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Carson Wentz: Franchise QB or Salary Cap Liability?

Carson Wentz: Franchise QB or Salary Cap Liability?

In what has been a wild 24 hours for the NFL, Carson Wentz has been dealt to a new team yet again, this time being the Washington Commanders. The trade details are as follows:

Colts Receive: 2022 third-round pick, 2023 third-round pick that can become a second if Wentz plays 70 percent of the snaps, 2022 second-round pick (#42 overall).  

Commanders Receive: QB Carson Wentz, a 2022 second-round pick (#47 overall), and a 2022 seventh-round pick

Just last offseason in February, Wentz was traded from his longtime home of the Philadelphia Eagles to the contending Indianapolis Colts. This move saw the Eagles give up Wentz and receive a 2021 third round pick, and a 2022 conditional second round, which ended up becoming a first after Wentz played more than 75% of the snaps this season. Of course, the Colts ultimately missed the playoffs and that pick went on to be the 16th pick in this year’s draft. 

Wentz’s impressive 27:7 TD:INT ratio aside, his inability to step up when the Colts needed him at the end of the season ultimately held back a talented and playoff-ready roster. The one year rental nature of Wentz’s tenure in Indianapolis is a surprise to many considering what they gave up. Among those surprised by the move and worried about Wentz’s future success is former NFL Head Coach and longtime Defensive Coordinator, Wade Phillips. 

“If Reich gives up on Wentz, that worries me,” Phillips said. “Everybody is looking for a quarterback right now and they think that is the answer to winning.

“If Frank is letting him go — a better QB evaluator (Reich) than me — He seems to think Wentz isn't good enough.”

Indianapolis will now be in the market for a fifth new starting QB in as many years. Following Luck’s retirement in 2018, they trotted out Jacoby Brissett in 2019, Phillip Rivers in 2020, and of course, Carson Wentz in 2021. Finding a franchise QB is very difficult to do in the NFL and now the Colts must look elsewhere to fill that need in a very limited QB market

For Washington, they’re betting on Wentz to provide some stability at the QB position, which is something they have lacked since the departure of Kirk Cousins prior to the 2018 season. Between Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Case Keenum, and Taylor Heinicke, Washington has had trouble finding their guy. 

Washington could still be in the market for selecting a QB with their No. 11 overall pick, but this trade may suggest that they were not infatuated with a weaker draft class at the position than previous years. The hope for the Commanders is that Wentz can be more consistent in 2021 and return to the type of player that Washington struggled to game plan against years ago.

Former NFL executive Joe Banner does not share the same faith that Washington does about Wentz being able to return to his play, stating that it has “been almost 5 years since Wentz looked like he could even be a quality starter, not to mention that he cannot stay healthy for long.”

Wentz, who has three seasons left on his deal, is worth $28,294,119 against the cap for the 2022 season. His base salary for this season is $22,000,001, but he also has a roster bonus of $6,294,118, which is due on March 19. 

As long as the trade is processed before the start of the league year, Washington will have to take on the roster bonus. 

This is the key part of the trade agreement, as Washington will be responsible for the entirety of his 2022 contract. Wentz’s cap number of $28,294,119 makes up more than 13.5 percent of their 2022 cap.

For Indianapolis, they will benefit from getting out of the bad deal they made last offseason, as they will not be responsible for covering Wentz’s contract in 2022 or any years after, incurring $0 in dead cap moving forward. With Wentz’s cap number off the books, they will enter FA and the QB market with the most amount of cap space of any team in the entire league at just under $70 Million.

This move is very reflective of the Colts' view on Wentz, considering the state of QBs in the NFL right now. With Brady out the door and many other teams with question marks at the position, more and more teams need to fill holes at QB. 

We already saw big moves in the QB trade market last season with Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, and Sam Darnold changing teams. This season, particularly the last 24 hours, has been no different. The Packers locked up their franchise QB in Aaron Rodgers for another four years just hours before the Broncos made a blockbuster trade to acquire Russell Wilson from the Seahawks.

Considering the supply of quality starting QBs in the NFL is so low right now, it is clear how the Colts felt about Wentz being their QB going into 2022. 

Former NFL General Manger Mike Tannenbaum added that this trade is a “Great example of there not being enough starting-caliber QBs around the league.” He added that it is “remarkable that this is Wentz’s third team in three years.”

With an upcoming FA class highlighted by three other former high draft picks looking for another shot at starting quarterback jobs — Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubsiky, and Marcus Mariota — Washington clearly felt that Wentz held significantly more value than any of them.

With uncertainty in both Free Agency and in the draft, this move and the two big quarterback moves yesterday prove that in a league that heavily values QBs, there are not enough quality starting QBs to meet the large demand from the 32 teams.

Teams like the Colts, Commanders, and Broncos that were not satisfied with their QBs had to act fast. In the coming days and weeks leading into free agency and the draft, there will be more moves to come at the QB position. Names like Deshaun Watson, Jimmy Garappolo, Jordan Love, and Gardner Minshew could all be on the move, hoping to become the answer for a new team.