The Philadelphia Eagles‘ hunt for a new head coach ended on Thursday, with the team reportedly hiring Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni to replace Doug Pederson. While the decision is notable in part because of the names the Eagles passed over, including short-lived favorite Josh McDaniels, the biggest question of all surrounding Sirianni’s arrival centers on the franchise quarterback he’s inheriting: Carson Wentz. Weeks after a Wentz-Eagles divorce appeared inevitable, if not healthy for both sides, has the situation suddenly taken on a new light? What, exactly, does Philly’s new head coach mean for Wentz’s future?
Nothing is set in stone. The Eagles may still be open to listening to offers for Wentz, whose $128 million contract looks daunting in the wake of his drastic and unexpected 2020 regression, not to mention a reported fallout with team leadership. Sirianni has also yet to lay eyes on a single Wentz practice rep, and second-round draft pick Jalen Hurts remains in the building with starting aspirations.
But almost everything else indicates that Sirianni’s hiring is proof that Philly is serious about restoring, not parting with, Wentz in 2021.
Let’s start with the fact that the Eagles reportedly told head coaching candidates they intended to keep Wentz. Now, because of Wentz’s contract, which would’ve made it difficult to receive an abundance of favorable trade offers in the first place, it’s arguable the team had no choice but to prepare a new coach for Wentz’s return. But Sirianni isn’t just any coach. He’s deeply steeped in the teachings of Colts coach Frank Reich, who just happened to be Wentz’s offensive coordinator during the most promising stretch of the quarterback’s career (2016-2017) and by himself reportedly made Indy a preferred destination for Wentz in the event of a trade.
“I believe Sirianni’s background with Frank Reich,” writes Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, “helped the team get the answers it was looking for regarding his pairing with Carson Wentz.”
Was Wentz the only factor in Sirianni’s addition? To suggest as much would be a disservice to the 39-year-old coach’s resume. With Pederson out, the Colts assistant checked almost all the boxes as a potential successor: He’s a young, ascending offensive mind; was Reich’s hand-picked coordinator a year after Reich himself left the Super Bowl-winning Eagles; oversaw career years from his starters as the Chargers‘ wide receivers coach (2014-2017); survived two different teams’ head coaching changes, in Kansas City and San Diego; and hails from a strong football family.
There’s no denying, however, that his background and best qualities look an awful lot like the kind of background and best qualities you’d want if a chief priority was re-embracing and fine-tuning Carson Wentz.
“We’ve spent so much time talking about, is Carson Wentz gonna go anywhere? Is he gonna go to Indianapolis?” NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport said Thursday, referencing the Colts’ QB vacancy. “Instead, what it (seems) the Philadelphia Eagles did is bring Indianapolis to him. They don’t get Frank Reich, someone who obviously had a close relationship and worked very well with Carson Wentz. But they get Frank Reich’s top lieutenant, top developer of quarterbacks.”
What will Sirianni bring to the table, in this scenario? For one, an experience working with all kinds of QBs; in Indy alone, he served as coordinator with Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers under center. Prior to that, he worked with Rivers on the Chargers and Matt Cassel on the Chiefs. One takeaway from that crop: Sirianni’s QBs have often posted career-best sack rates under his watch, signaling quick decisions — and something Wentz notably struggled with throughout 2020.
All in all, it’s not a bad bet from the Eagles, even though the front office’s dysfunction helped lead to an offseason where a QB’s hefty contract helped sway a coaching hire in the first place. Best-case scenario, Wentz returns to form as the good, occasionally great signal-caller he was for the first four seasons of his career. Worst-case, Wentz proves either stubborn or genuinely broken, Sirianni pulls the plug on the experiment — Wentz was never naturally “his” guy at QB, after all — and the Eagles swallow a much easier pill by cutting ties with No. 11 in 2022, only to officially go all in on a rebuild.