On Feb. 4, 2018, Doug Pederson stood atop the stage at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis and accepted the Lombardi Trophy after leading the Philadelphia Eagles to a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz didn't play in that game, as he tore his ACL in a Week 14 win over the Los Angeles Rams earlier that season. But Wentz was playing at an MVP level before that injury, and he played a huge part in Philadelphia winning its first Super Bowl.
Fast forward three years, and everything has changed.
Wentz struggled through a miserable season before he got benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. Pederson spent much of a 4-11-1 season clashing with Eagles general manager Howie Roseman, and Wentz reportedly planned to ask for a trade this offseason because his relationship with Pederson was "fractured beyond repair," according to ESPN's Chris Mortensen.
That trade is looking less likely after the Eagles parted ways with Pederson on Monday.
Pederson's firing seems to suggest that Roseman and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie aren't quite ready to throw in the towel on Wentz just yet. The focus of Philadelphia's offseason now figures to be building around the second overall pick in the 2016 draft and finding a head coach who can fix him, for better or worse.
There had been growing buzz that Pederson's footing within the organization wasn't especially solid, as Mortensen and ESPN's Tim McManus reported Sunday. Pederson wanted to promote a new offensive (and potentially) defensive coordinator from within, according to McManus, which apparently didn't sit well with Lurie. There was also a rift between Pederson and Roseman that stretched back some time, according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It had all of the makings of a classic power struggle. On one side, there was the only head coach ever to win a Super Bowl with the Eagles. On the other, the team's longtime general manager and franchise quarterback.
And on Monday, the man who signs the checks in Philadelphia chose a side:
"I have spent the last few weeks evaluating everything from this past year and looking ahead. We are all very disappointed with the way our season went and eager to turn things around, not just for next season but also for the future of the franchise. Coach Pederson and I had the opportunity to sit down and discuss what that collective vision would look like moving forward. After taking some time to reflect on these conversations, I believe it is in both of our best interests to part ways."
With Pederson now gone, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler reported Wentz is more likely to return in 2021.
Wentz was awful in 2020. Despite playing in only 12 games, he tied Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock for the NFL lead with 15 interceptions. Wentz tied a career low with 16 touchdown passes, failed to complete 60 percent of his passes for the first time, posted a career-low 72.8 passer rating and was sacked a staggering 50 times.
To say he looked like a deer in headlights is being kind. But the Eagles were likely going to be stuck with him in 2021 regardless of who demanded what and who didn't like one another anymore.
Sure, trade speculation makes for good offseason copy. But the Eagles would have to eat nearly $34 million in dead-cap charges if they trade Wentz before June 1, per Over the Cap. They also would have to find a suitor who is willing to take on the tens of millions of dollars in guarantees that Wentz is due is 2021 and 2022 and who would give them compensation in return for absorbing an awful contract.
Short of Wentz agreeing to take a blowtorch to his contract, the odds of that happening weren't great. And releasing Wentz in 2021 would be even more financially unfeasible.
It may not be a good idea, but the Eagles' only realistic course of action with Wentz is to give him another year to try to recapture his form from 2017 and 2018, when he posted a passer rating over 100 both seasons and threw 54 touchdown passes against only 14 picks.
If Pederson wasn't on board with that plan (or Wentz was hellbent against playing for him), then Lurie's hand was forced in many respects.
That brings us to Hurts, who showed promise in his four starts with the Eagles this year. It's possible that Roseman will listen to offers for the former Alabama and Oklahoma standout. While trading Wentz would have been nearly impossible, plenty of teams should be interested in an athletic, mobile young quarterback who is under contract for a relative pittance for the next three years.
But it's much more likely that Hurts opens his second NFL season just as he did the first—as Wentz's backup. As insurance against Wentz failing to rebound.
It wouldn't be cheap to cut bait on Wentz in 2022, either. But it's far less expensive than it is now.
The Eagles figure to hire an offensive-minded head coach, preferably one with experience grooming quarterbacks. McManus mentioned Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, Carolina Panthers offensive coordinator Joe Brady and Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley as possible candidates.
Roseman will then focus the team's salary-cap resources and draft capital (including the sixth overall pick) on upgrading an offensive line that led the league in sacks allowed and bolstering one of the NFL's weakest receiving corps.
Whether that will happen or not is far from certain. What is certain is that a general manager and quarterback already intricately linked by what it took the Eagles to trade up in 2016 will now be even more inextricably connected.
It may have been at least partly born of necessity, but Lurie picked Wentz and Roseman over Pederson. The Eagles' future will be determined by whether he was right to do so.