Colts agree to deal for QB Wentz

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George Bremer, The Herald Bulletin, Anderson, Ind.
·5 min read
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Feb. 18—Frank Reich got his man. Chris Ballard got his price (or reasonably close to it). And Carson Wentz got his preferred landing spot for a fresh start.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Indianapolis Colts agreed to trade a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles for Wentz. The 2022 pick reportedly can become a first-rounder if the quarterback plays 75% of the Colts' snaps next season or 70% of the regular-season snaps and leads the team to the playoffs.

The deal can not become official until the new NFL year begins March 17 and as such was not confirmed by either team, but Indianapolis has long been viewed as a frontrunner.

Reich was Wentz's offensive coordinator for his first two years in the league, and the two have a very close relationship. That bond fueled reports the quarterback had a strong preference for Indianapolis as trade talks began.

He'll be the fourth different starting quarterback in as many seasons for Reich, but there are parallels to last year's starter.

When Philip Rivers signed with the Colts in 2020, there were questions about his age (38) and his penchant for turning the ball over during his final season with the Los Angeles Chargers. But Indianapolis had confidence in the move because of Reich's history with the quarterback.

Three seasons with the Chargers formed a bond between the two that paid dividends during the pandemic-altered 2020 season. Despite the lack of in-person work throughout the spring, Rivers' intricate knowledge of Reich's offense allowed him to immediately step into the huddle with command.

He completed 68% of his passes for 4,169 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and a postseason bid.

Wentz reportedly doesn't have Rivers' natural leadership skills, but he does have a similar history with Indianapolis' coaching staff. In addition to Reich, the quarterback spent time in Philadelphia with wide receivers coach Mike Groh and new passing game coordinator Press Taylor.

During his offseason talk with reporters last month, Colts owner Jim Irsay suggested familiarity with the new QB would be a bonus.

"I think that's what helped so much this year with Philip Rivers is, boy, you have this guy coming in and he has no learning curve," Irsay said. "He is like a coach on the field. It was just really positive for the type of team we had because we had a lot of excellent pieces in place, and he helped get us there quicker. That would be ideal."

Irsay added it was important to find that person without mortgaging the long-term future.

The deal Ballard agreed to for Wentz allows Indianapolis to keep its first two picks in April's draft, and it also protects the team against the 28-year-old's injury history.

But analysis of this move will go far beyond the cost. Reich and his coaching staff also must prove they can get Wentz back to top form after an historic regression.

Despite playing just 13 games before being benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts, Wentz tied for the league-lead with 15 interceptions in 2020. He completed a career-low 57.4% of his passes and averaged a paltry 6 yards per attempt.

Wentz also was sacked on 10.3% of his dropbacks, a function both of an injured offensive line and of his own poor decision making.

The Colts can offer a top-flight running game led by second-year rusher Jonathan Taylor and one of the league's best offensive lines to protect the passer in addition to a comfortable scheme fit.

There were early signs the quarterback's arrival will be welcome in the locker room, with many players tweeting a greeting — including defensive leader Darius Leonard.

"Let's get to work!!" Leonard typed. "Welcome to Indy! Can't wait to see what the future holds in the 317."

The trade ends a chaotic five-season run in Philadelphia for Wentz. The Eagles twice traded up in the 2016 draft to select Wentz with the second overall pick and signed him to a four-year, $128 million extension in 2019.

That level of investment installed Wentz as the face of the franchise, but he rarely seemed comfortable in that role.

Wentz was an MVP frontrunner in 2017 when he threw for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns in 13 games before a knee injury cut short his campaign. The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl two months later behind backup quarterback Nick Foles, and Reich was hired away as the head coach in Indianapolis.

Wentz missed five games in 2018 with a vertebral fracture but appeared to right the ship a year later. He completed 63.9% of his passes for a career-high 4,039 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2019, leading Philadelphia back to the postseason.

But his first playoff game ended with a concussion after just a handful of snaps. Then he took a major step backward in 2020.

Indianapolis believes it has the pieces in place to reverse that trend.

"We have a tremendous nucleus of players that are capable of competing for the Super Bowl very soon," Irsay said last month. "So, ideally, if you can get someone to come in this year and several years after who is ready to go, it gives you your best opportunity and you don't have as much of a maturation aspect of seeing them develop and get to that level that they need to get so you can get to a Super Bowl and win it."