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The Biggest Winner of the Carson Wentz Trade Is Carson Wentz

If anyone can fix the former no. 2 pick, it’s Colts head coach Frank Reich

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Finally, Carson Wentz got exactly what he wanted. It might even be exactly what he needed. On Thursday, the Eagles traded Wentz to the Colts, reuniting the 28-year-old quarterback with Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich, who was Philadelphia’s offensive coordinator during Wentz’s dazzling 2017 campaign. The move represents the life raft Wentz desperately needs to buoy his sinking career.

The Colts received Wentz in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick—the second-rounder can become a first-round pick if Wentz plays 75 percent of Indianapolis’s snaps or if he plays 70 percent of snaps and the Colts reach the postseason. The Eagles will incur a $33.8 million dead cap charge, the largest in history, for Wentz after moving him. Philadelphia made out with some useful draft picks for a QB coming off his worst pro season, while Indianapolis gets an immediate replacement for the retired Philip Rivers. But the biggest winner of the deal is Wentz.

In 2017, Wentz looked primed to become one of the NFL’s best passers, but he hasn’t been the same since suffering a torn ACL that year. Things reached a nadir this past season, when he looked out of sorts on the field and was benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. The fallout this offseason has included coach Doug Pederson being fired and Wentz getting traded from the franchise he helped position for its first Super Bowl win. His reunion with Reich offers him a chance at recapturing anything left of his past form and, more importantly, his confidence.

The environment in Indianapolis will be about as ideal as possible for Wentz. There are a handful of QB-needy teams this offseason, and hardly any offer the type of conditions that the Colts do, the kind that can instantly help a QB succeed. Indianapolis’s offensive line was one of the NFL’s best last season and the Colts have an intriguing collection of playmakers in both the passing and running game. A pass-catching core of Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, and Jack Doyle represents an upgrade from the Eagles’ receiving group (especially if free-agent wideout T.Y. Hilton returns to Indianapolis), while Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins form a dynamic and deep backfield. The Colts were above average offensively last season, ranking 12th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Their defense was even more formidable, finishing seventh, and is set to return most of its starters, including star defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and linebacker Darius Leonard.

Over the past few weeks, there were reports that the race for Wentz had come down to the Colts and the Bears, though Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that Chicago never made an offer. The Bears would have provided Wentz a reliable defense to lean on, but not as encouraging an offensive setup. A key factor in that is the presence of Reich, who helped both Rivers and Andrew Luck immediately experience an uptick in efficiency under his tutelage in Indianapolis. The Colts are hoping he can do the same for Wentz.

Just two seasons ago, Wentz became the first QB to throw for 4,000 yards without a single wide receiver amassing 500 yards, helping the Eagles to a third consecutive postseason appearance. After ranking as Pro Football Focus’s no. 6-graded QB in 2017, Wentz finished 14th (out of 39) in both 2018 and 2019 before falling to 34th (out of 42) last season. Between 2018 and 2019, Wentz completed 66.2 percent of his passes, threw a touchdown on 4.8 percent of his passes and an interception on 1.4 percent of his throws, and posted an adjusted net yards per attempt of 7.4. That’s probably the level of play that’s more reasonable to expect out of Wentz moving forward, which is roughly average QB play, even if the floor of last year’s season—when he completed only 57.4 percent of his passes, threw 16 touchdowns and a league-high 15 picks (3.4 percent of his passes)—is impossible to ignore.

There’s plenty that Wentz needs to correct, and he’ll have to do the work. As USA Today’s Mark Schofield wrote after news of the deal broke Wentz looked like a player who didn’t trust his team’s play-calling or its receivers. To resurrect his career, Wentz will have to regain his confidence.

Wentz never had it too easy in Philadelphia. The Eagles traded two first-round picks to move up to select Wentz, a North Dakota State product, with the no. 2 pick in the 2016 draft. After watching backup Nick Foles guide Philadelphia to a Super Bowl while he was recovering from a difficult knee injury, Wentz suffered a vertebral fracture in his back the following year that cut his season short. He managed to stay healthy in 2019, and muscled Philadelphia back into the postseason only for the franchise to draft Hurts in the second round. The difficult twists and turns that have defined Wentz’s career to this point can’t be completely dismissed.

Indy is the exact reset that Wentz needed. He has a team that won’t rely on him to be a superhero, a fan base that won’t be so vocal if he makes mistakes, and a coach who helped him reach the highest level of his career. That doesn’t mean there isn’t pressure on Wentz to figure things out sooner rather than later. The Colts will be incentivized to move on from him if he isn’t performing, because if he’s in the lineup for more than three quarters of the season, they will surrender a first-round pick next year instead of a second-rounder. According to Spotrac, Indianapolis can get out of Wentz’s expensive contract next year and incur no dead cap charge. This is a make-or-break year for Wentz.

Since it became obvious that the Eagles would move on from Wentz this offseason, it always seemed likely that he would wind up in Indianapolis at some point. Earlier news on Thursday might have triggered the move—the NFL sent out a memo to teams officially setting this year’s salary cap floor at $180 million, and shortly after, the Wentz deal was agreed to. Even after the deal, the Colts are still projected to have the fourth-most cap space ($53.9 million) of any team this offseason, per Spotrac. With a handful of veteran QB options on the market—including Jacoby Brissett, who was Indianapolis’s backup in 2020 after starting 15 games for the team in both 2017 and 2019—perhaps the Colts could still be in play to land a fail-safe for Wentz. Indianapolis was one of several teams that pursued Matthew Stafford in a trade earlier this month, although the franchise reportedly didn’t offer up the no. 21 pick of the 2021 draft, suggesting that it wouldn’t overpay for an immediate starter.

There’s debate that the Colts did overpay for Wentz, but realistically, their options for a starting QB were limited considering the veteran options left after Stafford was dealt. Indianapolis picks too low in the first round for it to contend for one of the top four QB prospects of this class, the guys who could immediately make a difference for a team coming off a wild-card appearance. So for everyone involved, this trade made a lot of sense. But no one should be happier about it than Wentz, who’s been handed a tremendous lifeline, the only one that gave him a legitimate shot at being the Carson Wentz of old.