Could QB Wentz wind up like Luck?

The Morning Call - - SPORTS -

PHILADELPH­IA — News of In­di­anapo­lis Colts quar­ter­back An­drew Luck’s sud­den de­ci­sion to re­tire at age 29 stunned the NFL com­mu­nity on Satur­day night and had to make more than a few Philadelph­ia Ea­gles fans think about cer­tain par­al­lels with Car­son Wentz. You know, a tal­ented quar­ter­back in his ath­letic prime who’s al­ways get­ting in­jured and miss­ing time and con­stantly re­hab­bing one thing or an­other.

Af­ter los­ing Pey­ton Man­ning, the Colts re­built their fran­chise around Luck, who just kept break­ing down and fi­nally de­cided he couldn’t carry the weight of the fran­chise on his con­sid­er­ably broad shoul­ders any­more.

The Ea­gles are fol­low­ing a sim­i­lar plan with Wentz, build­ing their fran­chise around him in the post-Chip Kelly/quar­ter­back du jour era of 2013 through 2015.

They first com­mit­ted to him in 2016 by trad­ing up to se­lect him with the sec­ond pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, then re­newed their vows this off­sea­son by lock­ing him in with a lu­cra­tive con­tract extension and adding to an al­ready strong of­fen­sive line by draft­ing left tackle of the fu­ture An­dre Dil­lard in the first round.

Wentz, in turn, com­mit­ted him­self to a new train­ing and diet reg­i­men that re­shaped his body into one that he and the Ea­gles be­lieve will be most re­sis­tant to soft-tis­sue in­juries. Fur­ther­more he un­der­stands the value of pro­tect­ing him­self by tak­ing fewer sacks and get­ting down quicker as he con­tin­ues to bal­ance the risk-re­ward fac­tors as­so­ci­ated with ex­tend­ing plays.

It’s a per­fect re­la­tion­ship. There’s no dis­put­ing it.

Still, there are no guar­an­tees in the NFL, where change so of­ten hap­pens in the blink of an eye — with no warn­ing.

Wentz can con­trol only so much.

The rest is fate, and if, say, an­other cat­a­strophic in­jury should fol­low the wrist in­jury that forced him to miss most of his se­nior sea­son at North Dakota State in 2015, the bro­ken rib that kept him out of ac­tion for al­most the en­tire pre­sea­son as a rookie in 2016, the rup­tured ACL that landed him on in­jured re­serve in 2017 and the stress frac­ture that forced him to the side­line again last sea­son, it prob­a­bly shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing if he con­cludes that his Au­di­ence of One has a dif­fer­ent plan for him.

To be fair, com­par­ing Wentz to Luck might not be so fair. Luck has dealt with far more se­ri­ous health is­sues and has missed more time than Wentz. Luck has had vir­tu­ally no luck. He had a lac­er­ated kid­ney at one point, for goodness sake. On top of that, he wasn’t af­forded the same kind of pro­tec­tion from his team, to hear an­a­lyst War­ren Sharp tell it.

Sharp con­tends that for­mer Colts gen­eral man­ager Ryan Grig­son “killed An­drew Luck’s ca­reer,” by ne­glect­ing the of­fen­sive line from 2012 through 2015, re­sult­ing in 16 pres­sures per game dur­ing Grig­son’s ten­ure. That was the most in the league dur­ing that span.

Even af­ter the Colts re­built their line fol­low­ing Grig­son’s de­par­ture in 2017, coach Frank Re­ich de­cided to fire of­fen­sive line coach Dave DeGuglielm­o this Jan­uary, fol­low­ing a sea­son in which they ranked No. 2 in pass block­ing and No. 4 in run block­ing, ac­cord­ing to Foot­ball Out­siders. This, af­ter Luck was named NFL come­back player of the year for lead­ing them to the di­vi­sional round of the play­offs.

The Ea­gles have had no such is­sues (other than some of their of­fen­sive line­men get­ting in­jured and, in Lane John­son’s case, sus­pended) since draft­ing Wentz.

Still, it’s not un­rea­son­able to project an early re­tire­ment if this four-year trend of in­juries turns into five or six or seven.

If it did, there’s no ques­tion his team­mates would un­der­stand, based on their reaction to Luck’s de­ci­sion.

“He’s got to do what’s best for his body and his mind,” said de­fen­sive tackle Has­san Ridge­way, a for­mer team­mate of Luck. “So you’ve got to un­der­stand where he’s com­ing from.”

Tight end Zach Ertz also was a team­mate of Luck’s. They played to­gether at Stan­ford.

“It’s not an easy de­ci­sion to make,” Ertz said. “But this game is tough enough to play as it is. And it’s im­pos­si­ble to play if you’re 50% in and 50% out. It’s not good for your­self, it’s not good for your team.”

Ertz com­pli­mented his friend and for­mer team­mate for the way he han­dled him­self.

“To kind of see him be so vul­ner­a­ble, be so open … I’m proud of him,” Ertz said.

Mean­while, Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son has to won­der about what more in­juries could mean for Wentz, and it’s not un­rea­son­able to think those thoughts came up dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion he had with Re­ich, his good friend and for­mer of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor, af­ter Luck an­nounced his re­tire­ment.

“Ob­vi­ously, I won’t get into that,” Ped­er­son said Sun­day be­fore prac­tice. “It’s a per­sonal na­ture, but we have talked, yes.”

When­ever one coach’s big­gest fear be­comes a friend’s re­al­ity, de­tails aren’t even nec­es­sary.

The Ea­gles and Wentz are do­ing ev­ery­thing they can to en­sure Wentz en­joys a long ca­reer. There’s noth­ing they can do to guar­an­tee it.

That les­son was un­der­scored for ap­prox­i­mately the 71,299th time on Satur­day night, so no sense wor­ry­ing about it any longer.

Morn­ing Call re­porter Nick Fierro can be reached at 610-778-2243 or [email protected]

MITCHELL LEFF/GETTY

Car­son Wentz has bat­tled in­juries since his se­nior year in col­lege.

Nick Fierro

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