Let’s examine the Carson Wentz deal from both sides, starting with Indianapolis:
Indianapolis: Worth the risk
First let’s discuss the palomino in the room: Andrew Luck.
Remember a couple of weeks ago, when Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said Luck “is more retired now than he was a year-and-a-half ago?” Why do you think he said that? My bet is that the Colts had plans to pursue Wentz this offseason, but before they’d trade for a player with four years and $96 million left on his contract, they had to be sure that Luck wasn’t having second thoughts about playing. So I’m assuming they heard either from Luck directly or someone very close to the quarterback that Luck doesn’t see himself playing football anymore. And once they felt sure Luck was ensconced in retirement, they moved full speed ahead on Wentz.
Regarding the deal: The trade was fair to both the Colts and Eagles. A third-round pick this year and a first-round pick in 2022 (if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps in Indy this year, or 70 percent and the Colts make the playoffs) means the Colts will hand the Eagles the 84th overall pick this year and more likely than not a pick in the range of 23rd overall next year for Wentz. Plus, Indy takes the risk of the contract: $96 million over the next four years, with $47.5 million guaranteed. Heck of a risk on a quarterback who failed so spectacularly, and in many ways, in 2020.
Wentz is 28. He was awful last season and justifiably was benched for the last four games in Philadelphia. But he looked like the long-term guy the previous three years (81 TDs, 21 interceptions), and if anyone can fix him after the 2020 debacle it’s probably Reich. “I’m extremely close with Carson Wentz,” Reich told me a month ago on my podcast. He called Wentz “a lifelong friend,” and said, “I felt for Carson this year.” No question Wentz felt the vibe; I’m told the Colts were his first, second and third choices in trade, mostly because of Reich and also because he’s a Midwest (North Dakota) guy, and Indianapolis has about 1 percent of the sporting venom of Philadelphia. The offensive line is significantly better in Indy than Philadelphia, the offensive weapons are better, and the job security of Reich and GM Chris Ballard means the Colts will be a far more stable franchise than most spots where Wentz could have landed.
But the reason this deal took a while to come together is because finding a fair compensation package was tough. The Colts figured that, at 28, a quarterback three years removed from being a top-five QB and one year removed from still being considered a franchise player was worth a late-third and either late-first or second-round pick. With Indianapolis still in great cap shape even after committing to Wentz, it’s a smart risk—but a risk nonetheless.
This has been an absolutely bizarre period for quarterbacks with the Colts. Eighteen months ago today, Luck was the Colts quarterback. Two weeks prior to the 2019 season he retired. Jacoby Brissett was the 2019 guy, then Philip Rivers in 2020. With the January retirement of Rivers, Wentz takes his shot. It’s urgent that the Colts get this position right for the long haul. The scotch-tape job over the past two years has gone all right (the Colts are 18-15 since Luck walked away). But it’s been plenty costly: Ballard has spent $73 million at quarterback over the past two years, and gotten zero playoff wins out of it. He knows that has to change. The money Indianapolis has spent at quarterback over the past three years, with more to come this year:
2019: Brissett ($14.9 million), Luck ($12 million), Brian Hoyer ($5 million), Chad Kelly ($268,000). Total: $32.17 million
2020: Rivers ($25 million), Brissett ($14.5 million), Jacob Eason ($1.34 million). Total: $40.84 million.
2021: Wentz ($25.4 million), Eason ($780,000), TBD. Total: In excess of $26.18 million.
Three-year total (with one player to add): $99.19 million.
It’s easy to point to the reassuring presence of Reich and the relatively easygoing fan base of central Indiana to say Wentz will be back strong. As I’ve watched him and talked to those with knowledge of Wentz’s performance in 2020, I think three things went way wrong:
1) He saw ghosts; he often rushed throws even when he didn’t have to because he was used to heavy pressure from a line he didn’t trust anymore.
2) He didn’t respond well to hard coaching, tuning out much of what he was being taught. After the Eagles spent a 2020 second-round pick on a quarterback, Jalen Hurts, Wentz didn’t trust the front office either.
3) Wentz hurrying his drops and throws resulted in a crashing to earth of his accuracy, which declined from 69.6 percent in 2018 to 57.4 percent in 2020.
Reich, I’m sure, won’t stand for any “I got this” tendencies from Wentz—and I would be surprised if Reich hasn’t already communicated either directly or indirectly with Wentz that he’ll be coached hard in Indianapolis, and he’d better be ready for it. Wentz will have a fundamentals refresher course led by Reich, with further drill-down from coordinator Marcus Brady and QB coaches Scott Milanovich and Parks Frazier.
Last point about Wentz’s 2020 season: He hasn’t done enough in the NFL to fuss about a backup quarterback being drafted, and he hasn’t done enough to bitch (quietly though it was) about being benched. What he should have done when benched, even though he’d been sacked 4.3 times a game at that point, is say, “When you throw multiple interceptions in half of your starts, it’s just not good enough. I’ve got to be more accurate, and I’ve got to work to be better than this. It’s on me.” Leaders say that. I can think of another guy who thought he was in his prime and seethed when his team took a quarterback in the second round. Tom Brady responded by winning the Super Bowl in Jimmy Garoppolo’s rookie year. Brady won the Super Bowl in Garoppolo’s third year. When Garoppolo was traded in the middle of his fourth year, Brady was on his way to winning the MVP. At 40. Brady didn’t ask for a trade when Bill Belichick drafted a quarterback in the second round. He said, I’ll show you the mistake you made, drafting a quarterback when I’m still in my prime.
So I like the trade for Indianapolis, as I said. But there’s one man who can make it a great trade, and one man only: Carson Wentz.
Philadelphia: Has the Lombardi Trophy been fired, or traded?
Three years ago this month, after the Eagles’ stunning 41-33 Super Bowl victory over New England, I wrote a deep dive about the winning touchdown in the game—Wristband 145, I called it, because that’s what coach Doug Pederson called into the ear of quarterback Nick Foles before the play. Foles, super-subbing for injured franchise QB Carson Wentz, called the play next to “145” on the band: “Gun left trey, open buster star motion . . . 383 X follow Y slant.” The call resulted in a 11-yard TD pass to Zach Ertz, giving Philly a 38-33 lead with 2:21 left.
The play was not in the original 194-play game plan of the Eagles. Early in Super Bowl week, receivers coach Mike Groh went to offensive coordinator Frank Reich with an idea he thought would flummox the Patriots: a single receiver (Zach Ertz) to the left, three receivers (Trey Burton, Nelson Agholor, Alshon Jeffery) in a triangle to the right, a back (Corey Clement) in “star,” or sprinting, motion behind the triangle. One receiver to the left, four to the right. The Eagles, through Reich’s and Groh’s research, thought the Patriots would cover Ertz alone. Pederson called it. Groh and Reich were right—Ertz was singled. That touchdown gave the Eagles their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
Look at the key men in that play, and in that offensive powerhouse, who I just mentioned. And look at what’s happened in 36 months:
Doug Pederson: Gone. Fired last month after going 23-27-1 in the 51 games since the Super Bowl.
Nick Foles: Gone. Signed as a free agent in Jacksonville in 2019, traded to Chicago in 2020. Status for 2021 uncertain.
Carson Wentz: Gone. Traded to Indianapolis—after finishing 35th of 36 QBs in passer rating in 2020 and being benched by Pederson.
Zach Ertz: Very likely gone. Cap-strapped Eagles could save $4.7 million on the cap by trading or releasing him.
Mike Groh: Gone. Promoted to offensive coordinator in 2018, fired after 2019 season. Now receivers coach for Indianapolis.
Frank Reich: Gone. Departed two weeks after Super Bowl win to be Indianapolis’ head coach.
Trey Burton: Gone. Signed free-agent deal with Chicago in 2018. Now tight end in Indianapolis.
Nelson Agholor: Gone. Signed free-agent deal with Las Vegas in 2020.
Alshon Jeffery: Very likely gone. Should be a cap casualty this spring after missing 19 games due to injury in last three years.
Corey Clement: Likely gone. Unrestricted free agent. Buried on Eagles’ depth chart. Looking for a better role elsewhere.
The team as a whole, poof! Gone, into thin air. Doug Pederson’s last four years: Super Bowl win, playoffs, playoffs, 4-11-1 . . . fired. Whaaaaat? What has happened in sports?! Assuming Ertz and Jeffery are let go, all six starting skill players from the Super Bowl, gone. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, 14 years younger than Super Bowl champ Bruce Arians, retired at 54. Leader of the secondary, Malcolm Jenkins, gone. Special-teams captain Chris Maragos, retired. There might be a team in the 55-year history of Super Bowl that has dissolved faster than these Philadelphia Eagles, but I can’t think of one.
Craziest thing: This was a playoff team in 2018 and 2019. The year after winning the Super Bowl, Foles had them 27 yards from the end zone in New Orleans, 27 yards from the NFC Championship Game . . . but an interception wrecked that drive. In 2019, with Wentz finally starting a playoff game for the Eagles, he lasted eight minutes before being concussed and exiting the game. Then came the incendiary 2020 season, starting with drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round, continuing with Pederson missing the first two weeks of training camp with COVID-19, and Wentz playing poorly from the start. Plenty of blame to go around here, but the best point in this was made by Bucky Brooks of NFL Media: Being a starting quarterback in the NFL is not a lifetime appointment. Wentz didn’t think he should have been yanked. Did he watch his own tape?
The other day, Mike Florio’s Pro Football Talk TV show on Peacock played a clip from an interview with GM Howie Roseman, who has presided over the dissolution. Roseman, speaking less than 10 months ago, said this about Wentz: “We love Carson Wentz. We showed it with our actions. We showed it when we traded everything to go get him. We showed it when we paid him with that contract. It’s not like we’re trying to get out of that contract. We’re committed to that.”
This is why you don’t hear the Eagles, through off-the-record or unsourced material, defending the picks acquired in trade with Indianapolis. That’s because the Eagles didn’t win here. They may have made the right move in jettisoning Wentz; they likely couldn’t have brought him back without moving Hurts, and if Wentz played poorly in 2021, he was likely unmovable because of the $47.5 million in guarantees in his contract. It’s no-win for the Eagles. If Wentz plays great in Indy, the Eagles mishandled him and will be set back years in franchise development. If Wentz flops in Indy, the Eagles mishandled him and will be set back years in franchise development.
Over the weekend, in talking to two people who know the inner workings of the Eagles, it’s clear that there is a stunned disbelief inside the team from Lurie on down. A year ago, Pederson and Wentz were the keystones for the future of the franchise. Today, it’s almost inconceivable Nick Sirianni and Jalen Hurts are the coach and quarterback, and the franchise is cap-strapped with so few young building-block players. It used to be that a coach with recent Super Bowl currency wouldn’t get erased after one bad year. It used to be that a struggling young quarterback would take his medicine and fight to get his position back, not semi-force a trade so soon after making his money.
Roseman is public enemy number one with an angry fan base right now. “Angry” is a mild term, most likely. Philadelphia is mad as hell at the Eagles, and at Roseman. “I hate Howie Roseman with a passion now,” Eagles fan (presumably) Adam Michalesko tweeted after the trade. “I don’t want to be a fan anymore.” (Rumor has it he’ll be wearing a green jersey come September.) The Super Bowl seems 13 years ago, not three. But that’s the NFL world now, where spite is routing patience.