The Carson Wentz saga continues to drag on in Indianapolis as the NFL combine has officially come and gone, leaving more questions than answers in its wake. When pressed, Chris Ballard has remained non-committal to Wentz being the guy to lead this franchise into the 2022 season. It seems the Colts are trying to move on from the former 2nd overall pick but have little leverage to do so. Wentz’s trade market is reportedly nonexistent, meaning for the Colts to move on from him, they would likely have to release him. Doing so before his guaranteed roster bonus kicks in at the beginning of the new league year would save the Colts about 13 million dollars but also leave Colts’ fans wondering for yet another year who will be under center come week 1.
If the Colts do choose to move on from Carson Wentz, they could go the route of signing a veteran free agent to be a “bridge” quarterback while a younger draft pick or trade acquisition develops and awaits his turn to run Frank Reich’s offense.
This style of franchise-building has been implemented various times in recent history with polarizing degrees of success. The most obvious success story is that of the Kansas City Chiefs, who drafted Patrick Mahomes 10th overall in 2017 to sit behind Alex Smith for a year before being granted the keys to Andy Reid’s kingdom. On the other side of the coin, one need look no further than the 2nd overall pick of that draft, Mitch Trubisky. When the Bears drafted Trubisky 2nd overall in 2017, they had just signed Mike Glennon to a 3 year 45 million dollar contract. You don’t need to have been following the NFL for long to know how that worked out for Chicago.
It goes without saying that a “quarterback stack” has a colossal number of variables that go into it being fruitful or not, namely the culture of the franchise and the supporting cast that the young quarterback is surrounded by.
Here are four possible “stacks” the Colts could look to build going into next season.
Taylor Heinicke and Desmond Ridder
My colleague Michael Pevia recently wrote an article about a possible trade between the Colts and Commanders that involves Carson Wentz and Commanders’ quarterback Taylor Heinicke. While I pointed out above that a trade of any kind involving Carson Wentz is looking unlikely, it is still possible for Chris Ballard to pull the trigger on something like this if he is okay with lowering the ceiling of this roster next year. The hope would then be that a rookie quarterback, or in this scenario Desmond Ridder, would be able to bust through that lowered ceiling after a year of developing behind Heinicke. Heinicke would almost certainly be a downgrade from Wentz, and he brings many of the same frustrating elements to his game that Carson Wentz showed last year. However, his cap hit would only be 2.75 million next season, giving the Colts ample cap room to build out the roster, which has several other glaring holes beside the quarterback position.
As for Ridder, there is really no consensus on where he will go on draft day. Projections range anywhere from the back of the first round to the second round, as is the case with many of the top quarterbacks in this draft class. I believe Ridder’s ceiling is as high as any of the quarterbacks in this class, and being able to sit behind Heinicke for a year or two while learning the ins and outs of Frank Reich’s offense would benefit him tremendously. The base infrastructure of the roster should allow for Ridder to step in and be successful after his development period if the Colts continue to add weapons to their offense.
Marcus Mariota and Jordan Love
This is admittedly my favorite of these four options. Let’s start with Jordan Love, as the Colts would have to pull off a trade, and it’s not a given the Packers are ready to move the former first-rounder. Albert Breer wrote in late February that he believes it is more likely than not that the Packers keep Love due to the uncertainty surrounding Aaron Rodgers. However, he also added the contingency that it wasn’t a certainty that Love is on Green Bay’s roster next season, allowing for my speculation to not be completely nieve. The Colts were reportedly interested in Love during the 2020 draft process but ended up trading the 13th overall pick to the 49ers for DeForest Buckner. Will Chris Ballard give up a mid-round pick for an unproven commodity at quarterback? Maybe if he was interested in drafting that quarterback at 13 overall two years ago. Love has seen limited action in Green Bay and hasn’t impressed when he has played, leaving some execs to wonder if there is truly any untapped potential in the former Utah State quarterback.
Marcus Mariota, like many of the veterans on this list, isn’t going to impress those who have been dead set on a massive upgrade at QB. In all likelihood, those options weren’t feasible anyway, so exploring all other options is now a must. Mariota has spent the last two seasons backing up Derek Carr in Las Vegas and has been known to come in from time to time to add a running element to the position. He has proven he can take a good roster to the playoffs, as he did in 2017 with Tennessee. While I’m not guaranteeing similar levels of success in Indy, Mariota is an experienced veteran who adds a more dynamic element to the Colts backfield when paired with Jonathan Taylor. The possibilities would be endless for Frank Reich and his offensive staff if this duo were to be made a reality.
Teddy Bridgewater and Carson Strong
Teddy Bridgewater is another guy who isn’t going to knock your socks off with what he brings to the table. Bridgewater would more than likely take the wild discrepancies in Carson Wentz’s play and mellow it out to a lukewarm level. This is another example of lowering the ceiling for one season to attempt to bust through it with a rookie you are confident will be ready in his second or third year. Carson Strong has the ability to be that guy. If you are interested in a deep film review of the former Wolfpack quarterback, I wrote one where I went into the weeds of Strong and his play at Nevada over the past two years.
To summarize for those who haven’t read, I compared Carson Strong’s ceiling to Derek Carr, stating he has the ability to be a top 8-14 quarterback year over year. Recent history has shown that that level of play is probably not enough to get over the hump without an utterly dominant roster everywhere else, something the Colts don’t currently possess. But, as the cliche goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. Getting away from any more 4-5 year projections of Strong’s career arc, I wouldn’t mind the Colts taking another “shot” at a developmental quarterback in the second or third round. Adding to that, after watching Strong’s game’s intricacies, I can safely project that even if he doesn’t hit his max ceiling in the NFL, he will more than likely still be a plus, quality starter due to the traits he has possessed.
Tyrod Taylor and Malik Willis
Tyrod Taylor is another mediocre starter who has been brought in to be a bridge quarterback on almost every one of his numerous stops across the league. He has experienced an inexplicable series of unfortunate injuries, leading to the younger quarterback usurping his starting position. This pairing specifically would be the only one in which I could see Chris Ballard signing the veteran to a two-year deal, as Malik Willis is universally seen as a very raw prospect. As is generally the case with most raw prospects, opinions vary wildly on where Willis will land. While some mock drafts see him as a top 15 pick, others think teams will be scared off by the lengthy timeline to starting he will likely face. At this point, I think Malik probably won’t be available for the Colts at 47. If for whatever reason, he does fall into the Colts’ lap in the second round, I would be ecstatic if Chris Ballard went that way, even if Tyrod Taylor was the starting quarterback for the next year or two.
The Best Option?
Those who read all four of these pairings with a frown due to the first names presented need to take a step back and look at the entire landscape of the quarterback market. Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers won’t be buying a home in Geist anytime soon, leaving the upgrade options at quarterback almost nonexistent from an on-paper perspective. I have since the beginning of the off-season been a proponent of rolling with Carson Wentz for another season and am still on that train. For those mandating a change, I have laid out four of the most likely scenarios that would proceed a Carson Wentz departure.
Options are limited, and Carson Wentz may just be the best one left.