It took a while, but with their trade of Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, the Eagles finally completed their journey back to 1999. They have invoked that year, a transformational one for their franchise, often since April, when they acquired the No. 2 pick in the draft with the intention of selecting quarterback Carson Wentz. The situations, 17 years apart, stand as perfect mirror images, Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb the model for Doug Pederson-Wentz. Bradford, for all the lip service the Eagles played to competing for a division title this season, was merely an obscuration to that vision. Without him, the Eagles can try to actualize it now.
It's a bold vision, and for months, as the Eagles risked entering the 2017 draft without a first-round pick and with fewer early-round picks than they would have wanted, it was shaping up as a reckless one with respect to their future. That they capitalized on the Vikings' desperation (after Teddy Bridgewater's season-ending knee injury), regained a first-round pick next year, and added a conditional fourth-round selection in 2018 was a combination of serendipity and opportunism. On paper, it was a coup for Howie Roseman, the franchise's head of football operations, and if nothing else, it clarifies what was once muddled and confused about this year's Eagles. Whether Wentz's fractured 11th rib heals in time for him to start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns is immaterial, really. One week of Chase Daniel _ or even a few more thereafter _ doesn't change the dynamic. This is Wentz's team now, for as long as he can keep it.
That's the quick, slap-it-up-to-see-if-it-fits headline on this story: Eagles Trade Bradford; Wentz Era Begins. The synopsis is true, but it's also incomplete, because the trade also begins, in every meaningful sense, Pederson's era as the Eagles' head coach. For the worst of reasons _ the funeral of his father _ Pederson himself wasn't there to mark the moment, but it happened nonetheless. He is tethered to Wentz just as Reid was to McNabb, and as of the instant that the Eagles' public-relations staff sent out that news-alert text message to confirm the trade was official, the pressure on Pederson to develop Wentz, to coax excellence out of him over time, became more immediate and more intense. It became real, tangible in a way he hadn't been before. Everything he does or might do as the Eagles' coach now matters more to his future with them.
Though Bradford was not the Eagles' long-term answer at quarterback, the longer he remained the starter, the more Pederson stood to gain. His presence bought Pederson the commodity that every first-year head coach wants most: time. Even if Bradford had foundered under Pederson, it was never realistic to think that Pederson's job would be in immediate jeopardy. The Eagles' pursuit of Wentz had commenced after Pederson came on board. He was involved in the process. He had input (though how much input he had is another question). He deserves a fair opportunity to coach the prospective franchise quarterback he helped to handpick. Besides, even if Bradford had stayed and the Eagles' pre-Wentz performance turned out to be so bad that it raised concerns about Pederson's competency, would Roseman and owner Jeffrey Lurie admit so quickly _ one year after firing Chip Kelly _ that they had again hired the wrong head coach?
No, in the same way that no one could get an accurate gauge of Reid's strengths and weaknesses until he put McNabb under center for good, Pederson had a grace period as long as Bradford was here. He had nothing to lose. All the perceptions were aligned in his favor. Bradford was Kelly's guy. Bradford was leftovers that Pederson was required merely to reheat and serve on a paper plate. Bradford was the overpaid, underachieving quarterback who, in seven NFL seasons, had suffered two season-ending knee injuries and won no playoff games. The excuses for failure would have been ready-made. If Bradford thrived for Pederson, then maybe Pederson was indeed the quarterback whisperer the Eagles (and Pederson himself) often bill him to be. If Bradford went down with another terrible injury or couldn't lift the Eagles beyond the threshold of mediocrity, so what? Pederson had a 6-foot-5, 23-year-old, facile-minded, cannon-armed second chance waiting his turn on the sideline.
No one was going to judge Doug Pederson by Sam Bradford. Everyone will judge him by Carson Wentz. That evaluation will be the most valuable measure of Pederson's ability as an NFL head coach, and it will be much sooner than it would have if the Eagles had stuck to that silly, untenable strategy of keeping Bradford for a full season and trying to have it all. They stumbled into this old-new era, this attempt to replicate what worked so well for them in 1999, but Carson Wentz gives them a shot to make this plan work, too. Most of all, he gives it to Doug Pederson. He gives him all that possibility and, starting Sunday, so much more pressure.
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