• adamzielonka

That investment in Carson Wentz suddenly looks suspect

I’m not breaking tons of new ground by saying this, but the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t getting a great bang for their buck on the $128 million contract they gave to quarterback Carson Wentz.

In total quarterback rating, or QBR, ESPN’s all-encompassing metric for grading the position since 2011, Wentz ranks 26th out of 30 qualifying players who’ve played at least seven games. I made this scatter plot this morning to visualize players’ QBR against the average annual value (AAV) of their contracts.

(This doesn’t take into account that Ben Roethlisberger has yet to play his Week 12 game. And players like Tua Tagovailoa, Mitch Trubisky and Washington’s trio of starting quarterbacks haven’t played enough to qualify for the graph.)

QBR isn’t the only way to judge quarterbacks, but the statisticians who developed it took a great swing. Unlike the more traditional passer rating, it counts rushing contributions. Garbage time (like at the end of the Eagles’ loss Monday to the Seattle Seahawks, when Wentz completed an improbable Hail Mary touchdown) is discounted in the formula. And it’s handily compressed into a 0-100 scale.

If you think of the graph in four quadrants, you get a good picture of what it’s saying. The two left-side quadrants are cheaper AAVs, mostly comprised of players on their rookie deals, everyone from Lamar Jackson to Joe Burrow. Some (Josh Allen, Kyler Murray) are having MVP-type campaigns; others (poor old Sam Darnold) are bringing up the rear. There’s also a few veterans on cheap “prove it” deals like Cam Newton.

The top-right quadrant is filled with the game’s brightest and most handsomely paid stars. Patrick Mahomes’ record deal is justified here by his NFL-best 86.2 QBR for the season.

That leaves the bottom-right: QBs who are paid at an elite level, but not producing this year. And Wentz is doing a lot of social distancing down there.

I haven’t watched enough of the Eagles this season to explain exactly why Wentz has taken steps backward. But I’m sure it doesn’t help that he’s already been sacked 46 times, which both leads the NFL and marks his career high with five games still to go. He's also eclipsed his career mark in interceptions, with No. 15 coming Monday night, and his completion rate of 58.1% is his worst as a pro.

It’s a fact that the offensive line has been banged up. It’s a fact that for the second straight year, the Eagles have no wide receivers who are both healthy and reliable, the revelation of Travis Fulgham notwithstanding. DeSean Jackson is way past his prime, and if we’re being honest, Alshon Jeffery probably is too. And none of these are Wentz’s fault.

But a quarterback who played like the league MVP in his second pro season now can’t get his offense into gear, with an undeniably winnable division up for grabs, mind you. There is regression there. Look at Wentz’s game-by-game QBR from the start of 2017 to now, and see how far down that trendline points.

Pro Football Focus tweeted over the weekend that only five of Wentz’s picks were thrown while under pressure; nine came from a clean pocket. Make that 10 after Monday’s game. Watch Wentz’s embarrassing interception below. The most generous explanation is that he and tight end Dallas Goedert had a miscommunication about the route — and even that would still be partly Wentz’s fault.

So: Am I saying Wentz is overpaid? Am I saying it’s Jalen Hurts time? I hate to boil it down to a TV hot take like that and call it a day. Let me put it this way: He’s not earning his AAV right now, through some combination of his own regression, Doug Pederson’s coaching decisions and the teammates around him — not to mention the front office that put those players there. There’s plenty of blame to go around. And while Philadelphia is right in the hunt for the NFC East crown, the Eagles must know their disaster of an offense shriveled in front of a national audience Monday night, and they need to assess how they'll fix it.

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