PHILADELPHIA-Even if Carson Wentz had been cleared for contact, the argument for risking a Hall of Fame future vs. playing in one or two games was likely an easy one for the Eagles to settle.
Wentz, by all indications and an NFL Network report, won't start in the season opener on Sept. 6. The third-year quarterback from North Dakota State, who was attempting to return from surgery to correct torn anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments in his left knee in less than nine months, had stated Week 1 as his goal dating back to late January.
Wentz had seemingly been ahead of pace, if there's such a thing. He stunned many when he was a full participant in the third practice of training camp in late July. But the Eagles dialed him back the next day, an early sign they weren't comfortable placing their franchise quarterback in harm's way, when long-term interests outweighed short-term gains.
"When you have a guy like Carson Wentz who could be the best player in the league the next ten years, you better make darn sure he's ready to go," NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said recently. "What I've been told medically it's not just the ACL, it's the LCL. And even though you can look great and feel great, there's a slightly longer gestation period for that recovery."
Nick Foles will get the nod if Wentz isn't cleared, and while the backup struggled in the preseason and missed time to injuries, there isn't another team in the NFL that can lay claim to having the reigning Super Bowl MVP as its No. 2 quarterback.
On Sunday, head coach Doug Pederson said Wentz has not been cleared for contact. However, Pederson would not answer who will start at quarterback on Thursday against the Atlanta Falcons. Pederson started his news conference saying he would not discuss the decision publicly and directed his ire at reporters for putting words in his mouth, although he would not specify what words were put in his mouth.
"Trying to win a football game, and I don't want to put my game plan for everyone to see it, read it, and teams can scheme," Pederson said. "Just doesn't make a lot of sense."
Wentz and Foles have similarities. Pederson recently suggested that there wouldn't be much of a competitive advantage to hiding the quarterback because their styles weren't as disparate as, say, former Eagles quarterbacks Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb. But he later said that he wouldn't announce the starter until 90 minutes before kickoff.
The Falcons, for what it's worth, had the Foles news as the centerpiece story on their website.
It's unlikely the Eagles were behind the NFL Network report. Maybe something could change, but when the surgeon who performed Wentz's surgery - James Bradley - told NBC Sports Philly on Friday that "common sense should take over the day," it seemed all but inevitable that the 25-year-old quarterback would miss at least the opener.
"It should be a cautious approach," Bradley said to NBC Sports Philly. "What's a few games over 12 to 15 years?"
The Eagles have ten days off before they travel to face the Buccaneers in Week 2. Foles has been a streaky quarterback over his career, and usually more successful when he's had time to develop a rhythm. He missed the first preseason game with neck spasms and left the second with a shoulder injury.
Foles played the entire first half of the third preseason game at the Browns, but he was just as ineffective as he was the week before at the Patriots. Overall, he completed 16 of 26 passes for 171 yards, but he also tossed two interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked six times.
The Eagles had entertained the idea of trading Foles this offseason, but the asking price was steep. Last season alone emphasized the importance of having two starting-caliber quarterbacks, but the uncertainty of Wentz's return probably gave the Eagles more incentive for not parting with Foles.
"We believe in investing in the quarterback position and having a great quarterback room," said general manager Howie Roseman said. "We know what we have in Nick Foles and the confidence level we have in him, the confidence level we have in Carson, and the confidence level we have in Nate Sudfeld.
"That's something that is very important to us as we build the team, and we probably put a little bit more resources into it than some other teams, but it's worked for us."
If Wentz isn't cleared for the Falcons, the question then becomes when? There has been speculation that Foles could earn the No. 1 job with either a strong showing or if Wentz were to struggle upon his return, but the scenario is unlikely.
Wentz was limited throughout most of training camp, but when he did practice there were little rust. In fact, he looked better than he had a year earlier.
"Every player on the team knows that it's Carson Wentz's team," Mayock said. "All the talk show and radio show stuff I get a little frustrated with. It's Carson's team and if Nick plays great all it does is help Nick and any potential trade value."
The holding off on Wentz supports this notion. The Eagles will not rush the knee-even if it was often Wentz pushing the envelope. The quarterback plays one way-aggressively. The Eagles know that when he's back, there will be no holding him back.
"When the medical doctors tell you that he's good to go, he's good to go," Mayock said. "You can't call the game with his injury in mind."
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