After weeks of speculation, the Colts and Eagles finally got a deal done. Carson Wentz is reuniting with HC Frank Reich in Indianapolis. In return, Philadelphia got the Colts 85th overall pick in this year’s draft along with a conditional 2022 second-round pick. That conditional second-rounder can turn into a first if Wentz plays at least 75% of the snaps or 70% of snaps and the Colts make the playoffs in 2021.
The Colts are hoping that Wentz can return to his MVP-level form of 2017 when Reich was the Eagles OC, and aren’t really making that big of a bet that he’ll get back to his old self. The third-round pick that they gave up in this year’s draft combined with the conditional second next year is a low-risk, high-reward proposition for a 28-year-old starting quarterback.
If Wentz plays up to his talent level, the Colts get the long-term solution they have been looking for after starting stop-gap options Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers over the last two seasons. And if Wentz continues to regress, they have outs. The Colts can pull the plug on Wentz in Week 12 this season to avoid that conditional second round pick tolling over into a first in 2022 and they can get out from underneath his contract without too much of a salary cap hit. This year, the Colts are on the hook for $25 million worth of Wentz’s extension that he signed 20 months ago. Coincidentally, that is the same exact amount that the Colts just paid the 39-year-old Rivers for his one season as the starter in 2020.
GM Chris Ballard still has work to do, though. The Colts have to replace All-everything LT Anthony Castonzo after he retired this offseason and they still need a few more weapons. T.Y. Hilton will turn 32 this fall and is a free agent. Zach Pascal is also hitting the open market along with tight ends Mo Alie-Cox (as a restricted free agent) and Trey Burton. However, Indy has plenty of room to build around Wentz. After the trade, the Colts still have $43.7 million in cap space according to Over The Cap — which is fifth-most in the league.
As for the Eagles, you can’t help but feel like they are a rudderless ship meandering through the easiest division in football. 14 months after giving Wentz a new extension worth up to $128 million, they decided to take Jalen Hurts in the second round. And after Wentz faltered behind a crumbling offensive line and all of his receivers got injured (again), the Eagles just gave up. Owner Jeff Lurie ostensibly blamed Doug Pederson and Wentz for the team’s struggles and not the man who built the roster in the first place, GM Howie Roseman. Now, the Eagles roster is filled with aging veterans with bloated contracts and now the team has to eat $33.8 million in 2021 just so Wentz isn’t on their roster. They are headed towards a full-on teardown of the fabric of the roster Roseman has spent the last few years trying to build. At the very least, the team still got two premium picks for Wentz and his contract. And if Wentz plays well and stays healthy this season, that extra first-rounder will pay dividends for the Eagles rebuild.
Of course, there is the elephant in the room: Can Wentz return to form?
Who is the real Carson Wentz?
Much has been made of Wentz’s supporting cast in 2020, and rightfully so. The Eagles brought back future Hall-of-Famer Jason Peters in July and then lost Andre Dilliard for the season in August. Guard Brandon Brooks also went down before the season started with a torn Achilles… and the Eagles’ solution at that point was to sign Peters to play guard, a position he had never played before (again, Peters moved back to tackle with Dillard’s injury).
Then, all of Wentz’s receivers got hurt. Again. First-round pick Jalen Reagor dislocated his shoulder in August and missed a bunch of practice and prep time in a shortened offseason. Then, in Week 2, Reagor tore ligaments in his thumb and missed a big chunk of the season. The Eagles were banking on DeSean Jackson being their field-stretcher, but that fell apart quickly after DJax suffered hamstring and ankle injuries. Dallas Goedert missed four games in Week 4-7 with an ankle injury and then Wentz’s old reliable weapon Zach Ertz went down with an ankle injury of his own.
There is no denying that Wentz had a bottom-5 supporting cast last season, through no fault of his own. But, we also can’t get around the fact that Wentz was one of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league independent of his ecosystem, either.
Outside of center Jason Kelce, the Eagles offensive line disintegrated last year and caused Wentz to be pressured on 37% of his dropbacks — which was the fifth-highest rate in the league, per PFF. While every quarterback’s numbers fall (to varying degrees) when under duress, I am far more concerned about Wentz’s accuracy and efficiency when he’s playing within structure.
Wentz’s accuracy and efficiency from a clean pocket (2016-20)
|Season||On-target throw%||Passer rating|
|2016||84% (18th-of-37 QBs)||89.1 (28th-of-37 QBs)|
|2017||88% (7th-of-38)||114.1 (3rd-of-38)|
|2018||86% (5th-of-38)||104.1 (18th-of-38)|
|2019||78% (29th-of-37)||99.9 (22nd-of-37)|
|2020||74% (last of 38)||83.5 (37th-of-38)|
(Data from Sports Info Solutions).
When he’s been given a clean pocket, Wentz’s accuracy (on-target throw percentage) and efficiency (passer rating) has declined for four straight seasons. Of course, former HC Doug Pederson’s play design and structure is a part of these numbers but there is nothing a coach can do to fix a broken quarterback’s accuracy. You can simplify reads and try to make life easier, but if you can’t hit an open receiver from a clean pocket, there are fatal problems.
Wentz was a legitimate MVP candidate in 2017 before he tore his ACL on a fluke play under Pederson and then-OC Frank Reich. Even though he missed much of the offseason and the Eagles first two games rehabbing his knee, Wentz continued that sterling play into 2018 before a back injury caused him to miss the team’s final three games. It’s completely fair to wonder if the result of two major back-to-back injuries have led to the decline in play we have seen from Wentz over the last two years. As you can tell from the table above, Wentz bottomed out last year — but the warning signs for a decline in play were there in 2019, too.
This trade will be the ultimate test in how much an ecosystem matters for quarterbacks. Our own Greg Cosell has often said something along the lines of “every quarterback is a system quarterback… even Aaron Rodgers.” Wentz is getting a big upgrade along the offensive line in Indy, but the Colts still need to surround him with more weapons.
Wentz’s fantasy impact on the Colts
One of the biggest differences we’ll likely see in the Colts offense going from Rivers to Wentz is fewer targets for their running backs. Rivers was captain checkdown last year, targeting his running backs on 20% of his attempts — tying for the fifth-highest rate in the league. Meanwhile, Wentz was far more aggressive downfield and threw to his RBs just 15% of the time (which ranked 18th). We are drafting Jonathan Taylor for his rushing upside anyway, but going from Rivers to Wentz certainly hurts the late-round appeal for Nyheim Hines. Rather quietly, Hines was third among running backs in targets last year (77).
Meanwhile, with Hilton, Burton, Alie-Cox, and Pascal’s contract status all up in the air, Michael Pittman is looking like a tremendous early value in best-ball drafts. Keep in mind, Parris Campbell is coming off of a gruesome knee injury, too. Even when the Colts add more competition or re-sign Hilton, Pittman can certainly pay off his ADP with a few spiked weeks as your WR4 or WR5 on your team. In fact, John Hansen took Pittman in the eighth round of a recent best-ball draft.
Jalen Hurts’ time?
For now, Hurts is penciled in as the Eagles starter in 2021… emphasis on “penciled.” There has already been speculation that the team is considering a quarterback at 6th overall and in what looks like a historically great class, I think that is certainly worth exploring. The only problem is that the Eagles have so many holes on their roster that need to be filled and trading down to a more QB-needy team for a ransom may be GM Howie Roseman’s best avenue to begin the rebuild.
If the Eagles do stick with Hurts, his appeal for our game is clear and obvious. Sure, he only completed 55% of his throws in his three full starts when he replaced Wentz in Week 14-16, but Hurts rushed for a whopping 238 yards and a score on just 38 carries in that stretch. You need your quarterbacks to have rushing upside to win fantasy leagues now, and we know for sure that is one thing Hurts can do. It’s a tiny sample, but in those three starts, Hurts finished as the QB10, QB1, and QB16 in weekly scoring and averaged 25.2 fantasy points per game largely because of his legs.
We’re going to see a massive bump in Hurts’ average draft position and I could see a point where Hurts’ hype gets too crazy this summer. For now, I bumped Hurts up to QB11 in our Staff Best-Ball Rankings and put him in a similar tier as Matthew Stafford and Tom Brady. I’ll be aggressive on Hurts if he settles in the 9th-10th round range.
As a part of the Eagles roster churn, their pass-catcher corps will undoubtedly look different in 2021. Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson likely won’t be back while Zach Ertz is reportedly on the trade block. All of this sets up for more targets potentially flowing to Jalen Reagor, who flashed a little bit in Hurts’ starts down the stretch. Reagor’s early ADP in BestBall10s is extremely palatable as the 48th wide receiver off of the board.
However, I’m most excited to just draft Dallas Goedert in the likely event that Ertz is on a new team this coming season. Over the last three combined seasons, Goedert ranks 6th according to PFF in yards gained per route run (1.63) behind only Jared Cook (1.81), Mark Andrews (2.17), Travis Kelce (2.20), Darren Waller (2.34), and George Kittle (2.79). Meanwhile, tight end is an absolute wasteland after Kelce, Kittle, and Waller are off of the board. Joe Dolan stole Goedert at the top of the ninth round in a recent best-ball draft. Goedert is going to be one of my main mid-round options that I’ll be targeting.