The Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Minnesota Vikings 21–10 on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, ending Minnesota’s undefeated run to start the 2016 season and ending their own two-game losing streak. Sunday was a big win for an Eagles team that badly needed to get back on track after two sloppy losses to the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins, and it was the second time this season the Eagles soundly defeated a team who was favored coming into the game (the other being the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3).
This was a huge win for the Eagles, but it was an even bigger win for Eagles de facto General Manager Howie Roseman. Along with the 5–0 Vikings on Sunday came Sam Bradford, the quarterback Roseman traded to Minnesota after Teddy Bridgewater suffered a devastating knee injury at the end of the preseason and landed on injured reserve. By making the deal that launched a thousand questions, Roseman traded his team’s starting quarterback just a week before the regular season began and officially started the clock on the Carson Wentz era in Philadelphia. It was a bold move, even bolder than the moves Roseman made to draft Wentz in the first place, but it is one that is already paying dividends.
By trading Bradford to the quarterback-desperate Vikings, Roseman was able to get a 2017 first-round pick and a conditional 2018 fourth-round pick. This offset much of what it cost the Eagles to move up and get Wentz in April (when Roseman dealt the Eagles’ third and fourth round picks in 2016, and a first and second round pick in 2017 to Cleveland). The thinking in April was that Bradford would start for the Eagles while Wentz got his feet wet in the NFL and learned from the bench, but that all changed when the Vikings called and made Roseman an offer he couldn’t refuse.
On Sunday, the two quarterbacks who were supposed to be teammates went head-to-head at the Linc. Bradford returned to Philadelphia for the first time as a member of the Vikings (#ReturnOfTheSleeves, if you may), and he was riding high as the quarterback of the only remaining undefeated team in football. Wentz was coming off back-to-back losses and the worst game of his young career, and his Eagles desperately needed a win to remain relevant in an NFC East division that featured all of its teams with winning records.
For Roseman, though, this was much more than an October matchup of NFC foes. This was his blockbuster trade staring him in the face. This was Wentz vs Bradford, new vs old, rookie vs veteran, the QB he wanted vs the QB he inherited. In a way, it was even Roseman vs his nemesis Chip Kelly, the coach who traded Nick Foles and draft picks to bring Bradford to Philadelphia in the first place.
An Eagles loss would not have been the end of the world. Sure, losing three in a row after winning your first three (making them 3–3 for those of you counting at home) would not have been ideal, but losing to a 5–0 team that boasts arguably the NFL’s best defense would have been (gulp) acceptable. For Roseman, though, a loss would have been tougher to swallow.
With a victory, Roseman would be able to pat himself on the back. Not only would his team have won, his handpicked rookie quarterback would have out-dueled the veteran quarterback he traded and the league’s best defense. Roseman would be justified. He would be right. Not only would his move have made the Eagles better for the future, but they would be better in the present, too. He would have been right to draft Wentz, and right to trade Bradford a week before the start of the 2016 season. The Eagles would be 4–2 with a rookie quarterback to start the 2016 season, with a matchup with the Cowboys for the division lead a week away. Everything would be right in the house of Roseman.
With a loss, though, things would have been very different. Again, while not the end of the times, a loss to Sam Bradford in his return to Philadelphia would have been tough to stomach. Justified or not, the questions about Roseman’s Bradford trade would have resurfaced. Did Roseman get it wrong? Can Bradford actually be the quarterback of a Super Bowl-caliber NFL franchise? Were the Eagles and Jeffrey Lurie wrong to hand the keys of the franchise to Howie Roseman (instead of a “football guy,” whatever that is) and let him make such bold moves? While Wentz could still be considered the quarterback of the future, Bradford would be talked about as the better quarterback for the present, the quarterback who gave the team the best chance to win this year. These questions and criticisms would have been unjustified and short-sighted, but they would have been there. They may have even become a distraction, as the team would have plenty of questions to answer after losing three games in a row.
But the Eagles won. And, perhaps even more importantly for Roseman, Bradford played very poorly. Bradford threw an interception, was sacked six times, fumbled four times, and was hit seemingly every time he dropped back to pass. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz dialed up the pressure all day, and the defense stopped just short of crushing Bradford into a cube. In typical Bradford fashion, he frequently checked passes down to running backs at the first sign of pressure, and the Vikings offense was stagnant for the entire game.
The Eagles’ defense was dominant. Even with the offense turning the ball over on their own side of the field multiple times, the defense only gave up ten points (and seven of those points were the result of a garbage time touchdown pass from Bradford long after the game had been decided). Bradford was not comfortable in the pocket all day and rarely had the opportunity to go through all of his reads. He looked lost and frustrated in Philadelphia on Sunday, a look that is all too familiar for Eagles fans.
Carson Wentz was not perfect, and he did not have a great game. As a young quarterback, he generated plenty of meaningful film and plenty of mistakes to learn from this week. But he played well enough to win, and he made plays when they counted. Most importantly, he and the Eagles won the game.
For Howie Roseman, this win justified his entire plan. Not only could he trade his starting quarterback a week before the regular season to get future draft picks, but he could build a team capable of winning now anyway. When the Vikings called Roseman, Doug Pederson and the rest of the coaching staff told Roseman that Wentz was ready and that they were comfortable beginning the season with him as their starting quarterback. At the time, that was all Roseman needed to hear. Present success, though still important, took a backseat to the future; Roseman was trying to build something great.
After Sunday’s win over the Vikings, Sam Bradford, and all of his doubters, Roseman is going to show up to the Novacare complex on Monday morning with a wide smile across his face. His plan is no longer a dream for the future. It’s here now.