- The Washington Times
Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Chris Ballard, just over a week ago, seemed ready to take issue with a reporter’s assertion that the general manager didn’t “believe” in quarterback Carson Wentz. “Hold on, now,” Ballard said at the NFL’s scouting combine. 

But when the reporter explained his reasoning — if the Colts truly believed in Wentz, then the trade speculation wouldn’t exist — Ballard nodded his head a few times and conceded the point. 

“That’s fair enough,” the Colts executive said. “I’m not saying we don’t, but … we’re not there yet.” 

Ballard and the Colts never got there — a conclusion that was painfully obvious even during the press conference  — and so they shipped Wentz away Wednesday to the Washington Commanders for two third-rounders (one that can become a second) and a swap of seconds, only a year after Ballard gave up first-round and third-round draft picks for the quarterback. 

As tempting as it is to analyze this trade and what it means for Washington — and we’ll get there  — first consider Indianapolis’ perspective: The Colts just traded their starter without a viable backup in place. Indianapolis will reportedly turn their attention to trading for San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo, but that’s not guaranteed. Despite the uncertainty, the Colts still rather would trade Wentz — even if it means that Indianapolis will now have a sixth different Week 1 quarterback over the last six seasons. 

Again, the Colts parted ways with Wentz after just one season. 

Survey past quarterback trades and there’s no obvious parallel, perhaps except the Jaguars dumping another former Eagle, Nick Foles, a year after signing him to a four-year, $88 million deal. Last year, the Rams acquired Matthew Stafford because they wanted to move on from Jared Goff. The Jets traded Sam Darnold so they could draft Zach Wilson. The Kansas City Chiefs traded Alex Smith because Patrick Mahomes was ready to take over. Joe Flacco? Lamar Jackson. Heck, even Wentz’s trade to Indianapolis was done largely because Jalen Hurts had won over the Eagles’ locker room.

There have been other types of quarterback trades here and there — the Broncos traded Jay Culter after he demanded out, the Dolphins traded Ryan Tannehill to rebuild — but rarely do teams just seem to give up on a quarterback like the Colts just did with Wentz

And that’s who the Commanders are getting. 

“It’ll be interesting to see how he grows from this,” Ballard said last week of Wentz. “I think he will.” 

Ballard told reporters that he thought most of the criticism lobbied Wentz’s way has been fair.  This past season, Wentz was blamed for a poor Week 18 showing that ultimately cost the Colts a spot in the postseason with a stunning loss to then 2-14 Jacksonville Jaguars. But according to reports, the Colts’ decision to move on from Wentz wasn’t solely based on that collapse. 

Colts owner Jim Irsay told The Athletic his team needed more “warriors” — a comment that could very well be taken as a condemnation of Wentz. It wouldn’t be the first time that Wentz’s leadership was questioned as the issue was raised periodically over the last few years of his time with the Eagles. Players like Jason Kelce and T.Y. Hilton have publicly defended Wentz, but the perception exists.  It was only further highlighted this year when Wentz refused to get vaccinated — with analysts blaming the quarterback for not putting others, like his team, first. 

“The reality is that it seems the Colts are more disappointed in the person than they are the player,” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky said on “Get Up” this week. “He must be — I don’t want to be a jerk — but he must be a dud in the locker room for them to give up what they gave up for him … and also be like, ‘Nope, it’s time for us to move on.’”

Add it all up and this trade appears to be more of a stopgap than a solution for Washington. It’s never a good sign when one of the selling points of the deal is that if it doesn’t work out, the Commanders can easily get out from under it. (None of the money remaining on Wentz’s contract is guaranteed after this year.) 

Yes, Wentz has traits that make it easy to see why Washington was interested. There’s the arm strength and ability to improvise. He also comes with a decent resume. When the Eagles won the Super Bowl to cap the 2017 season, Wentz put together an MVP-like campaign and led Philadelphia to an 11-2 start before tearing his ACL. And last year, even with all the inconsistency, Wentz made strides in getting back to that sort of peak —  he threw 27 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

But for months, coach Ron Rivera said they were going to be aggressive in landing a franchise quarterback. And while the Commanders chased Russell Wilson — offering three first-rounders only to be rejected — they settled for Wentz

Washington is no closer to clarity at quarterback ahead of Rivera’s third season at the helm than in his first. And the longer he goes without a viable solution, the more scrutiny the coach will receive.

The trade for Wentz shouldn’t — and likely doesn’t — preclude Washington from seriously drafting a quarterback with the 11th overall pick. If that happens, it’ll only be natural to wonder how Wentz will react. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported last year that one of the reasons Wentz wanted out from Philadelphia was because of the Hurts selection in the 2020 draft. 

Still, Wentz didn’t thrive in Indianapolis despite the Colts reuniting him with coach Frank Reich, the Eagles former offensive coordinator who told reporters at the combine that he “stuck his neck out” for Indianapolis to acquire Wentz.

The reunion didn’t go as planned.

“If we finished the season the way we’re supposed to, (we’re) probably not having this discussion,” Reich said. “But we have to take ownership of that. … always say the coach and quarterback are under the most scrutiny, so we live with that and move forward.”

Sounds pretty fair. 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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