback Controversy Manufacturing Club is to never ask a direct question about a quarterback controversy; the coach, after all, will just flatly deny everything, even/especially if two quarterbacks are wrestling in the hallway for the right to lead first-team seven-on-sevens. A properly sneaky question about quarterback friction must sound like bad couples therapy, with everyone circling around the point.) With so much else going on at the start of OTAs, Pederson hadn't fielded many of those questions before the report last week either; his early-May press conference featured more trawling for intrigue.

Wentz also spoke last week, fielding a handful of bait-trap questions along the lines of: Carson, because you can't play for several months, are there ways that you can lead your leadership role into something more leaderly so that you can assert your assertions of assertiveness? But Wentz is the last quarterback who would ever offer kindling for a quarterback brouhaha bonfire; his public persona is so bland he makes Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan sound like Key and Peele.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Luckily, NFL fans and the media don't need fodder from Pederson or Wentz; they're very capable of fanning the fire on a quarterback controversy all by themselves. In the Eagles' case, it's a two-pronged attack: never-ending Foles trade speculation as the frontal assault, with probing for bruised feelings or Foles-Wentz locker room discord on the flanks.

The Wentz-Foles controversy spontaneously winked into existence like some evil genie while the confetti was still falling on the field after Super Bowl LII. I was in the airport the next morning when I fielded my first question about it from a sports-talk host; Foles' fingerprints were still wet on the Lombardi Trophy, but my colleagues were already shipping him to the Broncos or Jets. It was like asking parents how they plan to pay for college while they cradle their newborn for the first time. There was no basis for speculation then and none now but some moldy month-old trade gossip.

By the day of the Super Bowl parade, the sports-talk hive mind decided that trading Foles for a second-round pick, which worked out so well for the Patriots and Jimmy Garoppolo, made perfect sense for the Eagles. I began politely declining radio appearances because they started feeling like being cornered by flat-Earthers.

Foles trade speculation remained a subplot through free agency and draft season. Now that draft chatter has petered out, Foles trade tales and fishing for friction are back, and they won't go away until there's plenty of real football to talk about.

Quarterback controversies mean boffo box office for folks in my profession. Wentz vs. Foles (or, more realistically, Foles vs. the Block), Lamar Jackson vs. Joe Flacco, Tom vs. Time: These stories keep us from starving during the summer doldrums.

That's why we poke and prod our way through pressers instead of communicating. One stray quote by a coach can feed our whole colony for weeks.

There's often something substantial to our speculation, too: June mumblings sometimes sow the seeds for November decisions.

But sometimes we are just nattering to keep the conversation going. And this is obviously one of those times. Here's why:

1. Possessing two Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks is not a problem. Having zero Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks on the roster is a problem. Having two of them, under affordable contracts, is a blessing. It's like having a sports coupe in the driveway and a reliable sedan in the garage but only paying $350 per month for the two of them. No one in that situation would think, Gosh, I better ship one of these cars to Cleveland so I can buy something nice next year.

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

2. There is no question about the Wentz-Foles hierarchy. To drum up some drama, it's necessary to tout Foles as the "Reigning Super Bowl MVP," preferably in a Vegas boxing-ring announcer voice. Foles was indeed Super Bowl MVP, as were Santonio Holmes, Larry Brown, Desmond Howard, Malcolm Smith and other good-not-great players of seasons past. As recently as New Year's Day, he was considered the most likely reason the Eagles would miss the Super Bowl. No one was offering two first-round picks for him in April, and there was no compelling reason for the Eagles to Garoppolo him for a second-rounder. Instead…

3. The Eagles prepared for this scenario. They adjusted Foles' contract just before the draft, fiddling with his incentives and adding fins and spoilers to guarantee Foles either his freedom or (if Wentz's knee melts) $20 million in 2019. The new deal is like a pre-emptive financial apology, and it incentivizes both the Eagles and Foles to be patient and wait out the year.

There is no motivation for anyone to turn the Eagles quarterback situation into a quagmire. The Eagles risk rushing back Wentz from injury by trading Foles or touting him as a potential challenger. Foles damages his brand as a reliable veteran "winner"-type quarterback by making waves. Wentz, who had the team's city wrapped around his finger six months ago, just needs to rehab his knee and point to his highlight reel to reassert himself.

The only party with any incentive to cause a quarterback controversy is us.

Chris Szagola/Associated Press

The real news out of Eagles camp was that Wentz was able to participate in some football drills. He moved and planted to throw with a brace on his knee. He appears to be on schedule (or ahead of it) in his ACL recovery. The Eagles made Wentz (and only Wentz) available for a podium press conference last week, as opposed to hiding him in some Andrew Luck Mystery Box, which was a tacit sign the team is confident that Wentz will be its Week 1 starter.

Which means Foles, the Reigning Super Bowl MVP, must be disgruntled, right? And the Patriots need to put some pressure on Tom Brady. Foles to the Patriots for a future first-round pick: Now that's some hot-and-spicy speculation...

Sorry, force of habit. When it comes to whipping up an offseason controversy where none exists, we're all a little guilty.

                                                             

Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeTanier.

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