PHILADELPHIA >> In one form, and then in another, the Eagles offered a promise to their fans. As they begin training camp Thursday, the leading question is just how hard they will try to deliver.
First suggested by Jeffrey Lurie literally within hours of buying the franchise at a discount from Norman Braman, it was repeated three years ago in a more tangible form. Simply, it was that there was no reason to settle for winning one championship when so many other franchises have turned the concept into habit.
That was Lurie’s howl that day in downtown Philly when he threw footballs into a cheering crowd. He would transform the Eagles into the 49ers of the East, as, at the time, San Francisco was in the process of completing a full-hand ring collection, thumb included. The footballs were throw-away items; that goal, as Lurie would ever be pestered about, was not as easily recycled. But the deeper he plowed, the more Lurie insisted: Championships, plural. That was his goal.
It never did turn out that way. But the Eagles remain convinced that it could. And that’s because of that second, more specific move Lurie and his executive think-tank concocted in 2016. That’s when they traded two first-round draft choices, plus a second, a third and a fourth for the right to select Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall in the draft. That was not a trade as much as it was a commitment to Lurie’s eternal search. To the Eagles, the only way to create a dynasty was to acquire a no-doubt-about-it franchise quarterback, and at whatever cost to the present or the future. In securing Wentz, that was their plan. He was theirs, and that was that. And he would be for double-figure seasons … and for multiple marches to the Art Museum.
By late last season, the idea seemed stable, the project on schedule. Wentz was having an MVP-level season for a team that projected something different than the Eagles’ previous 57. Then Wentz dove toward a Los Angeles end zone and so damaged his knee that he may never be able to play at that level again. Or maybe he can. It’s one or the other. But when Doug Pederson whistles his players to attention for their final month of formal, pre-season preparations, he will face one major decision: How much do the Eagles want Wentz to succeed? And why? Is it because they are so heavily invested in his success, with all of those valuable draft choices? If so, is that a reasonable approach?
The Eagles (look it up) won a world championship last season even without Wentz, with Nick Foles being the MVP of the Super Bowl. But whether they will say so or not, they are not convinced Foles is capable of adding to that Lombardi Trophy collection. Why else would Pederson be so reluctant to do the reasonable thing and order Wentz not to rush any return?
“I think inside he’s very hungry,” Pederson said, during the offseason. “I would be. As a leader of the team, sort of the face of the franchise, he was drafted to be our guy long-term. Very hungry.
“I still believe this is Carson’s team. I don’t think differently about that. But, yeah, inside he’s champing, he’s ready to get back out there.”
So there it was: Face of the franchise. Carson’s team. That’s the Eagles’ stance on Wentz, and it is not going to change. At the minimum, Foles, who is just as popular in Philadelphia now as Wentz, and possibly more, deserves to start Opening Night, Sept. 6, against the visiting Falcons. Like a golfer who birdied the last hole, he earned the honor. But the only way that will happen is if Wentz shows that he is not fully recovered from his knee surgery to survive against an NFL defense.
Wentz has been determined to return by that Atlanta game. And better an athlete should have that resolve to rebound from an injury than to milk every bruise for a three-game vacation. But with enough experts saying that such a quick return is unlikely, why would the Eagles not tell him to relax?
If healthy, Wentz is better than Foles. His excellence last season was at a level unlike any quarterback in the Eagles’ modern history. He’s a leader, a passer, a courageous runner. But if he is not healthy, the Eagles cannot pretend he is healthy, just to rush him back out there and justify all those draft choices they spent for his rights.
They won one championship. They believe Wentz gives them the best chance to jam Jason Kelce back into that hat.
Training camp, and what will soon follow, will reveal how deeply they are determined to prove he is the only one able to deliver on a decades-old vow.
Contact Jack McCaffery @firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery