Exclusive: Sources inside Eagles paint Carson Wentz as 'selfish,' 'uncompromising' and 'playing favorites'
The franchise quarterback ‘complicated’ the offense, sources said, adding he didn’t want to run ‘Foles stuff’
BY JOSEPH SANTOLIQUITO
BILL STREIER/USA TODAY SPORTS
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz.
The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles season was an odd one. As defending Super Bowl champs, the Eagles dealt with, among other things, a potential Super Bowl hangover, roster turnover and a bevy of serious injuries. But the most unavoidable storyline of the year involved Carson Wentz, who came off a near MVP season and later ACL tear to return, go 5-6 as a starter and then be sidelined due to a back injury.
Further complicating matters was not only the return of last season's Super Bowl MVP, Nick Foles, who seemed to almost immediately get the offense back on track, but also that Wentz will be up for a new, likely monstrous contract at the end of next season.
So what happened? Why did the team play better behind Foles? Was it simply that Wentz was playing injured? Was it something else?
The circumstances surrounding Wentz and the Eagles’ offense were peculiar and we started asking questions.
Over the past two months, PhillyVoice spoke with more than a half dozen players, plus other sources close to the team, who all requested to remain anonymous — fearing repercussions given Wentz' power within the organization. And what they told us paints a somewhat different picture of the Eagles' locker room – and their franchise quarterback – than one might expect.
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Whereas some circles blamed the Eagles’ offensive failures on new offensive coordinator Mike Groh, numerous sources in and around the NFL and Eagles said they thought Wentz may have been the root of the Eagles’ offensive problems. Groh is a “good coach,” who was “bullied” by Wentz, according to sources. The problem with the offense this past season shouldn’t lie with Groh, it should “lie with Wentz,” they said.
Last Tuesday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson declared Wentz the starting quarterback moving forward.
One thing is certain: Every one of our sources said the same things almost verbatim about the relationship between Wentz and Nick Foles: “They love each other, they respect each other and they support each other.”
But while the sentiment in the Eagles’ locker room is that Foles is “universally loved,” Wentz isn’t.
His aw-shucks, overgrown-Opie-from-Mayberry routine plays well with the local and national media. Indeed, sources describe Wentz as “incredibly hard working,” “determined,” and “highly intelligent.” But the true Wentz is more nuanced and complicated, with sources describing him as “selfish,” “uncompromising,” “egotistical,” one who plays “favorites” and doesn’t like to be “questioned,” one who needs to “practice what he preaches" and fails “to take accountability.”
Numerous sources confirmed Wentz was once verbally attacked by a highly respected teammate for not being “a team guy.”
“Carson Wentz’s biggest enemy is Carson Wentz,” one source said. “He’s had his ass kissed his whole life, and sometimes acts like he’s won 10 Super Bowls, when he hasn’t played in, let alone won, a playoff game yet. Everyone around him wants good things for him. He did more thinking on the field than he did playing (in 2018). You don’t have to be a brain surgeon or a football expert to see how differently this team plays and reacts with one guy as opposed to the other."
Wentz, according to sources, created friction within the offense.
This was different in 2016 and '17 under former Eagles coaches Frank Reich, now the Indianapolis Colts’ head coach, and John DeFilippo, the new Jacksonville Jaguars offensive coordinator, because they would rein Wentz in and stop him from going off-point, sources said. Reich and DeFilippo are two respected, entrenched NFL coaches who have experienced success. They forced Wentz to run the Eagles’ offense, a Super Bowl-winning offense that scored 41 points in the biggest game in franchise history and outdueled all-time great Tom Brady.
Ask yourself who had the better season: Wentz (279-for-401, 3,074 yards, 21 TDs, 7 INTs, sacked 31 times) or Andrew Luck (430-for-639, 4,593 yards, 39 TDs, 15 INTs, sacked 18 times)?
The Colts' offense nearly mirrored the one run last year by the Eagles.
According to multiple sources, Wentz tended to “complicate” the offense. He didn’t let it come organically, as Foles did. According to one source, Wentz could “complicate 2+2.”
Reich and DeFilippo stressed to Wentz the importance of sticking with the play that was called — a completed pass was there waiting. When Wentz deviated from that, it was sometimes met with bad consequences, like an interception or a sack. When Wentz trusted what Reich and DeFilippo called, it led to an MVP-like season that produced an Eagles’ single-season franchise record 33 touchdown passes and an 11-2 record in 13 games.
Pederson, Reich and DeFilippo were the perfect storm of coaches. Each had their strengths, and each complemented one another.
With Reich taking the top job with the Colts and DeFilippo joining the Vikings this season, the Eagles’ offense was going to be pretty much the same, or so the players thought. There was one major exception: Wentz didn’t want to run many of the concepts, because he felt that was “Foles’ stuff,” sources said. But as anyone who watched the Eagles could see, Foles and the Eagles’ offense was successful running their “normal stuff.”
Aggravation came in knowing that if Wentz was the more dominant player — and he is — why wouldn’t the offense be even more prolific with him running it than Foles?
MORE: Eagles teammates defend Carson Wentz on Twitter following PhillyVoice report
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The glaring difference is that Foles, every source stated, would go through progressions within the offense — exactly how it was designed to run — and hit the open receiver, regardless of who it was or where they were on the field. Wentz only saw, it seemed, one receiver the majority of the season: Zach Ertz. This understandably frustrated the rest of the offense, considering other receivers were open downfield. To stop the Eagles in 2018 under Wentz was rather easy: Stop No. 86.
Wentz’s proclivity for playing “favorites” manifested itself in targeting Ertz, who went on to catch a single-season NFL-record 116 passes for a tight end. Over the 11 games Wentz played, he went to Ertz 106 times (an average of 9.6 targets per game), while Alshon Jeffery was targeted 74 times (7.4 targets per game) and Nelson Agholor 60 times (5.4 targets per game). Sources added, without any great revelation, that Jordan Matthews is an Eagle because “of his buddy Wentz.”
This even came out during the year before Wentz got hurt, but the Eagles' veteran leadership and locker room conducted themselves in a way that avoided it becoming a big story.
An unnamed source in a story by ESPN's Josina Anderson said of the Eagles' struggles after the Saints loss, "I really felt like when we came out of camp, we didn’t have that same identity, that same rhythm, that camaraderie that you build on and off the field."
The same source also mentioned that the team was "over-targeting Zach Ertz."
The offensive players primarily felt more comfortable and confident with Foles – again, not a great revelation – because they knew he would get everyone involved in the offense. Foles would check down, if he had to, but he wasn’t going to audible out of running plays, as Wentz had a tendency to do this past season.
Wentz also had a propensity to pull the ball when he was about to hand off to the running backs, and check down to Ertz, despite having one of the NFL’s better offensive lines to run behind. It would frustrate the offensive line, the running backs and the wide receivers — basically everyone on the field at the time, with the exception of Wentz and Ertz. This too came out during the season, as Anderson mentioned it from her source.
BILL STREICHER/USA TODAY SPORTS
Carson Wentz spent much of the last year living in the shadow of Nick Foles, instead of the other way around.
In 2017, the Eagles won by gassing teams. In 2018, Wentz’s penchant to show so little confidence in other aspects of the Eagles’ offense not only limited its performance — in turn, it limited Wentz. He took more abuse this season (31 sacks in 11 games in 2018, as opposed to 28 sacks in 13 games in 2017) than he did his first two years in the NFL. That came partly because Carson Wentz couldn’t be “Carson Wentz,” the Teflon ginger that mesmerized the NFL in 2017 with his Harry Houdini escapes, since he was nowhere close to being 100-percent healthy, despite what Wentz has said publicly.
Losing Torrey Smith, Trey Burton, Brent Celek and LeGarrette Blount is important to note. Smith, who was not a great player, knew where to find openings on the field and made tough catches. Burton was under-appreciated here and created matchup problems. Celek played an integral role in the offense, and was reliable. Blount was a pounding runner who took stress off Wentz in the red zone.
Our sources expressed the same narrative: Wentz was so hell-bent on getting back after Foles led the Eagles to the Super Bowl that he risked his own health, the health of the offense and the health of the Eagles in doing so. That translated into a 6-7 season, up until Pederson announced that Wentz had a stress fracture in his back and would be doubtful the final three regular-season games, spurring further questions about Wentz’s long-term health.
Psychologically, Wentz might not have fully trusted the surgically-repaired left knee he injured on Dec. 10, 2017, when he tore his ACL and LCL against the Los Angeles Rams.
Wentz wasn't 100 percent the whole season, sources agreed. Though, actually, that didn’t have to come from people inside the NovaCare Complex, or from those very familiar with Wentz’s game. Everyone could see it. Wentz couldn’t escape the pocket as freely as he did in 2017, getting caught by linebackers from behind. Sources estimated that Wentz was probably at about 80 percent of what makes Carson Wentz the special player he has been and should be.
Most of Wentz’s incomplete passes were low. He wasn’t throwing under a strong base, pushing his passes more from his arm and shoulder than from his strength, his legs.
Wentz also struggled reading defenses this season, according to sources. His eyes were all over the place. Consequently, his scope of the field was far narrower. He pressed. Going into games, the running backs and wide receivers would openly question how many touches they would get, because they felt Wentz wouldn’t look their way. The offensive linemen grew angry because Wentz’s indecision would cause him to hold the ball longer than necessary — resulting in sacks and hits.
After practices, Pederson will single out a player and ask what accountability means to him. After a particularly biting loss in November, there was an awkward moment. Pederson asked one of the more prominent offensive players to define what accountability means. So fed up with his limited role under Wentz, the player said nothing. He checked out.
By early December, after the overtime loss in Dallas, the team’s whole synergy changed when Foles took over. The last three games, the Eagles were running “training camp” plays — and winning, sources said.
Because the Eagles’ offense — the Super Bowl-winning offense — was being run the way it was meant to be run.
Doug Pederson deserved Coach of the Year honors and a Nobel Prize for the balancing act he performed this past season. One can easily make the case that he did a far better job coaching this season just to get the Eagles into the playoffs than he did last year in winning the Super Bowl. And Pederson wasn’t — nor isn’t — about to throw his franchise quarterback under a bus about anything. But he does listen to his players, and very much cares about their input.
MORE: Eagles-only 2019 mock draft, version 1.0
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To a person, the sources who spoke for this story stressed that they want Carson Wentz to succeed. He’s 26 years old and has played just one full NFL season, and no playoff games. Many would agree the QB wants to be a superstar, and sometimes acts like he is one already, and that’s certainly understandable.
One can only imagine what Wentz went through, ending his likely 2017 MVP season in a gutsy touchdown pass on a torn ACL. The player whom Philadelphia traded up twice to get at No. 2 overall in the NFL draft had seen his squad reach the postseason, and watched them win a Super Bowl from the sidelines.
The subjects interviewed for this story gave the impression that Wentz changed after his injury. With Foles more than likely gone next season and nothing but open space ahead to rehab and spend a full training camp as QB1, there seems to be a good chance he'll be his dynamic self again — both on the gridiron and with his teammates.
“He has to return to who ‘Carson Wentz’ is," a source told PhillyVoice. "That comes with relaxing and not forcing things. It also comes with being able to take constructive criticism. He has to learn that it’s not always about him and that’s partly what hurt this team this year. We know what type of player he can be, and who he normally is. He needs to realize it’s the Philadelphia Eagles not the Philadelphia Carsons.
“A little humility goes a long way.”
The Philadelphia Eagles did not immediately return a call seeking comment on this story.