Entering his fifth NFL season, and fourth with the Philadelphia Eagles, should Nate Sudfeld be entrusted with the backup quarterback job?
Lost amid the flurry of solid moves that the Philadelphia Eagles made to strengthen their team over the last week or so, along with the instantly regrettable decision to let Malcolm Jenkins walk, the Birds came to an agreement with QB Nate Sudfeld on a one-year deal. It effectively gives Sudfeld a shot to finally stake his claim to the backup job, though it remains to be seen if the Eagles will further address the position via the draft or signing a veteran.
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Sudfeld is still largely a mystery to everyone, as he didn’t even see game action in 2019, frequently listed as inactive while veteran Josh McCown stood by to relieve Carson Wentz if necessary. Sudfeld had actually looked primed to be the #2 until he suffered a broken wrist in the preseason, necessitating the move for McCown. It had to be extremely disappointing for Sudfeld to see his chance go by the boards, with the Eagles essentially signing the 40-year old McCown off the street and then sticking with him as backup all year. They were understandably cautious with Sudfeld’s return from injury, but they clearly lacked faith in him once he did get up to speed.
McCown only needed to step in one time to throw five passes as Wentz stayed healthy all year. That is, of course, until the Eagles’ ill-fated playoff game. It’s hard to say if Sudfeld would have given the Eagles a better chance to overcome Seattle that night than a gimpy McCown did, but I’d be willing to be that Sudfeld himself has lost sleep over it as he’s played the scenario in his head over and over.
When we talk about a backup quarterback, it’s a necessary evil. He has to be a guy that we’re all comfortable with in the event that something should befall the starter, but his mere presence in a game (unless it’s already a blowout) indicates that something is wrong. It’s usually best that the #2 QB exists in name only, more theoretical than concrete certainty.
Nobody is expecting Nate Sudfeld to be like Nick Foles in this role, a seasoned player already so familiar with his team’s system that he managed to pull off the most stunning postseason run in NFL history. But the Eagles need to have some degree of confidence that Sudfeld can keep the team afloat during a short Wentz absence, otherwise you have to wonder why they would bother bringing him back.
The hope here is that Sudfeld is so attuned to the Eagles’ offense at this point that he’s capable of executing it competently if he’s needed. Meanwhile, it’s the responsibility of the coaching staff to give him the tools to succeed. Even before that, management needs to make sure that the Eagles’ offense is stocked enough so that it doesn’t totally wilt if Wentz goes down. Obviously, there would be a dropoff if the team had to go to Sudfeld, but good teams have to weather adverse conditions. The Eagles certainly did in 2017, and they did it to an impressive, albeit lesser, degree last year.
With McCown presumably hanging up his cleats, the Eagles are currently rostering three QBs in Wentz, Sudfeld, and Kyle Lauletta, who is extremely unlikely to go from the practice squad to a role in the pecking order. The Eagles will have a lot of time to consider their next move, but I have to believe that they’re hoping Sudfeld can step up and be the full-time backup in 2020, dressing for every game and getting clipboard duty while he learns from Wentz and acts as his insurance policy.
Sudfeld’s performance in training camp, preseason, and whatever else the NFL will have time for before the games (hopefully) begin for real in September will decide his place with the club going forward. And just because he has a contract doesn’t mean that the Eagles can’t cut bait on him at any time. He will have to work hard and earn his shot. And I say it’s time to give it to him if he checks all the boxes.
It would be best for everyone if a player familiar with the system and the team moved into the backup role. You can’t eliminate the risk entirely, but Sudfeld might be just what the Eagles need behind Wentz. Now let’s hope that he doesn’t have to take any snaps unless the Eagles are up by 20 points and just want to give their franchise quarterback a rest.