The Eagles benched Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts during Week 13’s loss to the Packers in Green Bay. The first big question was whether Hurts would become the starting quarterback going forward for the 2020 NFL season. That was answered by Hurts. The next, bigger question is whether this means the Eagles will be trying to move on from a struggling Wentz in 2021.
According to a report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen before Week 17, Wentz plans to request a trade in the offseason because of a “fractured” relationship with head coach Doug Pederson. Pederson, despite leading Philadelphia to victory in Super Bowl 52 three seasons ago, is also on the hot seat for a disapponting 4-10-1 record — tied greatly to the consistent poor play of Wentz.
So the Wentz vs. Hurts decision comes with more weight than which QB gives the Eagles “the best chance to win games” down the stretch with the NFC East title still somehow within reach.
But cutting ties with Wentz next offseason wouldn’t be easy, given his hefty contract. The Eagles’ only option there is to trade him to a willing suitor that thinks they can get him back to MVP form with his arm and athleticism. If it chooses to deal Wentz, Philadelphia can do it, thanks to two ideal teams leaning toward being QB-needy in 2021.
The Broncos should have some uncertainty on whether second-year QB Drew Lock is their answer and may explore their options next year. The Colts have neither Philip Rivers nor Jacoby Brissett signed for 2021 and are coached by Frank Reich, Wentz’s former QB coach with the Eagles.
The Bears also need a quarterback solution after it hasn’t worked out with 2017 first-rounder Mitchell Trubisky and former Wentz Eagles supersub Nick Foles. But they are in a bad cap situation, only slightly better than the Eagles, to the point they need to find a cheaper rookie solution early in the draft instead.
Here’s a look at how Philadelphia can get out of Wentz’s contract and how either Denver or Indianapolis could make it work to acquire him:
How can the Eagles afford to trade Carson Wentz?
The Eagles cannot cut Wentz and shouldn’t want to, anyway, knowing he can return some good value, even up to a first-round pick. Releasing Wentz soon after the league year starts in March would cost them $59.2 million in dead money and include an extra cap hit of $24.5 million, according to OverTheCap.com. Trading him still costs the Eagles $33.8 million in dead money, but that with comes with a cap savings of almost $853,000 in 2021 and, more important, greater cap relief over future years vs. still paying Wentz through 2024.
Although it’s not ideal to eat that dead money now, it’s also not smart continuing to pay and play Wentz if the team doesn’t feel like he can rebound into its true franchise QB. The Eagles also shouldn’t want to be locked into a contract that limits their spending elsewhere on top of it if Wentz isn’t close to delivering the return on investment.
With how much guaranteed and up-front money is in Wentz’s current contract, the trading team would get a more reasonable deal in relation to the market. Wentz would be signed for four years at $98.4 million. That $24.6 average annual salary would drop rather significantly from the $32 million mark it was initially for the Eagles.
Why the Broncos make some sense for Carson Wentz
Broncos GM John Elway hasn’t been afraid to make constant big changes looking for a reliable QB post Peyton Manning. He’s invested in veteran bridge quarterbacks ad also taken shots early on drafted QBs, such as first-rounder Paxton Lynch and second-rounder Lock.
Going after Wentz is a different, in-between approach. Wentz, who turns only 28 in late December, would give the Broncos a QB with some past success who has the talent and physical tools to return to playing at a high level. In the right offense elsewhere, Wentz can enjoy a Ryan Tannehill-like resurgence. Wentz, with size and toughness that should appeal to the Hall of Famer Elway, had some real interest from the Broncos in the 2016 draft — before they took Lynch 24 picks later at No. 26 overall.
The Broncos project to have more than $25 million available under the cap for 2021, which could change based on the league’s adjustment for lost 2020 revenue. There are also some big contracts they could cut to make more room for Wentz, led by cornerbacks A.J. Bouye and Kareem Jackson, who are set to count a combined $21.5 million toward the cap.
Denver also could think draft again or tap into a different, cheaper QB reclamation in project in free agency, such as Cam Newton or Jameis Winston. Wentz isn’t the most cost-effective option for the Broncos, but it’s one that they should explore if they like his upside to help them better compete with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs in the AFC West.
Why the Colts make most sense for Carson Wentz
Reich got the best play out of Wentz when he was in Philadelphia under Pederson. Neither Rivers, who got $25 million on his one-year deal in 2021, nor Brissett are worth bringing back. Rivers, who turns 39 on Tuesday, is clearly a bridge vs. anything close to a multiple-season solution.
The Colts are also sitting on nearly $68 million in salary cap space. Only the rebuidling, bottom-feeding Jets and Jaguars have more available to spend on their roster in 2021. Given how much they gave Rivers, the Colts would definitely be comfortable with that $24.6 million number for several seasons. Should Wentz return to form with Reich in their QB-friendly, run-heavy offense, the Colts also have flexibility to bump his contract back up in a year or two.
In Indianapolis, Wentz would inherit a good offensive line (even if it must replace left tackle Anthony Castonzo), a strong multiple-tight end system and a versatile receiving corps. He would benefit from a team that uses its backs well in the passing game and can balance him out in the running game. There would be no concern over schematic transition for a reunion with Reich.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard has proved he is willing to be aggressive on the trade market. His move for big-money former 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner has paid immediate dividends with a run-stopping and pass-rushing force for their front seven.
Many of Wentz’s problems in Philadelphia are tied to shaky line play related to injuries, inconsistent usage of the backs and tight ends and lack of wide receiver reliability. Wentz needs to be lifted up by better supporting personnel and a more efficient system, which the Colts can provide in spades with Reich.
The Eagles have had bad fortunes with Wentz when they thought he would put it all together again in 2020. Luckily, they can get out of his contract in a move that can turn into a win-win for them and a potential trading team, with the bonus of reasonable draft pick compensation in return.