The Philadelphia Eagles moved another step closer this week to becoming the proud owners of three first-round picks in next spring’s draft.
They already have their own and Miami’s, which they obtained last year as part of a first-round trade-down.
The third first-rounder is the conditional one they received in the Carson Wentz trade with Indianapolis last March. They will get the Colts’ 2022 first-round pick if Wentz plays 75 percent or more of the team’s snaps this season, or 70 percent if the Colts make the playoffs.
If Wentz doesn’t reach one of those playing-time thresholds, the Colts would keep their first-round pick and give the Eagles their second-round selection.
Through the Colts’ first 10 games, Wentz has played all but five of 666 snaps (99.2%). Using the average number of plays in the Colts’ first 10 games – 66.2 – the Colts would finish the NFL’s first-ever 17-game season with 1,132 plays.
If Wentz didn’t play another down this season, his 2021 snap percentage would be 58.4. But the Colts, who are 5-5 and still very much in the mix for a wildcard playoff spot, have no plans right now to sit Wentz for the sake of salvaging their first-round pick.
If Wentz plays every snap in the Colts’ next three games against Buffalo, Tampa Bay and Houston, using that 66.6-plays-a-game estimate, his snap percentage would be 75.9, even if he didn’t play at all in the Colts’ final four games.
An injury always is a possibility with the often-hurt Wentz. In his five seasons with the Eagles, he missed time with broken ribs, a broken bone in his back, a torn ACL and a concussion. He played in just one of the Eagles’ five playoff games in 2017-19, and left that game in the first quarter with a concussion.
Since joining the Colts, he’s needed surgery to remove a piece of bone that broke loose in his foot and sprained both ankles. But he hasn’t missed a start yet this season.
If he stays healthy, it’s hard to imagine the Colts sitting him down for the sake of that draft pick. He is having a pretty good season. After leading the league in interceptions last year with the Eagles, he’s thrown just three in 334 attempts this year. His 0.9 interception percentage is the best of his career.
He’s thrown multiple touchdown passes in seven of the Colts’ first 10 games. His passer rating (97.9) and yards-per-attempt average (7.1) both are the third highest of his career.
“I don’t believe that [the Colts] will do that,” Joe Banner, a former NFL executive, who spent nearly two decades as the Eagles’ president, said of the possibility of benching Wentz at some point so they can hang on to the first-round pick. “I mean, if they were already completely out of it, it’s one thing. But even if they lose to the Bills and Bucs the next two weeks, they’re still not going to be out of the wild card picture.”
Colts head coach Frank Reich played a big role in the Eagles’ decision to take Wentz with the second overall pick in the 2016 draft. He was the Eagles’ first-year offensive coordinator at the time. He also was instrumental in convincing Colts general manager Chris Ballard to make the deal for him after Wentz asked for a trade following his ignominious benching late last season.
If the Colts sat Wentz down strictly to hang on to their first-round pick, it almost certainly would impact Reich’s relationship with his quarterback, but could also cause him to lose the rest of the locker room as well, a former NFL head coach said.
“It’s hard from a coach’s perspective because you’re trying to win the game this week,” he said. “If you remove a player that can help you do that to save a draft pick or lessen a draft pick or whatever, it can definitely send a wrong message to the rest of the team.
“It’s a tough thing to stand there in front of your team and tell them you’re doing what’s best for the organization. I get it from a GM perspective. You’re constantly looking ahead at those draft picks and where you are. But as a coach, we’re in the now. Our position is, I can’t wait for 2022 because I might not be around.”
There is no risk of Reich not being around next season. Both he and Ballard signed contract extensions this summer that run through 2026.
“The roster changes every year,” Banner said. “So, you might think [decisions you make] don’t carry forward. And in some ways, that’s true.
“But when it comes to a coach’s credibility, it certainly carries forward. If they sit Carson down, it would make a statement that Frank kind of couldn’t take back. It’s that you can go out and work your ass off for 13-14 weeks and play and risk your health and future well-being. And if it benefits the organization, they’ll just throw in the towel when they feel like it. That’s just a bad place to be.”
Mike Tannenbaum, former general manager with the New York Jets and Executive Vice President of the Miami Dolphins, thinks Ballard should have attempted to persuade the Eagles to amend the trade agreement. Maybe offer them multiple picks in later rounds in exchange for the conditional first-rounder.
“I would’ve tried to create a scenario with Philly that, hey, you might lose this pick [if we sit him] and there’s probably a solution both of us can live with that might not be ideal for either one of us, but puts us in a better situation than we are today,” he said.
Banner doesn’t think there’s any chance that Eagles general manager Howie Roseman would agree to amend the deal, particularly at this point. “He would be motivated to call their bluff,” he said.
Roseman has been taking a lot of heat from fans and the Philadelphia media since the team’s Super Bowl win in 2017, and rightfully so. He’s made a lot of questionable decisions in both the draft and free agency and has hung on to some older players past their sell-by date.
When Wentz demanded a trade following his benching last season, it put further pressure on Roseman. Wentz was a guy that, until last season, they believed was their franchise quarterback. They had given him a $107 million contract extension. He was the frontrunner for league MVP in 2017 before he shredded his knee. Trading him also meant taking a $34 million salary cap hit, the highest in NFL history.
There were several suitors initially, including the Colts, but none were willing to part with a first-round pick.
With the draft approaching and teams addressing their quarterback problems in other ways, Roseman could’ve swallowed hard and just taken the best offer on the table. But he refused to do that.
Even after there was just one bidder left for Wentz, Roseman refused to make a deal until the Colts agreed to the conditional first-round pick.
“Howie and the Eagles front office has taken a lot of criticism, but they deserve some credit for this,” Banner said. “I mean, there are very few front offices that would’ve had the courage to be that patient and risk losing the offers that they already had.
“Sometimes that blows up in your face, by the way. It’s definitely a risk. But they made the calculation that the risk was worth it and they wanted to keep waiting and see if, by holding out, they could do something that at least gave them a chance at a 1. And it paid off.
“You don’t see that very often. Most teams, if they get a decent offer, they grab it. They’re not going to sit there and wait for something better and risk losing what they had, especially on a player they had to move.”
So, for the first time in their history, the Eagles are on the verge of having three first-round picks in a draft. Those picks will give them some flexibility if they determine that Jalen Hurts isn’t the answer as their long-term quarterback. And if Hurts convinces him that he is, which is where things seem to be trending at the moment, then they can use those three picks to help rebuild their defense.