PHILADELPHIA -- The Philadelphia Eagles chose Nate Sudfeld out of an unusually robust free-agent quarterback group. Sudfeld chose Philadelphia despite garnering a healthy amount of interest on the open market.
Those two facts should not be ignored when assessing who will hold the all-important role of being Carson Wentz's backup in 2020.
Actually, strike that. The term "backup" isn't used by Eagles management. Owner Jeffrey Lurie prefers "second quarterback" or "other starting quarterback" to properly reflect the value the organization puts on the position. Prioritizing the No. 2 QB spot was validated big-time when Nick Foles took over for an injured Wentz in 2017 and completed the Eagles' Super Bowl run.
Though the luxury of having a well-paid backup is not as easy to justify when your starter is making big money, as is now the case with Wentz, there was some thought the Eagles would pursue a veteran with considerable starting experience in NFL free agency, such as Marcus Mariota or Case Keenum, given how recent seasons have played out. But on the second day of the legal tampering period last month, Philadelphia agreed to terms with the less-proven Sudfeld on a one-year, $2 million deal with an additional $3 million available through incentives -- a similar contract to the one the Eagles gave veteran Josh McCown last year to be the second quarterback.
"I don't want to get into specifics," Sudfeld said, when asked if he has received assurances he will be the No. 2, "but I'm very excited about the opportunity to come back and feel really good about coming back to Philadelphia. I'm excited to get back to work -- hopefully it resumes here soon."
Sudfeld, 26, enjoyed the brief experience of being an unrestricted free agent. He had multiple suitors, and got a confidence boost out of hearing unbiased, positive assessments of his game. Ultimately, though, he felt he had unfinished business in Philadelphia.
He appeared in line for the second quarterback role last offseason before breaking his left wrist in a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans. That injury led to the signing of McCown, who leapt over Sudfeld on the depth chart and stayed there for the entirety of the season. As a result, Sudfeld did not see the field at all in 2019. His career snap total remains at 25, making him a bit of a mystery even though he has been with the team for three-plus years.
"My ability, I've never been more confident in it," said the 6-foot-6 Sudfeld, who was originally scooped up by the Eagles in September 2017 after being cut by the Washington Redskins, the team that drafted him in the sixth round in 2016. "I have to just kind of get thrown out there in a game, whether it's more preseason or even in a regular-season game, because it's interesting. I can do as well as I want in practice and there are obviously a bunch of areas I want to continue improving, but the crazy thing about quarterback, especially is you never really know about a guy until they're thrown in there, and the only way to get experience is to get experience."
That's the reality the Eagles find themselves in. They believe Sudfeld has the skill set and acumen to get the job done, feel good about his mastery of coach Doug Pederson's system, and see that he's made strides in many areas since joining the team, including with quickness and strength, but don't have any concrete evidence he would thrive should he have to replace Wentz in the lineup.
The No. 2 has been called on each of the past three seasons because of injuries to Wentz, making it all the more important the Eagles have a sound backup plan. They will likely add another arm between now and the start of the season to join Wentz, Sudfeld and Kyle Lauletta in the quarterback room, whether it be a still-unsigned veteran or in the draft later this month.
"We have confidence in Nate's ability to be the No. 2 quarterback, there's no doubt about that. At the same time -- I'd say this about every position -- we've got to add competition, we've got to add talent," general manager Howie Roseman said. "We're in the talent-acquisition mode, so we're trying to find every way to get better and to add depth, because we've seen it, depth is extremely important in this league."
Philadelphia could use a late-round pick on a quarterback, like it did last year when it selected Clayton Thorson out of Northwestern in the fifth round. Or, it could try to entice McCown, 40, who is still recovering from a torn hamstring suffered in January's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks, to come back for another season and add some insurance.
But some in the Eagles' building are betting against a repeat of last offseason, and believe Sudfeld is on track for the No. 2 gig -- with the caveat that jobs are earned, not given, at a position of such high importance.
"Obviously I want to be a starter someday, I want to play in this league, but I understand that it's a process to get there and you have to get on the field," Sudfeld said.
"I think the NFL is a meritocracy. It's really what have you done for me lately, what are you doing at each step, you have to keep proving yourself and keep improving. I definitely have a ton of confidence if I'm ever in a situation where I'm head-on-head competing with somebody. I have a lot of confidence in myself. I haven't ever really had that opportunity, so I'm really looking forward to that if that comes."