PHILADELPHIA — The Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles aren’t exactly traditional rivals, but their season-opening matchup on Sunday picked up some extra juice when Carson Wentz was named the starter for the Eagles on Monday.
The Browns, of course, were in a position to take Wentz at No. 2 overall in April’s draft but chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta went to his baseball roots and advocated collecting assets instead of trying to solve the problem at game’s most important position in Cleveland, something the Browns haven’t been able to do since their reincarnation in 1999.
The Moneyball aspect is clearly a part of DePodesta’s DNA as an executive but hindsight now says he handed Wentz and Philadelphia some bulletin-board material in advance of Sunday’s opener when he explained the team’s thinking back before the beginning of training camp.
“We have to make judgments on the individual players and we’re not always going to be right,” DePodesta said on ESPN Cleveland when explaining his decision to trade out with the Eagles for a plethora of draft picks. “But in this particular case, we just didn’t feel it was necessarily the right bet to make for us at this time. Again, it comes down to individual evaluation of a player. We will not always be right on those type of things.”
Then came the money quote:
“I think the hardest part, and where we have to stay the most disciplined, as much as you want a player, you can’t invent him if he doesn’t exist,” DePodesta said. “In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level. In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may not be anybody in that year who’s good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.”
“Even though you have a desperate need for (a QB), you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don’t believe he’s one of those 20 guys at the end of the day. I think that’s the hardest part, just maintaining your discipline because you have the need. That’s what we did this year.”
DePodesta was smart enough to be tactful and it didn’t implicitly say Wentz is not capable of being a top-20 quarterback in the league but the intimation was clear, especially when coupled with Hue Jackson’s remarks this week.
“We didn’t draft Carson Wentz because we didn’t think it was the right fit for our team at this time,” Jackson told Pro Football Talk Live. “There’s nothing more to it. Obviously, that will make for great debate in the media, and that’s fine. Our singular focus right now is just preparing to face the Eagles.”
Jackson is believed to have wanted Jared Goff but once it became clear that the Los Angeles Rams would take the Cal product at No. 1 overall, Cleveland shifted gears and moved down, picking up three picks from the Eagles in this year’s draft, along with a first-rounder in 2017 and their second-rounder in 2018. The Browns also sent Philadelphia a fourth-round selection in 2017.
Wentz’s ultimate standing in this league will eventually determine who wins the trade. If he turns into a true franchise signal caller, Cleveland will take many lumps no matter what it turns its draft haul into.
“Honestly, it’s not really about Philadelphia,” Jackson told NFL.com. “It’s really about our football team. They’re going to do what they do and we have to do what we have to do. We are just trying to get better and get ready to play in a big game on Sunday.”
Wentz, who is trying to make the significant leap from the FCS level at North Dakota State to the pros, was originally earmarked to sit in his rookie season until circumstance intervened and Minnesota’s desperation after the Teddy Bridgewater injury gave the Eagles an opportunity to regain some draft currency.
Now he’s the starter in Philadelphia for Week 1 and fate has decided the opponent is the team that didn’t want him.
Whatever happens on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field will be inconsequential to the real end game here but the losing side will be taking some significant criticism in the short-term.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SBNation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.