After the Colts secured an impressive and improbable win against the Arizona Cardinals despite a host of absent stars, Carson Wentz looked like a solid, if unspectacular, signing. He wasn’t putting up great numbers but wasn’t throwing many interceptions. The team had shown it could beat elite teams like the Bills and Patriots with Wentz and go toe-to-toe with others. However, the two crushing defeats to the Raiders and Jaguars left a bitter taste in the mouth. The Colts hierarchy hasn’t said anything decisive about Wentz’s future, but Chris Ballard was more willing to criticize him in his end of season press conference than Rivers a year earlier. Even Frank Reich has been less inclined to praise Wentz despite being one of his biggest advocates last year.
I’m still not entirely convinced that the Colts will let Wentz go this offseason, but it certainly appears to be more likely now than in January. If Wentz is retained, he’ll earn $28m. But, if he’s cut before March 19, he’ll cost the Colts $15m in dead cap space. Given that Indianapolis has one of the league’s better cap situations, this would be a challenge but not unworkable. The only way for the Colts to avoid paying anything for Wentz next year will be if he’s traded before March 19. This makes trading Wentz more likely than cutting him. However broken you think Wentz is, remember the Jets got a 2nd, 4th and 6th round pick for Sam Darnold last year. So don’t tell me there can’t be a trade market for Wentz.
Outside of the dream trade for Russell Wilson, the most likely Quarterback I can envisage for the Colts moving on from Wentz is Jimmy Garoppolo. Of course, that would rely on Garoppolo being available on the cheap because of last year’s Lance trade/pick. I think Garoppolo and Wentz are on similar levels, but I can see why a front office would prefer one over the other, and it’s the kind of move that wouldn’t jeopardize Chris Ballard’s ability to move up to draft a Quarterback next year if it doesn’t work out.
A trade for Garoppolo looks far more attractive if you can get a decent trade haul for Wentz. You’d need to get back for Wentz roughly what you give to the 49ers for Garoppolo. If you could get more for Wentz, the move will look very attractive indeed. It is possible that Wentz could command a higher price than Garoppolo, given the 49ers have very little leverage as everyone knows they need to trade Garoppolo because they’ve got Lance. Garoppolo only has one year left on his contract, and at $26m a year, he’d cost a little less than Wentz. At 31, he’d also be able to play for several more years if his quality of play justified it.
Any trade scenario where Indianapolis trades Wentz and then trades for Garoppolo requires the team getting Wentz to value him over Garoppolo and the Colts to value Garoppolo at the same level or better than Wentz.
This all poses the question of who might be interested in trading for Carson Wentz, and how interested might they be? Just as the chance of Wentz not being the Colts starting QB next year appears to have increased over the past three weeks, the potential interest from other teams in Wentz seems to have done the same.
In recent weeks, the team most closely linked to Wentz has been the Pittsburgh Steelers. They’ve shown they can be successful with average QB play from Ben Roethlisberger in the twilight years of his career. With a brilliant coach in Mike Tomlin, solid offensive weapons, and some elite defensive playmakers, there are reasons to believe the Steelers could be successful with Wentz. If they don’t like any of the quarterbacks in this year’s class, it is plausible they’d be willing to trade for Wentz instead. They can afford Wentz’s contract, and Carson Wentz would be infinitely superior to rolling with Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins in 2021.
The Steelers hold the 20th pick in the draft, which they’d likely have to part with to acquire Wentz. That’s not too high a price to pay for a good team that needs a QB but doesn’t like the options available in the draft. From the Colts perspective, the 20th pick would be about where they felt they should have been drafting had they kept their first-round pick and not seen their season collapse in the final stretch.
A few factors are complicating any potential Pittsburgh trade for Wentz. The first is that they haven’t yet appointed their new General Manager. Amongst the candidates the Steelers have interviewed to be their next GM are Colts Assistant General Manager Ed Dodds and Director of College Scouting Morocco Brown. I find it hard to believe that Indianapolis would be willing to trade Wentz and that the Steelers would be interested in acquiring him if Dodds or Brown were their GM. As much as I dislike the Steelers, it would be an excellent job for either Dodds or Brown. But either of them getting the job would reduce the Colts’ chances of fleecing Pittsburgh in a Wentz trade.
Another factor is how Pittsburgh views itself as a team. If they genuinely believe they can compete to win a Super Bowl, is Wentz the man to get them there? On the other hand, perhaps they think Wentz gives them the best chance to win the most games now. It doesn’t help Pittsburgh’s predicament that they share their division with a Bengals team that is young and exceptionally talented and a Ravens team that should be much better and healthier next year.
Another team floated as a possible suitor for Carson Wentz is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This trade would rely on Tampa not wanting to roll with Kyle Trask as their starter next year and not being willing to rebuild their Superbowl winning team. Depending on which of their free agents they can resign, Wentz could enjoy some far better weapons in Tampa than he enjoyed in Indianapolis. He’d also be playing in a division where Matt Ryan is potentially the best QB, the Saints are in cap hell, and the Panthers are in QB purgatory. A Tampa Bay Buccaneers team with Wentz under center could win that division, but it’s hard to see them winning another Super Bowl.
Tampa might be better off welcoming Winston back on a cheap deal, letting veterans like David, Gronk, Suh, and Pierre-Paul go, resigning young free agents like Godwin, and aggressively drafting a Quarterback next year. It’s a strategy that would involve some short term pain but could give Tampa the chance to win a Super Bowl in a few years with a young Quarterback playing alongside Evans, Godwin, White, Wirfs, and Vea. However, I’m not convinced that Tampa can expect the same chances of success in a few years if they have Wentz at QB. Especially if they have to let a number of their free agents walk due to Wentz’s contract and their challenging cap situation.
The potential interest in Wentz from the Steelers or Buccaneers comes from both needing new Quarterbacks following the retirement of their respective future Hall of Fame QBs. Additionally, the justification for either pursuing him comes from both teams being too good to tank for a top Quarterback prospect in the years to come. This year’s QB draft class is too weak to justify aggressing trading up for a prospect like the 49ers did for Lance last year. Therefore, either team could see Wentz as the best short-term option for success and feel their teams are good enough to get good results with him.
There are also teams like the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers who are truly in Quarterback purgatory and, therefore, may decide Wentz is the best option available to them. After all, they’ve tried Bridgewater, Darnold, Lock, Newton, and Walker between them over the past two years. After strong starts to both of their seasons, they are left picking 6th and 9th this year. Both will, therefore, probably draft a Quarterback instead of trading for Wentz. Giving up the 6th or 9th pick for Wentz is a different beast from the Steelers giving up the 20th pick for him. Another reason why the Broncos wouldn’t be interested in trading for Wentz is the strength of their division. However good the rest of their team is, what do they think they can achieve with Wentz when they have to beat the Mahomes led Chiefs and Herbert led Chargers for the next decade?
One of Wentz’s most interesting potential destinations would be the Washington Commanders. A return to the NFC East might not be the top of Wentz’s list of priorities, but there are reasons it could work. Wentz would be an upgrade on either Taylor Heinicke or a 39-year-old Ryan Fitzpatrick, the NFC East is still a weak division, and this year might not be the best year for Washington to draft a QB. Washington has some strong offensive weapons in McLaurin and Gibson and some great defensive players, especially Chase Young. If it goes well, Washington could win the NFC East win Wentz. If it goes badly, they could draft a Quarterback in 2023 and would still be well set up for the future.
Given Washington hold the 11th pick in the draft, Indianapolis may need to send a player alongside Wentz if they want Washington’s first round pick. Possessing the 11th pick in the draft would give the Colts some options if they are able to get Garoppolo with something similar to a second-round pick. Indianapolis would have a shot at drafting a talented left tackle or edge rusher, either of which would likely mean addressing the wide receiver position in free agency and later in the draft. Alternatively, the Colts could trade back in the first round to gain more capital. There’s certainly no guarantee Washington would be interested in Wentz and at that price.
Carson Wentz’s future in Indianapolis seems less certain by the week, but a decision will need to be made soon. If the Colts do want to trade Wentz, there is a real chance there will be a market for him. Quarterbacks are in high demand and command a high price. The number of great Quarterbacks in the league has significantly decreased in the past two years with the retirements of Brady, Brees, Rivers, and Roethlisberger. With no guarantees that any members of the 2021 and 2022 QB classes are elite, that exodus of QB talent drives up the price of even mediocre Quarterbacks. Therefore, some teams could plausibly be interested in trading for Wentz at a price the Colts would be interested in, even if I’m not convinced it would be the best long-term move for those teams.