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For the better part of the last two weeks, Chicago was given an opportunity to consider the idea of Carson Wentz as the next Bears starting quarterback.
Savior or stopgap? (Or maybe neither.)
Potential star or a disappointment waiting to happen? (Or maybe something in between.)
The debate, at times, became a shouting match, as many quarterback discussions in this city do. Speculative rumors blended with credible reporting regarding the Philadelphia Eagles’ bid to trade Wentz and the Bears’ involvement in the process. Through it all, a frustrated fan base found itself increasingly confused and conflicted and downright anxious, wanting general manager Ryan Pace to do something big at quarterback without becoming foolish or desperate or impractical.
Would Wentz qualify as a sure thing, the long-sought-after answer to solve the Bears’ never-ending quarterback woes? Of course not. But with a “beggars can’t be choosers” mindset, aren’t the Bears back in dice-roll mode with whatever decisions they make at quarterback this offseason? Absolutely.
Thus for the last two weeks, much of Chicago chose sides, opting either to focus on Wentz’s high-level potential with evidence of his past excellence or veering more toward the analysis of his ugly 2020 season and the Eagles’ urge to get rid of him less than two years after handing him a $128 million contract extension.
On Thursday, though, “Wentz Watch” ended with the Eagles accepting a trade proposal from the Indianapolis Colts and reportedly agreeing to deal Wentz for a third-round pick in April and a conditional second-rounder in 2022. That conditional pick, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, will become a first-rounder next year if Wentz plays at least 75 percent of the Colts’ offensive snaps or at least 70 percent of the snaps with the team reaching the playoffs.
Done and done.
Just like that, all the Wentz-to-the-Bears deliberations abruptly ended, leaving Pace and coach Matt Nagy to choose a different adventure for their 2021 offense. Flip the page and press on.
It has been difficult to determine whether the Bears ever put a serious formal offer on the table for Wentz or whether they were simply engaged in discussions about the Eagles’ desired asking price for the 28-year-old quarterback. But the news that Wentz is headed to Indianapolis wasn’t crushing to the chief decision makers at Halas Hall.
The Bears, it should be noted, were no doubt interested in exploring a possible union, intrigued by the idea of Wentz potentially reviving his once-promising career in Chicago. But they were never in an “all-in” mindset, remaining careful to discuss a long list of concerns related to Wentz’s pronounced performance dip in 2020 and determined not to overpay for an undeniable repair project.
Trading away significant draft capital and taking on a bloated contract that carries a 2021 cap hit north of $25 million wasn’t a move the Bears were going to make without thorough thought, without detailed discussion, without at least acknowledging the possibility that efforts to fix Wentz might ultimately prove unsuccessful. Then what?
Wentz’s performance last season was awful. Inconsistent mechanics. Poor decisions. A startling shortage of playmaking instincts.
His ability to connect with the locker room has been brought into question as well.
Determining the extent of the needed repair work isn’t easy with some around the league believing Wentz struggles with demanding coaching and needs too much around him to be perfect to play his best.
But his talent is undeniable. And there’s no shortage of confident coaches in the league who would kill for an opportunity to try to tap into that.
In Indianapolis, the Colts staff will now get that chance.
Earlier this week, one league source with knowledge of the Eagles’ trade talks said there was a fascinating test of discipline ongoing between Pace, Colts general manager Chris Ballard and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman as it related to a Wentz deal. All three front-office decisions makers were seeking the best possible long-term solution for their respective teams. And an argument can be made that Thursday’s trade registered as a win-win-win for all three GMs and organizations.
Ballard landed his 2021 starting quarterback at a price the Colts felt comfortable with and could afford. Wentz will link back up with Colts coach Frank Reich, who was his offensive coordinator during a brilliant 2017 season in which he was a legitimate MVP candidate and helped propel the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship. The Colts, coming off an 11-win, division-championship season, can put Wentz behind a top-tier offensive line in an offense that finished in the top 10 in the league in total yardage and scoring last season. Plug Wentz in and see what shakes out. It’s a calculated gamble Ballard and Reich can make without intense fears that it also could cost them their jobs.
Roseman, meanwhile, was able to finalize a trade that brought back at least some return for a quarterback the Eagles had no desire of keeping. Without question, the Eagles are ultimately taking a sizable loss on their massive investments in Wentz, whom they traded up to draft No. 2 in 2016 and then rewarded with a four-year, $128 million extension in June 2019. Pulling the plug after five seasons is disappointing at best. But Thursday’s trade agreement will at least bring the Eagles two draft picks and allow them to move forward quickly at quarterback — perhaps with Jalen Hurts or perhaps with a 2021 draft pick.
And Pace? Well, his hunt for a starting quarterback will require exploration of other roads now. But the Bears have many other roads to explore. And retaining a grip on that reality remains important as Pace and Nagy continue to hatch plans and contingency plans to address the most important position on their roster.
It should be noted, one league source emphasized, that Wentz was far more interested in joining the Colts than the Bears. His connection with Reich, and senior offensive assistant Press Taylor was alluring. Plus, with his agents at Rep 1 Sports also representing Mitch Trubisky, there was at least some trepidation for Wentz and his camp about trying to reignite his career in a shaky offense under Nagy that failed to lift Trubisky to success. That, too, might have hampered the Bears’ interest in acquiring Wentz from becoming more serious. (Why force the issue if there are significant reservations on both sides?)
In what seemingly sets up as a “win or else” year for Pace and Nagy in 2021, the Bears must remain careful not to allow an undertow of desperation to suck them into regrettable decisions. For myriad reasons, a union with Wentz didn’t materialize, and the Bears still face heavy lifting as they consider trade options, free-agent candidates and draft possibilities at quarterback.
Before long, new names will register on the radar. New debates will intensify. New possibilities will be scrutinized. An old chore in Chicago continues with as much urgency as ever. The search for a standout starting quarterback continues — with no clear-cut answers.