ASHBURN, Va. — Washington’s COs landed their quarterback. But has their three-decade search come to an end or has it just, once again, been put on hold? At worst, negotiating for Carson Wentz gives Washington time to continue looking for its long-term solution.
This trade to the Indianapolis Colts could be the first step toward a longer-term solution: The Commanders, who have started 32 quarterbacks since the franchise won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, could still write another one. They could move on after a year of Wentz, with no cap penalty, if he doesn’t perform. Or they could stay with him for a few years if there is no better option. In other words, they’ve found their guy for now. Beyond that? Wait and watch.
The cost wasn’t substantial but it wasn’t insignificant either — teams traded second-round picks in 2022 and Washington also gave up a third this year and a conditional third in 2023. Wentz didn’t no guaranteed money beyond this season.
He was the second overall pick in 2016, but things turned sour for him in Philadelphia, and a year was enough in Indianapolis to move on. But in Washington, he still represents an upgrade. That’s how bad the quarterback game for the Commanders has been in recent years.
Wentz comes in with plenty of questions: Why would a team that traded him a first-round pick a year ago give up on him so quickly? After all, a former Philadelphia coach, Frank Reich, was his coach with the Colts — though that may not have been Reich’s decision. Owner Jim Irsay wanted Wentz gone.
There are questions about what happened at the end of Wentz’s Eagles tenure, his contributions to it and how he was received in the locker room. There are questions about the state of his game – is he the same exciting quarterback he was in Philadelphia before suffering multiple knee and back injuries?
Wentz has a lot to prove. Washington too.
He had good numbers last season: 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 54.7 total QBR that ranked ninth in the NFL. But he and the Colts stumbled badly losing the final two games of the season, including an ugly 3-14 loss to a Jacksonville team to miss the playoffs.
As frustrating as the end of the season has been for the Colts, Washington hasn’t had a quarterback sniffing the kind of numbers Wentz has delivered since Kirk Cousins in 2017 when he threw for 27 touchdowns, 13 picks and ranked 17th with a QBR of 56.2. Since 2018, Washington ranks last in combined total QBR as well as touchdown passes (71). The NFL average for touchdown passes during this period? 104.8.
It’s no coincidence: since 2018, six teams have a lower winning percentage than Washington (.369).
Washington inquired about Aaron Rodgers from Green Bay and offered Seattle three first-round picks for Russell Wilson. He also considered pursuing Deshaun Watson from the Texans. After missing Wilson, Washington turned to Wentz because he can move (1,276 career rushing yards), is experienced and successful.
Wentz will cost $28 million of the $35.5 million in salary cap space Washington has, according to Roster Management. Washington will have to take other steps to add aid. For starters, it’ll cut Landon Collins’ security and save him $6.6 million or take a pay cut to lower his $16.2 million cap.
If Washington drafts a quarterback, sources say the team would like to combine similar styles. Wentz has the traits to make plays out of pocket, as does the 2022 outlook Malik Willis, Desmond Cavalier, Sam Howell and Matt Coral. Kenny Pickett can also move and is someone whose maturity and experience Washington really appreciates.
But now they don’t have to draft a quarterback with the No. 11 pick unless they really like one. In this scenario, why not? Get the problem solved.
They can also benefit if one of the best quarterbacks is available at No. 11, prompting another team to trade. That way, Washington could either add more capital into a 2022 draft that has excellent depth beyond the first round, or add more picks for 2023 in case it wants to move up to the quarterback draft.
But it’s also about building a team that the best players want to join.
Seattle let Washington know it strongly preferred to trade Wilson to the AFC, but with a no-trade clause, Wilson could have canceled the deal with Denver — if he wanted a different team. He wanted Denver. That’s the goal of commanders: to create this kind of situation.
Washington coach Ron Rivera has reason to be optimistic, but that doesn’t mean the outside world shares it. Some do: Former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum told ESPN last week that he likes Washington’s roster and, along with Wilson, would be a real contender for the NFC title.
But others see a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2016 and have questions among the talented players. Receiver Curtis Samuel, if healthy, would help next season. Receiver Dyami Brown, if he develops, could add success on the field. Tight end Logan Thomas, if he recovers from his torn ACL in time, is a formidable target. Running back JD McKissic, if he re-signs, is one of the best third backs in the NFL. If the defense bounces back, it could be a top 10 unit.
That’s a lot of ifs. In a year ? After another offseason of strengthening weak areas and a 2022 season that features more wins than losses, the situation could be very different.
Keep this in mind: In the NFC, there is a lack of top quarterbacks. There’s Rodgers, Matthew Stafford (Rams), Dak Prescott (Cowboys) and then lots of questions. Wentz in the NFC is very different than he is in the more competitive AFC, where there are a lot more top quarterbacks.
After hitting Wilson, Washington found a guy. Wentz now has to show he can be The Guy. Otherwise, the Commanders can advance as fast as the Colts.