NFLTR Review: Breaking Down The Carson Wentz Trade

     

Thanks for checking out another week of NFLTR Review! We’ve got an excellent issue in store for you today, including:

  • Breaking down the ramifications of the Carson Wentz blockbuster trade
  • Is Wentz that much better than Sam Darnold or Marcus Mariota?
  • Cam Newton’s cratering stock

Breaking Down The Wentz Trade

It might have been a couple of weeks later than we all expected, but the Eagles finally accomplished the inevitable and traded QB Carson Wentz. He lands with the team folks have been highlighting as the most logical destination for him since December, the Indianapolis Colts, despite a lot of speculation from Chicago IP addresses. 

So what should we make of this for both sides? First, let’s look at the return: 

Colts get: Carson Wentz

Eagles get: Colts 2021 3rd (No. 84), conditional 2022 2nd that becomes a first if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps OR if Wentz plays 70 percent of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs

At first glance, this looks like a couple of Day 2 picks for a quarterback Eagles GM Howie Roseman was reportedly trying to extract two first-round picks for a la Matthew Stafford. But the conditional 2022 second provides a path to a first-round pick. Wentz does admittedly have a significant injury history. But he’s been healthy enough to play a full 16-game season three out of five years in his career so far, including the last two. This is a very attainable condition for the Eagles and the Colts should plan on having to fork over their first next offseason. 

For the Eagles, this is about as good an outcome as you can hope for given the circumstances. It doesn’t absolve Roseman or the organization of letting things get to this point — it’s still a catastrophe Philadelphia is trading the guy they spent so much on in terms of picks and cash to be their savior, even if Wentz isn’t blameless in how things unfolded. But getting a first-round pick from the Colts when they appear to be the only team that was seriously interested, if reports of the Bears pulling out of talks are true, is some wizarding from Roseman. At the very least, you’d think the Colts would have tied the conditional pick to performance or team incentives as opposed to playing time. 

If Wentz is as good as they think he could be, that won’t matter. The Colts have been scrambling to find a franchise quarterback on the fly after Andrew Luck walked away from a potential contending team to retire during the 2019 preseason. Colts GM Chris Ballard has assembled a strong roster with a ton of cap space and stars on both sides of the ball. All they needed was a potential franchise quarterback to bring it all together and they’re betting on Wentz to be that guy. He played at an MVP-level before tearing his ACL in 2017 when Colts HC Frank Reich was calling the plays for the Super Bowl-champion Eagles. The plan is obviously to recreate that. 

The problem is — as anyone who watched a few minutes of Eagles tape in 2020 could tell you — Wentz was horrific last season. He took more sacks and threw more interceptions than anyone else despite playing only 12 games. Rudimentary reads and the most basic throws became Herculean challenges. He looked catastrophically broken, which is why he was available for trade in the first place given his contract. Even though reuniting Wentz with Reich makes a lot of sense, Indianapolis is taking a major risk by trading away a first-round pick and taking on more than $40 million in guarantees the next two years. 

The connections between Wentz and the Colts have been obvious for a while, and Ballard entered this offseason knowing he had to make a swing for a quarterback. But was this the best option? The Colts were reportedly involved in trade talks with the Lions for Stafford but they weren’t one of the finalists. Whatever they offered or weren’t willing to offer, it was behind what the Rams, Panthers and Washington all put on the table. Look at it this way: 

Team Offer
Rams
2022 1st, 2023 1st, 2021 3rd, Goff
Panthers
2021 1st (No. 8), 2021 5th, Bridgewater
Washington
2021 1st (No. 19), 2021 3rd
Colts
2021 3rd, 2022 1st

 

Is what the Colts surrendered for Wentz dramatically different from what those other teams gave up or were willing to give up for Stafford? Is Stafford a clear enough upgrade over Wentz that it would have been worth trying to beat the Rams’ offer, perhaps with a first this year and in 2022? I think there’s an argument to be made that going harder after Stafford would have been a better course of action than pushing the chips in on Wentz. But obviously the Colts didn’t feel that way. 

I won’t try to sell you on a trade for Jets QB Sam Darnold or Raiders QB Marcus Mariota. Both would have been a lot cheaper than Wentz but you get what you pay for. Had I been in Ballard’s shoes, I would have thought hard about taking those picks and trading up from No. 21 for a rookie. Using the Jimmy Johnson trade value chart, the Colts might have been able to get up in the 5-10 range with the same picks they dealt for Wentz. That might not be high enough for BYU’s Zach Wilson or Ohio State’s Justin Fields without another move, but it is high enough for North Dakota State’s Trey Lance

That’s not a foolproof strategy either. Rookie quarterbacks are far from a sure thing and Wentz is the latest example of a major trade up for a top quarterback not working out. The timing would be tricky too, as the Colts would have to wait until potentially the night of the draft to make their move so another team wouldn’t leapfrog them, at which point everyone would know the Colts were coming up for a quarterback and could price gouge. It takes an extra premium to get deals done when teams know you’re coming up for a quarterback. 

The Colts also clearly value and think highly of Wentz’s ability to win now even though he’s a reclamation project. By comparison, a rookie quarterback would push the team’s window to compete out another two or three years solely due to his development even though the rest of the team is ready now. While I’m personally high on Lance as a potential high-end starter, he’s coming in with only 17 starts under his belt at the FCS level. He would need extra time. 

The potential payoff of hitting on a rookie quarterback, whether Lance or nabbing Fields if he fell out of the top five, would have been huge for the Colts. They have a superb environment for a rookie passer to succeed in. It might have meant more delayed gratification as the rookie got up to speed, but in three years they could have been where they were when Ballard first took over — a team on the rise with a young franchise starter. 

Then again, there’s a considerable amount of risk with a rookie, as there is with Wentz. In the end, it comes down to the evaluation of the quarterbacks involved: Stafford, Lance, or Wentz. The cost to acquire those guys is secondary to whether or not they’re actually the right answer to the Colts’ quarterback questions. The Colts have made their bet on Wentz, taking into account upside, downside, trade costs, salary, logistics, scheme fit and everything else. Now, we all get to watch it unfold. 

Best-case scenario: Wentz rediscovers his MVP-mode under Reich’s influence, regains his status as a franchise quarterback and the Colts become Super Bowl contenders. 

Worst-case scenario: He can’t shake the yips and his relationship with Reich devolves the same way it did with former Eagles HC Doug Pederson

Most likely scenario? He’s somewhere in the middle, more at the level he played at in 2018 and 2019, which leaves the Colts with an average quarterback on a loaded roster that might not be all that different from where they’ve been the past two years. 

This Week In Football

  • There were a couple of interesting nuggets that emerged following the Wentz trade as fallout. First, the Colts reached out to the Raiders about QB Derek Carr before moving on to Wentz, showing the Raiders aren’t giving Carr up for just anyone and the Colts had other choices they looked into before Wentz. On the Eagles’ end, shipping Wentz out doesn’t necessarily guarantee 2020 second-round QB Jalen Hurts will be the starter, as Philadelphia plans to add competition, perhaps with the No. 6 pick? 
  • Rather than seek a trade and add another draft pick, even if it wouldn’t have been a high one, the Texans went ahead and cut DE J.J. Watt to let him pick his next team and go after a Super Bowl ring. Twelve teams were reportedly interested, with the Steelers, Bills, Browns and Titans in the mix. But this will come down primarily to Watt and what he wants. The Packers have been named as a contender, with the Bills and Browns also getting highlighted as places Watt would have interest in joining. From a contending and familiarity standpoint, the hometown Packers make the most sense. But they might have the lowest offer out of anyone due to their budget. The Bills and Browns are other contenders who can offer more money, so we’ll see. 
  • Anyone monitoring the quarterback carousel this offseason should have had an immediate alert when Steelers GM Kevin Colbert blatantly didn’t commit to QB Ben Roethlisberger being back in 2021. The two sides need to rework Roethlisberger’s contract which currently counts for $41 million against the cap to create space and bring him back. On the surface, it should be relatively easy to work out. Pittsburgh can turn Roethlisberger’s salary into a signing bonus and add voidable years to spread it out and push the hit into a year where the cap isn’t dropping. Roethlisberger has even said he “doesn’t care about his pay at all” which suggests he’d be fine taking some kind of below-market-deal. The fact that hasn’t happened indicates there’s something we don’t quite know yet about how Pittsburgh and Roethlisberger are approaching things behind the scenes. 
  • The Panthers aren’t often mentioned among the leading contenders to trade for Texans QB Deshaun Watson if and when he becomes available. But what’s crystal clear is that the Panthers are in the big-game market at quarterback and it’s being driven by owner David Tepper. Watson won’t be cheap, but Tepper also won’t balk at the cost if that’s what it takes. 
  • Denver is another team that will pursue Watson if he’s available as a clear-cut upgrade to QB Drew Lock. Beyond that, however, it’s not clear that Denver is really interested in many of the other options who are available. They weren’t interested in Wentz and are lukewarm on guys like Mariota and Darnold. If the Broncos strike out on Watson, which is likely given the other teams expected to be involved, it looks like Lock will have another season to try and make his case as a potential starter. 
  • Bears WR Allen Robinson could very well be the best free agent on the market at the start of the league year in a few weeks. He’s not any closer to a long-term deal with the Bears than he was in September because the two sides haven’t had any further discussions since then. It’s hard to see Chicago letting him walk for nothing, which makes the franchise tag a looming possibility. But it’s also hard to see Robinson remaining a Bear for much longer. 
  • Wentz won’t be the only significant player the Eagles trade this offseason. Talks for TE Zach Ertz heated up some, with the Colts and Seahawks both rumored to be involved. Ertz had a challenging 2020 due in part to injuries and he has a somewhat substantial $8.25 salary in 2021. But he still should be able to fetch some kind of return in a trade, as other teams besides Indianapolis and Seattle should be interested. 
  • Washington is in that weird middle tier of teams that need a quarterback but don’t have a ton of easy answers in terms of draft position or the available options via trade. One that they’re apparently intrigued by is Raiders QB Marcus Mariota, who has sparked some trade interest following his one appearance in 2020 where he looked dynamic as a runner and competent as a thrower. That would be an interesting fit for OC Scott Turner’s spread offense and would add a mobile element far beyond what they’ve had. 
  • The NFL tweaked the salary cap floor, pushing it up from $175 million to $180 million and giving every team some much-needed extra breathing room in what’s going to be a challenging offseason for bookkeepers. The final salary cap could come in a little higher than this number, but it’s still expected to be a brutal offseason for cap cuts. A few teams have already started. The Panthers released DT Kawann Short and the Falcons cut S Ricardo Allen, a team captain, and DL Allen Bailey. Expect many more of these moves in the coming weeks. 

The Big Picture: Public Opinion On Quarterbacks This Offseason

We’ve already had three big-name quarterbacks move teams this offseason. We still have free agency, the draft and potentially more trades to come in what’s shaping up as an earth-shaking offseason in terms of quarterback movement. 

We thought it would be interesting to have readers weigh in on some of the big questions sparked by all this quarterback drama, so we designed five polls on five topics. They aren’t super scientific polls, but the results are interesting, so let’s dive in. 

Which trade offer would you have taken as the Lions for Stafford? 

-74 percent to 26 percent in favor of the Rams’ offer

The Panthers made a hard run at acquiring Stafford from the Lions and a lot of folks on Twitter thought they came with the better offer. If the Rams’ picks remain as late as they plan on them being, they roughly add up to Carolina’s top-ten selection. It would have also given Detroit a heck of a bird in the hand with the No. 7 and No. 8 picks back to back this April. 

But the Lions elected for the two in the bush by taking on Goff’s contract to get that second first-round pick, with only an extra third-round pick this year to give up Stafford. And most of our respondents actually agreed with that approach. Detroit is looking at a long-term rebuild, so having picks that far out isn’t necessarily an issue. And while the Rams certainly look like a Super Bowl contender in 2021, things change quickly. The Eagles didn’t think they’d be picking in the top ten after winning the Super Bowl three years ago. Houston didn’t expect the second first-round pick it traded to the Dolphins for LT Laremy Tunsil to be No. 3 overall. The Rams’ current situation is a little bit like a house of cards, and if it comes tumbling down, it’s the Lions who will reap the benefits. 

And not for nothing, while the second first-round pick was included in the deal to compensate for taking on Goff’s contract, he’s shown a little bit more potential upside as a passer than Bridgewater even if both are ultimately just game managers. 

Which quarterback would you draft with the No. 2 pick?

– 60 percent to 40 percent in favor of Wilson over Fields

Wilson has seen his stock continue to heat up at a precipitous pace. Entering the season, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence was generally seen as the consensus No. 1 option, with Fields potentially having an outside chance to close the gap or cement his status as the No. 2 option. Now Wilson has come hurtling in from out west with weekly highlights that looked ripped from a Patrick Mahomes sizzle reel. In fact, some teams even reportedly like him more than Lawrence!

Current betting odds have Wilson as the current favorite to be the No. 2 quarterback off the board, and our poll found a solid majority of folks prefer Wilson over Fields despite the latter’s longer history of production against better competition. How the draft actually shakes out is still up in the air, though, as the only evaluation that matters is the team that’s on the clock. 

Setting aside cost, which quarterback would you trade for as your 2021 starter?

– 40 percent for Wentz, 35 percent for Darnold, 25 percent for Mariota

This trio marks the second or third tier of quarterbacks available via trade this offseason to other teams searching for a starter. And while Wentz was predictably the highest vote getter and the first one to find a new team (though technically Darnold has yet to be put on the block), it’s interesting to note how close the vote was overall. If this was a Georgia election it would have gone to a runoff. 

Wentz has hit peaks that Darnold has never even sniffed in his three years in the league so far but Darnold has also seldom looked as horrendous as Wentz did in 2020, which might be why the two are separated by just five percentage points. There’s a widespread belief in the league that getting into a healthier environment and away from Adam Gase would do wonders to help Darnold unlock the potential that made him many evaluators’ top-rated QB prospect in 2018. History says it’s a longshot, though. 

Mariota is a clear third as he only appeared in one game for the Raiders after losing his job with the Titans. That one performance was intriguing enough to create what appears to be a legitimate trade market for Mariota given the Raiders won’t carry him at his current salary as a backup. He’s still young and theoretically could develop more, assuming he can stay healthy which is still a valid question. And his mobility is as good as ever, as he ran for 88 yards and a touchdown in his one game in 2020. 

While we said to disregard cost in the answer, this is where it factors in. Wentz cost a first and a third. Darnold will likely go for around a second in the estimation of many league insiders. Mariota can be had for a fourth or fifth-round pick. That’s something to consider if they’re really grouped together this tightly. 

Which is the better landing spot for a quarterback?

  • New England Patriots
  • Washington Football Team

– 60 percent for WAS, 40 percent for NE

Both the Patriots and Washington will be looking to find a new franchise quarterback despite finishing 7-9 and picking well outside the top ten. The two franchises are in similar positions but with wildly different long-term outlooks as this poll shows, which is just fascinating to think about given their history. 

You look at New England, which has been the best-run team of the past 20 years. The results speak for themselves, six Super Bowl wins in nine appearances, 13 conference championship appearances including eight in a row from 2012 to 2018, and 18 out of 20 seasons with double-digit wins. 

But one year of 7-9 without Tom Brady and all of a sudden there are loads of questions about if Bill Belichick can sustain that success. Plenty of other coaches from his tree failed when they went elsewhere and tried his style, Patriot Way, no day’s off, do your job, etc. But what if the secret sauce making all that work for Belichick was Brady? It doesn’t help that the skill positions for New England have been almost completely devoid of talent the past few seasons. The arrow is pointing down right now and it’s not clear if the next quarterback will have the support needed to turn it around even with one of the greatest coaches of all time. 

On the other hand, Washington has been one of the worst run franchises in the NFL in that same time span. In fact, owner Daniel Snyder continues to blunder about. He’s promised to stay out of the way of new HC Ron Rivera when it comes to meddling in personnel decisions, but do we trust that to last? 

Regardless, it’s still hard not to be sucked in by what Rivera built amidst a host of challenges in his first season. He had multiple off-the-field scandals from before he joined the team, oversaw the business side for months until Washington hired a new team president which was not in the job description he signed up for, and dealt with quarterback issues, injuries, no offseason to implement his new program and a cancer diagnosis. 

Despite all of that, Washington was competitive and spunky, finishing 7-9 and making the playoffs thanks to winning the worst division of all time — the 2020 NFC East. Beyond the playoffs, it was the fight and progress his team showed with developments from a number of younger players. A legitimate quarterback would make Washington the outright favorite in the NFC East, and compared to the Patriots their arrow is pointing up. Where things go next depends on what each team ends up doing at that position, as they’ve been connected to some of the same players including Mariota, Cam Newton and Alabama QB Mac Jones

Which low-cost veteran quarterback would you target as a potential starter?

– Fitzpatrick 44 percent, Winston 38 percent, Dalton 12 percent, Newton 6 percent

None of these guys are going to be sought out as long-term starters at this point, and none of them really have much of a prospect for a really long career from this point with the exception of Winston. But all of them could be bridge quarterbacks to the next option for a team and are options that some teams will explore as starters. 

If our readers were running a team and needed to dip into this pool, it’s clear they’re feeling the FitzMagic. He should shake free from the Dolphins this offseason and will add another team to the long list of places he’s started. He is what he is at this point, he’ll alternate stretches of legitimately great play with just boneheaded mistakes. 

It’s notable to see him over Winston by a fair amount actually given the stark difference in their age (Fitzpatrick is 38, Winston 27). Outside of that, the two are pretty similar in a lot of ways. Both have a gung-ho style and have games where they will just completely blank out and throw the ball to defenders instead of their own receivers. Winston has been a prolific passer in the past though and will be a pet project for a lot of coaches who think they can iron him out, starting with Saints HC Sean Payton

Dalton and Newton are a clear several pegs below and Newton arguably is in a third tier given he got half as many votes as Dalton. The former long-time Bengals starter is clearly a limited player but he’s steady and experienced and would be a high-end backup for anyone. Newton’s fall from grace continues to be stark. His standing in this poll could match his standing in league circles, by some accounts, and it’s not out of the question he has little to no interest as a free agent. Which is ridiculous. 

I could rant a long time about Cam Newton. His raw passing stats were gross this past year in New England but I think there were signs aplenty that in an offense with competent skill position talent, he could have a late-career resurgence similar to Steve McNair with the Ravens. He deserves a chance to try and prove that. 

Check This Out

  • We’ve got a few pieces that will make you smarter overall as a football fan looking at parts of the game that just aren’t talked about that much. For instance, what happens when a player tears their ACL? What does the procedure and recovery look like, especially now as modern medicine has turned what once was a career-killer into something a lot less frightening. The Athletic’s Matt Barrows has the answers to those questions as he talks to the man who repaired both Nick Bosa’s and Solomon Thomas’ knees. 
  • NFL teams do a fair amount of shuffling of their own on the offensive line, which hasn’t done a lot to dissuade fans who can do it seamlessly in Madden from the idea that many offensive line positions are interchangeable. But the Athletic’s Stephen Holder talks to the experts to explain why, for instance, moving All-Pro G Quenton Nelson isn’t an easy solution to the Colts’ left tackle problems, and in the process provides a terrific look at the intricacies of playing guard versus tackle
  • Finally, Matt Mullin of the Philly Voice takes a look at just what went wrong between the Eagles and Wentz, in a very creative format.
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