All Carson Wentz and the Colts had to do to secure a trip to the 2021 playoffs on Sunday was beat the Jaguars, who entered Week 18 as the worst team in the entire NFL. Instead, they got routed in a game they were favored to win by two touchdowns, and the Steelers‘ win over the Ravens later in the day confirmed Indianapolis would spend the postseason at home.
Wentz, in particular, had a big hand in the season-ending defeat, with a pair of second-half turnovers. His 2021 numbers were respectable on the surface: 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in a winning 18-game season. But the former Eagles signal-caller also missed big chunks of practice time this year, whether due to offseason foot surgery or multiple battles with COVID-19 without a vaccine. And he was notably uneven in Indy’s divisional matchups.
There’s no denying Wentz is a serviceable starter; he proved, with a change of scenery, that his 2020 turnover spree in Philly was an anomaly. But we now have plenty of evidence that his 2017 MVP run was also an anomaly. Colts general manager Chris Ballard, meanwhile, isn’t going to rush to judgment here a year after spending a first- and third-round pick to acquire Wentz.
Still, in an unprecedented time of veteran QB movement, it’s fair to wonder if Colts brass have any buyer’s remorse and, more importantly, any realistic paths to upgrade under center.
Odds are Indy will follow in the footsteps of the Browns, another AFC team that just missed the playoffs and is set to give veteran Baker Mayfield at least one more audition despite a middling year. (And 2022 will likely be a make-or-break year for both Wentz and his biggest advocate, coach Frank Reich.) But let’s say Ballard wants to explore alternatives right away. Can he?
Yes. Absolutely. Unlike in, say, Cleveland, where the Browns would not save anything by cutting Mayfield, the Colts owe just $15 million guaranteed on the remainder of Wentz’s four-year, $128M deal — originally signed with the Eagles. That may sound like a lot, but Wentz is owed a total of $28.3M in 2022, meaning Indy could release Wentz and instantly save $13.3M. That’s not even accounting for the $53.4M they’d also save from 2023-2024, the final two non-guaranteed years of his deal.
There’s also the possibility of a trade. Wentz’s market wasn’t overwhelming after 2020, and one of his other suitors — the Bears — has since added a QB of the future. But a number of others — the Broncos? Washington? Panthers? Steelers? — figure to be hunting for veteran help. And from Ballard’s perspective, what if Russell Wilson becomes available at the right price? If the Colts could find a reasonable taker for Wentz, they could trade him and instantly save $28.3M, or the entirety of his remaining deal.
The real dilemma surrounds the feasibility of clearly upgrading from Wentz, who — like the Vikings‘ Kirk Cousins and Raiders‘ Derek Carr and so many other QBs in their weight class — relies more on his surroundings than perennial MVP types. The financial hoops aren’t difficult to jump through for an escape. But to whom can the Colts escape? That’s the question they’ll ask themselves.