Free agency is a little over one month away and the Philadelphia Eagles can take a deep breath. That’s just as well because there is a slew of important decisions regarding a plentiful free agency class that needs to be made. One of the most important in that list, however, will also go down as one of the more overlooked in the grand scheme of things.
The Eagles have a quarterback conundrum. The future of the franchise is safe in the hands of Carson Wentz, but behind him lies total uncertainty. There’s a strong chance that Josh McCown dips back into retirement and explores coaching opportunities, while Nate Sudfeld is a pending free agent.
The Eagles tendered Sudfeld a one-year contract last year and at the time, it was the obvious decision. He’d come a long way since being poached by the Redskins at the start of the 2017 campaign, and the leap in mechanical improvement during the 2018 preseason was notable. Sudfeld completed 43/74 passes for 5 touchdowns, tossing 3 interceptions in the process. But more importantly, he showed that he wasn’t afraid to let it rip and take big shots downfield.
On the edge of being labeled a QB2, the Eagles brought in Cody Kessler for the offseason that followed. He wasn’t the most intimidating name around, but a former third-round pick who had over 16 games worth of starting experience to his name and was coming off of a pinch-stint with the Jags where he wasn’t exactly poor. This was a huge test for Sudfeld. Could he really hold his own against another young QB who is likely fighting for his NFL future?
Through Training Camp, Sudfeld looked sharp and was able to do more than stamp his authority on the position. But then, in the preseason opener, he suffered a cruel twist of fate. Suffering a wrist injury that would see him leave the game on a Cart and miss the remainder of preseason, Sudfeld watched hopelessly from the sideline as Kessler…did Kessler things and Clayton Thorson became the subject of an anthem. But those weren’t reasons to worry.
The Eagles clearly needed a capable arm and fast. Kessler picked up a concussion and Thorson was arguably depriving his playmakers of a chance to actually show what they can do. 40-year old Josh McCown was coaxed out of retirement to resume a 17-year career and carry the preseason load.
McCown completed 17/24 passes for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns against the Ravens, showing the Eagles everything they needed to see. And this is where things started to grow worrisome for Sudfeld.
McCown remained the team’s backup quarterback throughout 2019. He was called into action in week 2 against the Falcons during a brief scare for Carson Wentz, completing 3/5 passes for 24 yards. What stood out here was the fact that McCown wasn’t just dropped into the game, but expected to step up and deliver passes as any quarterback would.
If we cast our minds back to 2018 when the Eagles played the Washington Redskins at the tail end of the season, Nick Foles left the game with a chest injury. Sudfeld was dropped into action with 11 minutes to go in the game and threw one pass…a dump to Agholor that went for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-0.
One week beforehand against the Texans, Nick Foles went down with an injury in a key spot. Backed up inside their own 20, Nate Sudfeld stepped into the game, handed the ball off once and was taken back out in favor of the returning Foles.
If we fast forward to the playoff game against Seattle, it was Josh McCown who again stepped in as QB2 in relief of the stricken Carson Wentz. To say that McCown heroically held his own would be an understatement. Keeping the offense kicking and screaming while playing on a torn hamstring was beyond admirable, and the veteran made some impressive plays that sparked breaths of life into a dying offense that was doing all it can to stay alive.
His commendable efforts have now left the Eagles at a crossroads. If they really did envision Sudfeld as a QB2, then surely he would’ve been green-flagged to be the QB2 beforehand? Surely he would’ve been ready for action during the playoff game, and against Atlanta, as opposed to listed as inactive?
McCown was solid, but he wasn’t remarkable by any means and the expectation for Sudfeld in that same spot would’ve been the same. He’s now been with the team for three full seasons. What was an idea of bringing him along the conveyor belt to take over from Nick Foles once he departed, has now become a ‘well, is he ready?’ discussion one year after that deadline.
Don’t get me wrong, Sudfeld has improved. I’ve documented it in film breakdowns and numerous articles. But maybe he’s already hit his ceiling…and that ceiling is a fringe QB2. If that turns out to be the case, then the Eagles will have to go back to their plan of ‘drafting a QB each year’ in the hopes of hitting the reset button, letting Sudfeld walk, and signing a veteran to carry them over.
If they Bring Sudfeld back and don’t sign a veteran, it’s a sign that he probably is envisioned to step up and assume the backup role behind Carson Wentz, but his game experience up to this point outside of 1 quarter and 1 snap of regular season play and a week 17 outing against the Cowboys in 2017, has been minimal and nowhere near enough to be confident about when throwing him into a clutch situation.
The wildcard in all this is former Giants QB Kyle Lauletta who may just be able to give Sudfeld a fair fight this offseason if both are retained. But even then, the positional group could use a boost in the event that either ‘fringe’ talent is unable to take that next step.
How high is Nate Sudfeld’s ceiling? Can the Eagles squeeze that fruit a little harder, or are they staring at a half-empty glass of juice, knowing it’s time to go to the store but prolonging the inevitable? It’s a tough decision, but one that could carry heavy consequences for 2020 and beyond.