ASHBURN, Va. — Carson Wentz enjoyed the highs in Philadelphia: He was a frontrunner for MVP honors as the Eagles quarterback in 2017 and revived that talk with his play in 2019.
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And Wentz endured the lows: He suffered a devastating knee injury, was benched by the Eagles three years after that and traded a few months later.
It was, Wentz said, a “whirlwind.”
What once looked like the makings of a long, successful marriage dissolved abruptly.
Wentz, now with the Washington Commanders, will face the Eagles on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox) for the first time since his trade to the Indianapolis Colts before the 2021 season.
Before he does, it’s worth remembering just what that “whirlwind” looked like in Philadelphia.
2016: The draft
Philadelphia traded with Miami, and then Cleveland, to move from the 13th pick to second. In the end, the Eagles gave up two players — corner Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso — and six draft picks.
But they did it for a simple reason: “One player can change your team,” general manager Howie Roseman told reporters after the draft.
They swooned over Wentz. Roseman relayed a story from a trip to Fargo, North Dakota — Wentz played collegiately at North Dakota State — about overhearing a conversation at dinner. Roseman had briefly stepped out of a restaurant and, when he returned, he caught the end of an exchange.
“I saw the manager and the hostess talking to each other and saying, ‘Carson is just the greatest guy. He’s always so humble, and he’s always so appreciative of all of us here.’ And they didn’t know what we were doing or why we’re there,” Roseman said.
Then-Eagles coach Doug Pederson boasted about Wentz, telling reporters at the time that he had a Brett Favre-like mentality on the field.
“I love quarterbacks that are willing to take a chance, take a calculated risk down the field,” Pederson said. “Brett was that way, and I see the same thing in Carson.”
The love affair had begun. On draft night, Wentz stood on the stage wearing an Eagles cap and proclaimed, “I’m pumped to be an Eagle.”
2017: MVP to injury
For the first 12 games of the season — and into the 13th — Wentz performed the way Philadelphia envisioned. He entered a Week 12 game at the Los Angeles Rams third in total QBR and first in touchdown passes with 29.
He was a magician, notably against Washington. In the season opener on the road, Wentz capped the first drive of the season with a 52-yard touchdown pass on third-and-12. Under duress, he started to escape to his left then dodged two defenders and heaved a perfect throw as he was about to get hit.
In Week 7, facing Washington at home, Wentz did it again. This time, on third-and-8 in the fourth quarter with a one-touchdown lead, Wentz appeared to be sacked against a Washington blitz. Except that Wentz broke free, ran for 17 yards and the Eagles finished the drive with a touchdown to clinch a win.
“He was lights out,” said Washington corner Kendall Fuller, who played in that game. “He was [always] making plays like that.”
Six games later, near the end of the third quarter of an eventual 43-35 win over the Rams — and after throwing four more touchdown passes — Wentz tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee.
His magical season ended and another journey began.
As the Eagles marched toward Super Bowl triumph — and backup quarterback Nick Foles was in the process of earning a statue outside Lincoln Financial Field — Wentz began the long road to recovery. But he did so having finished third in the MVP voting that season; he led the NFL in total QBR at 74.4 and his 33 touchdown passes were topped only by Seattle’s Russell Wilson with 34.
2019: The extension
Wentz returned from his knee injury for Week 3 of the 2018 season and played 11 games before a stress fracture in his back ended his season. He threw for 3,074 yards, 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions and solidified his standing with the organization.
The mounting injury history didn’t stop the Eagles from giving him a four-year, $128-million extension before the 2019 season. They liked what they saw from him in spring workouts and were convinced the injuries weren’t an issue.
“We believe in this player,” Roseman said at the time.
Upon signing, Wentz said he didn’t think the culture of the city — and the passion of the fan base — could “fit me any better.”
Later, he posted a message to Eagles fans on Twitter: “From the moment I got drafted here I knew this place was special. To be cemented here for this much longer means the world to me. … It’s going to be a fun ride.”
That season, the Eagles were hit by injuries and had a 5-7 record. Wentz then guided them to four consecutive wins and an NFC East title. In those wins, Wentz threw for a combined 1,199 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
All told, Wentz became the first quarterback in franchise history to throw for more than 4,000 yards and finished with 27 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
The investment paid off. At least for one season.
Despite Wentz’s season, the Eagles decided to draft Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round. Roseman said the pick was not a statement as to how they felt about Wentz’s ability.
“There’s no threat to Carson here,” Roseman told reporters.
He had told Wentz prior to the draft they might take a quarterback. Roseman later pointed out they had needed the backup quarterback to play in the six playoff games Philadelphia had participated in since Wentz’s arrival — he had also been knocked from the 2019 postseason loss to Seattle with a concussion.
“It’s a hard decision, but it was the right thing to do,” Roseman said of drafting a quarterback that high.
He also told reporters at the time: “Nobody is going to be looking at a rookie quarterback as somebody who is going to be taking over for a Pro Bowl quarterback, a guy who has been on the cusp of winning an MVP.”
Wentz struggled, however. In 12 games, he threw 16 touchdown passes and a career-worst 15 interceptions. He was sacked 50 times.
With the Eagles at 3-8-1, coach Doug Pederson benched Wentz for Hurts.
“I didn’t expect to be in this situation back in April,” Pederson said.
He also remained confident Wentz could return to the level he showed a year earlier. But reports soon surfaced that Wentz preferred to be traded if he wasn’t the starter in 2021.
2021: The trade
As more reports expressed tension with Wentz and the organization, it became clear a divorce was coming. But for several weeks the Eagles denied they would trade Wentz.
After all, they’d incur a dead cap hit of $33.8 million — the largest in NFL history. When they fired Pederson, it appeared Wentz might return.
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told reporters in early January that Wentz “is tireless. He has his heart in the right place and he’s really dedicated offseason, on-season — he’s just what you want.”
Five weeks later, the Eagles traded Wentz to the Colts in exchange for a third-round pick in 2021 and a conditional pick in 2022 that became a first-rounder.
The Wentz era had ended in Philadelphia.
“I definitely cherished my time that I had up there,” Wentz said this week. “It was definitely a wild ride in many, many ways.”