Will Carson Wentz be fixed by trade to the Colts?
By Geoff Schwartz
FOX Sports NFL Analyst
Carson Wentz, once the face of the Eagles franchise, is now a former Philadelphia quarterback.
According to Adam Schefter, the Eagles have agreed to trade Wentz, a former No. 2 overall pick, to the Colts in exchange for a third-round pick in the upcoming draft, as well as a 2022 second-round selection that could turn into a first-rounder.
In dealing for Wentz, the Colts are showing that they believe the 2017 Pro Bowler can be "fixed." Wentz was an MVP-caliber quarterback four years ago before he tore his ACL late in the '17 season — in which the Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl with Nick Foles under center.
In 2020, Wentz posted the worst numbers of his career (16 touchdown passes and 15 interceptions) and was replaced in the final month of the season by rookie Jalen Hurts, the Eagles' second-round pick. Turnovers have plagued Wentz, and his 22 interceptions and 13 fumbles the past two seasons were among the primary reasons he lost his starting job.
With a fresh start, can Wentz become the quarterback he was in 2017? Let’s explore it.
The Eagles mortgaged their future draft capital to trade up for the chance to pick Wentz in 2016, making him their quarterback of the future. After a rookie season that had its bumps and bruises, Wentz looked like a great investment in 2017, ranking sixth out of 42 graded QBs, according to Pro Football Focus.
Wentz averaged 9.3 yards per attempt, had a passer rating of 125 and was a leading MVP candidate that December. Even with Wentz injuring his knee in Week 15, a talented Eagles squad secured the top seed in the NFC. We all know how that season ended. Led by Foles, Philly beat the Patriots in a shootout to win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.
When Wentz returned in 2018, his play declined some, which was understandable, considering he was coming off a major knee injury. Nonetheless, the Eagles signed him to a monster extension and hoped he’d return to his 2017 form in 2019 and beyond.
That hasn’t happened. Instead of building on some success from a 2019 season in which the Eagles won the NFC East, Wentz went the opposite direction in 2020. He was flat-out bad, ranking 28th of 29 quarterbacks in expected points added (EPA) and near the bottom of the PFF rankings.
It’s difficult to recall another young quarterback who declined so drastically. And while Wentz is largely to blame for his failures, it would be unfair not to discuss his coaching, injuries and the lack of roster development around him. Those all play a factor in his shortcomings, but ultimately, his play is his responsibility, and the Eagles have now moved on.
The Colts will hope Wentz can recreate his early-career success. However, I’d be reluctant to expect greatness from him moving forward.
Recent history proves first-round draft picks at quarterback can join a new team and flourish. Alex Smith, who improved mightily over his seven seasons in San Francisco, was traded to the Chiefs and immediately became an above-average quarterback. Ryan Tannehill, who showed potential in Miami before injuries ended his time there, has become an outstanding quarterback with the Titans.
However, neither of those players reached the peak Wentz did before he hit rock-bottom. Both QBs gradually improved, found new homes and took off. It’s hard to find a comparison for the career rehabilitation project the Colts would hope to pull off with Wentz.
If we look at Wentz's 2017 season as the outlier of his career — instead of the expectation — it makes the potential of his play in a new home clearer. The folks at PFF put together a few handy charts to show that his 2017 season was, in all likelihood, an exception instead of the norm.
The things Wentz did well in 2017 — big plays, turnover-worthy throws, third-down and under-pressure throws — are typically not sustainable over the course of a career. So, if you’re bringing in Wentz, you can reasonably expect to "fix" him only enough to reach a league average level or maybe just above.
Wentz is good enough to help a team such as the Colts, which will surround him with talent and coaching. But it’s far from a guarantee.
Other factors to consider are his personality and mindset. There’s too much smoke around the stories about Wentz as a teammate to not believe there’s some fire there. Wentz is from a small town in North Dakota. He has trouble connecting with teammates, and he isn't the type of fiery leader players gravitate toward.
To be fair, plenty of quarterbacks are not "fiery," but when things go wrong or they play poorly, leaders are able to pull a team together. It appears that Wentz was never able to do that in Philadelphia, and there isn't much evidence to suggest that a change of scenery will help.
You could reasonably argue that Wentz can improve on everything I’ve written up to this point. With a great Colts offensive line, a running game, healthy receivers and Frank Reich running the offense, Wentz could be successful. As he matures and spends more time with teammates, he could become a better leader.
But when it comes to dealing with adversity, such as when the Eagles drafted Hurts, Wentz didn't respond well. It has been extensively reported that Philly's move upset Wentz. Fair enough.
Aaron Rodgers was angry when the Packers drafted Jordan Love in the first round. I’m sure Alex Smith wasn’t happy when the Chiefs drafted Patrick Mahomes. Heck, no one is happy when his replacement is drafted. I lived that life for almost my entire eight-year NFL career.
But like Rodgers, who won his third MVP this season, and Smith, who had his best season after Mahomes was drafted, most of us use that as motivation. Forget the team. I’m keeping the job. I’ll show them.
It appears Wentz went the opposite direction. His confidence fell. His play suffered. He lost connection with his coaches and teammates. And this came after the Eagles committed to him financially. He should have been able to brush that off and continue to improve.
This is what worries me most about trading for Wentz. What happens if the Colts draft his future replacement? Does Wentz go right back into the tank? Does it bother him enough that his confidence — an athlete's most important trait — sags again? We only have the history behind us, which shows how internal competition negatively affected Wentz’s production.
I’m rooting for Carson Wentz. He appears to be a good dude. People I’ve talked to who have played with him have nothing but kind things to say. But if you’re trading for him, you should understand the risk. He’s unlikely to reach the peak production of his 2017 season ever again.
Geoff Schwartz played eight seasons in the NFL for five teams. He started at right tackle for the University of Oregon for three seasons and was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection his senior year. He is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports.