The NFL’s 2021 quarterback spin cycle hit another gear Thursday, news emerging that the Philadelphia Eagles had agreed to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts in a deal that had been widely expected following Philip Rivers’ retirement in January.
Indy fills what seems like its perennial hole under center, while Philly picks up two draft picks, per reports, to accelerate a rebuild in the aftermath of a four-win season and last-place finish in what was a putrid NFC East in 2020.
Though Wentz surely won’t be the last QB to need a change of address card this year, he should command headlines for the next few days – so no better time to examine who’s getting the best and worst of this transaction.
Wentz: He needed to start fresh coming off the worst season of his five-year career. He plummeted to career lows in completion percentage (57.4%), QB rating (72.8) and passing yards per game (218.3) in 2020 while tying for the league lead with 15 interceptions and absorbing an NFL-worst 50 sacks while the Eagles spiraled from perennial contender to a team tanking in Week 17 while Wentz watched in street clothes.
Now he’s reunited with Colts coach Frank Reich, who was Wentz’s offensive coordinator during his first two years in Philly, including the 2017 season when he seemed on track to win league MVP honors until a torn ACL in Week 14 prematurely ended his ability to contribute for the eventual Super Bowl champions. Wentz and Reich are also bonded by their Christian faith – and it should help Wentz knowing Reich still has faith in him coming off a campaign when he regularly made poor decisions on the field and looked to be suffering from a confidence crisis.
Jalen Hurts: A second-round pick in 2020 who replaced Wentz in the lineup to start the final four games, Hurts presumably enters 2021 as the Eagles’ new starter. As is often the case with rookie passers, Hurts was consistently inconsistent – but he did make some impressive throws for a team devoid of frontline receivers and brings a running element to the table that will take Iggles fans back to the days of Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb. Hurts ran for three touchdowns and averaged nearly 70 yards with his legs in his four starts. Still, it will be noteworthy to see what new Philadelphia head coach Nick Sirianni, who was just plucked from Reich’s staff, wants to do. He’s spent most of the last decade successfully collaborating with pocket passers like Rivers, Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett and could lobby for another given the Eagles select sixth overall in the upcoming draft.
Chris Ballard: Seemingly in scramble mode ever since Luck’s stunning retirement during the 2019 preseason, the Colts GM has capably filled his seemingly annual pothole once again. A year after signing an aging Rivers in free agency, Ballard appears to have found a longer-term solution in Wentz, who, per ESPN, will cost the Colts a 2021 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2022 second-rounder that could escalate to Round 1 based on how much Wentz plays in 2021. Ballard will lose a chunk of the cap space he so deftly accrues by taking on the remainder of Wentz’s four-year, $128 million extension. Still, for a loaded Colts team otherwise built to win now – a tiebreaker cost them the AFC South crown in 2020, when they barely lost at Buffalo in the wild-card round – Ballard has shrewdly answered his biggest offseason question without giving up anything close to what the Rams had to surrender for Matthew Stafford.
Lions GM Brad Holmes: While juxtaposing the Wentz freight, Detroit’s new personnel boss looks more clever than ever for extracting three draft picks, including two first-rounders, from the Rams in exchange for Stafford. Ballard and Holmes both willingly accepted questionable contracts – the Lions are now responsible for Jared Goff’s – but Holmes raked in quite a bounty to do so.
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49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo could be the next quarterback who finds himself with a one-way ticket. Ballard’s move shrinks the supply side of the vet QB equation while also establishing a nice framework for what San Francisco GM John Lynch might ask from potential suitors.
Teams seeking QB help in April: The 2021 draft could feature up to five passers in the first round – clubs like the Jaguars, Jets, Falcons, Panthers, Bears and Patriots all potentially in the market. Ballard’s move means those organizations have one fewer capable competitor to deal with.
Rookie QBs: This year’s incoming class of passers now learns that what was probably the most enticing opening under center league-wide has closed – though Ballard surely would have had to climb out of the 21st spot to get one of them. Welp, fellas, better chance now that Bill Belichick could be your first boss out of college …
Bears: Widely perceived to be the Colts’ primary competitors for Wentz’s services, a team that made an unexpected sprint to .500 and the NFC’s final playoff berth in 2020 must return to the drawing board as it looks to upgrade from Mitchell Trubisky, who’s headed for free agency, and Nick Foles.
Trubisky: Indianapolis seemed like a pretty good alternative for him, too – a potential opportunity to resurrect his career under Reich’s tutelage while playing with a much better supporting cast. Hard to see the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft returning to Chicago … though it’s equally hard to foresee him playing anywhere as an unchallenged starter in 2021.
Brissett: Luck’s replacement in 2019, when he started 15 games, any faint hopes Brissett retained that he might be restored atop the Colts’ depth chart are dashed. With free agency ahead, maybe he gets a shot in Chicago or New England. But it seems more likely he returns as Indianapolis’ backup.
Titans: They split with the Rivers-led Colts in 2020, but a better overall record in AFC South games gave Tennessee the division title even though Indianapolis had a matching 11-5 record. Rivers’ retirement briefly made the Titans look like runaway favorites for another first-place finish in 2021. That seems far less likely now.
Eagles: They rid themselves of an albatross contract and a player who had become problematic not 12 months after orchestrating a remarkable run to the NFC East crown (following a 5-7 start) as the presumed face of the franchise for years to come. Still, GM Howie Roseman probably took something in the range of 60 cents on the dollar to move Wentz coming off his worst year, and has to suck down a record $33.8 million cap hit while absorbing the dead money from Wentz’s signing bonus. Roseman also probably has a much bigger question at quarterback now than he did last month, even if this move was almost certainly incumbent. But a team that just had a three-season streak of playoff appearances snapped probably needs to come to grips with the fact it may not return for some time.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis
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