To say that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has played poorly in 2020 would be an understatement: Wentz has the third-worst passing grade (60.0) among qualifying quarterbacks — better than only Sam Darnold and Drew Lock, two other young quarterbacks likely to lose their jobs next season.
We’ve rarely seen a fall from grace so precipitous. Three seasons after Wentz established himself as an MVP candidate and top-five passer (84.7 grade), he now could be looking for another job in 2021.
Now, ESPN’s Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen reported that Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is naming Jalen Hurts as the team’s starting quarterback, sending Wentz to backup status after struggling mightily this season.
The Eagles’ offseason decision on Wentz will be largely contingent on how Hurts plays as the starter, if Wentz can rehabilitate his image with another starting shot in 2020 and how the market values his play in light of the roughly $100 million remaining on his 2019 contract extension through 2024.
Needing a willing trade partner for Wentz at $25 million per year sounds prohibitive, but the details of the contract and the context of an eventually rising cap could influence teams without a clear quarterback of the future to take a shot on Wentz.
The quarterback’s contract lacks guarantees beyond 2022, leaving the final two years as team options. A rising cap, after a likely 2021 lull, means that Wentz’s price tag will be around 10-12% of the total team salary cap, which is in a similar range to the cap hits — on a percentage basis — of Alex Smith, Kirk Cousins, Jacoby Brissett and Derek Carr this season. Teams don't need to believe a return to MVP form for Wentz is in the cards to see value on this contract, only positive regression to solidly above-average play.
The real question that needs to be answered to value Wentz going forward is the level of play you can expect. In this analysis, I’m going to use a similar Bayesian updating methodology that has powered our MVP projections and my annual comparison of different draft classes.
The core of the methodology is building off our expectations (the prior) and updating those expectations with the evidence quarterbacks reveal to us in the NFL through their play, specifically through their PFF passing grades. Using historical career ranges across the league and the variance of grades on a play-by-play basis, we can accurately predict a range of outcomes for quarterbacks before and after each pass. Those ranges of outcomes are widest at career beginnings then narrow as we become more confident in who a quarterback actually is based on how he’s played.
Wentz’s Year-by-Year Progression
Carson Wentz has five years of NFL play under his belt, and if we break his spot range of outcome prediction into pre-NFL and after each of his five seasons, we can compare each range for those points in his career.