There only seemed to be one real destination for Carson Wentz and after weeks of a standoff, the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts made a trade. Early in the offseason, there were reports that the Eagles were looking for multiple first-round picks or at least something close to the Matthew Stafford trade. That never appeared to be a realistic return and as Adam Schefter reported, the deal will send Wentz to Colts in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a 2022 conditional second-round pick that could become a first if Wentz plays 75% of the snaps or plays 70% of the snaps and the team makes the playoffs.
The Eagles had limited options with a big contract for Wentz coming off a season in which he was arguably the worst starter in the league. Those options were even more limited with Wentz reportedly down on going to the Chicago Bears, the only other team in the Wentz market. It’s difficult to see how the Colts would even be this interested without the connection between Wentz and head coach Frank Reich, who was the offensive coordinator in Philadelphia for Wentz’s best season.
There were also few options for the Colts to get a quarterback. Even in an offseason with widespread quarterback movement, the Colts found themselves without a clear path to a great answer at quarterback. The biggest target, Deshaun Watson, would be off the table with the Texans unlikely to send the quarterback in the division, if he’s traded at all. Other trade candidates such as Sam Darnold or Jimmy Garoppolo don’t inspire much confidence and require just as much faith in the coaching staff with an unfamiliar quarterback. The Colts also could have banked on a better situation for a free agent quarterback such as Cam Newton but again, that’s not a long-term option and still puts pressure on getting the most out of an underperforming player.
With the success of the 2020 Colts, getting into the top-5 or even the top-10 to potentially grab one of the draft’s top quarterbacks would have been more costly than the trade for Wentz.
Indianapolis knows there will have to be a significant bounceback from Wentz for this deal to have any value. That raises the questions of what went wrong for Wentz in 2020 and what a realistic expectation should be for his play in 2021.
No team could win with the 2020 version of Wentz, a quarterback who had no faith in his offense and struggled to make plays even in ideal situations. 38 quarterbacks had at least 100 passing attempts from a clean pocket in 2020. Wentz was one of six with a positive play rate (the percentage of plays with positive Expected Points Added) under 50%. His EPA per attempt ranked 31st, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Wentz’s performance from a clean pocket was troubling and his performance under pressure was even more startling. When something went wrong for the Eagles, it got catastrophic. Since 2016, there have been 133 quarterback seasons with at least 100 pass attempts under pressure. Wentz’s 2020 ranked 133rd in EPA per attempt by a fairly significant margin — shown as the green bar all the way at the bottom of the below chart.
It’s likely Wentz won’t openly rebel against the 2021 Colts offense like he reportedly did against the 2020 Eagles offense in the huddle and at the line of scrimmage. The question, of course, becomes what version of Wentz can Reich and the Colts unlock and how much does that help the team going forward?
No one should expect the 2017 version of Wentz to return. It’s been well-documented how Wentz’s season was aided by unstainable play in the red zone and on third downs at a rate he hasn’t come close to repeating since. Here are his EPA numbers on early downs and third down during his career:
Carson Wentz Early Down vs Third Down Passing Splits, 2016-2020
|Year||Early Down EPA/Att||Early Down Positive %||Third Down EPA/Att||Third Down Positive %|
The best-case scenario for the Colts could be hoping for the 2018 version. But the problem there is even if that level of play is attainable, it’s not much better than what Indianapolis got from the 2020 version of Philip Rivers.
Carson Wentz Career vs Philip Rivers 2020
|Quarterback||EPA/Att||Positive Play %|
|2017 Carson Wentz||0.18||50.2%|
|2020 Philip Rivers||0.13||50.2%|
|2018 Carson Wentz||0.08||53.7%|
|2016 Carson Wentz||0.01||50.6%|
|2020 Carson Wentz||-0.23||41.9%|
This is likely a step back at quarterback for the Colts with more questions across the roster. Indianapolis will need a new left tackle with the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, though keeping the 21st overall pick in the upcoming draft could set them up for replacement. T.Y. Hilton is also a free agent, which leaves just Michael Pittman Jr. and Parris Campbell as the top receiving duo.
On defense, Indianapolis is likely to see some regression in the takeaway department that helped fuel the unit to a seventh-place finished by defensive DVOA. There are also significant pending free agents on that side of the ball with Denico Autry, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, Malik Hooker, T.J. Carrie, and Anthony Walker all set to hit the open market.
Indianapolis was projected to have the second-most cap space, per Over The Cap, and they’ll still be in the top-five after adding the Wentz contract to the books. Still, there’s a lot of replacement work to be done on the roster instead of just potential additions. Even with those roster holes in place, Wentz will be surrounded by a better supporting cast than he had in 2020 in Philadelphia and finished with during 2019.
Wentz will count for $25.4 million on the Colts’ cap for 2021 with all of that guaranteed. That 2021 figure will be around what the Colts spend on Rivers last season, but it will be nearly half of what Indianapolis had allocated to the quarterback position with Jacoby Brissett also on the books. Brissett is another pending free agent and it’s likely either he returns or the Colts bring in another veteran backup who could fill in should things go south early with Wentz to get out of playing time conditions for the 2022 draft pick.
Should Wentz be fine, his cap hit will be $22 million for the 2022 season, which very doable for an average starting quarterback in the NFL. $15 million of that vests on the third day of the 2021 season and the other $7 million becomes guaranteed on the third day of the 2022 league year, so the Colts are likely looking at a two-year/$47.4 million deal for Wentz.
Philadelphia will have more of its 2021 cap spent on Wentz than Indianapolis. The trade of Wentz comes with $33.8 million in dead money, though the Eagles will clear just over $850,000 in cap space against what Wentz’s cap hit would have been had he stayed in Philadelphia.
Given the situation, the Eagles came out ok with the potential of a first-round pick in 2022 for a quarterback who was never going to be on the roster for the coming season.
Of course, that glosses over how the Eagles got to this situation and how things unraveled so quickly with Wentz and the rest of the roster. It’s hard to really frame this as a win for Philadelphia, a team that still sits with more questions than answers for 2021 and beyond.
Only the New Orleans Saints are more over the cap than the Eagles, per Over The Cap. There are some easy moves that can be made but Philadelphia will be in the midst of a roster purge with a new coaching staff going into the 2021 season.
Jalen Hurts is now penciled in as the starter and while he flashed some during his few appearances during his rookie season, it shouldn’t be something the Eagles should have full trust in for 2021. Among 43 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts last season, Hurts ranked 27th in EPA per attempt (Wentz ranked 41st). If Hurts is the starter, it’s not going to be with great weapons. That roster purge is likely to come on the offensive side of the ball with the removal of players like Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, and Zach Ertz. There won’t be many easy avenues for upgrades as replacements.
If the Eagles were comfortable taking Hurts in the second round right after signing Wentz to an extension last offseason, it’s probable they will target a quarterback with the sixth overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. With or without a quarterback at six, the Eagles will be retooling the roster with a focus on 2022. That’s a steep fall from a team that won the Super Bowl following the 2017 season and one that made the playoffs with a flawed roster in 2019.
Neither team is going to come away from this trade feeling great but both did what they needed to do given the current construction of the rosters and both teams will be putting faith in their front offices to get on the right track for 2021, though those tracks are facing different directions.