Carson Wentz trade: Who are the winners and losers?

It is hard to think of a quarterback career arc analogous to Carson Wentz’s. In the span of three years, he went from leading MVP candidate on a team that went on to win a Super Bowl to arguably the worst full-time starter in the NFL. And he’s still just 28. All the things that accompanied that bizarre journey — the blockbuster contract extension just 20 months ago, the injuries and rapid regression, the drafting of Jalen Hurts — led to the implosion of what had once looked like a long-term marriage between the Philadelphia Eagles and a true franchise quarterback.

Wentz’s trade to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday is the next big spin of the dizzying quarterback carousel of 2021, but given what it may mean for the player — as well as the team he left and the one he is joining — it could be among the most momentous (pending a Deshaun Watson resolution).

We obviously can’t know for sure how this trade will work out, but we can take an educated look at the early fallout and prospects of Wentz’s move.

Winners

1) Carson Wentz: Wentz never made a public play, but his dissatisfaction with the Eagles has been obvious ever since Jalen Hurts was drafted last spring, and reached its pinnacle when he was benched late in the 2020 season. This trade to the Colts is a chance for a career renaissance from Wentz, whose regression last season was stunning, even when taking into account the Eagles’ numerous injuries. Consider these numbers: In 2017, with Frank Reich as offensive coordinator, Wentz threw 33 touchdown passes against seven interceptions while averaging 7.5 yards per attempt. Since 2018, after Reich left for Indy, Wentz has thrown 64 touchdown passes against 29 interceptions, with a 6.7 yards-per-attempt average. The presence of Reich, with whom Wentz enjoyed a good personal relationship and his best professional success, is only one of the factors that made the Colts the best spot for the former No. 2 overall pick. Wentz was sacked an NFL-high 50 times last season — that won’t happen behind one of the league’s best offensive lines. He will have plenty of young weapons, a familiar offense and the guaranteed starting job. And, not incidentally, a less aggressive fan base and media market. It’s on Wentz to show that the change of scenery was all he needed to repair his confidence and play, but for him, there was no better outcome.

2) Indianapolis Colts: They have an offensive line, receivers and running backs and a top-10 defense. This is a roster ready to win now, needing only the long-term quarterback solution Indianapolis has lacked since Andrew Luck stunned the league and retired. The Colts signed Philip Rivers last spring believing that they were a quarterback away from the playoffs. They were right and they were very close to beating the Buffalo Bills on Super Wild Card Weekend. Given the free agent and draft landscape, acquiring Wentz was easily Indy’s best option. If Reich can right Wentz, the Colts will have consistency at the most important position for years to come, and will be among the small handful of AFC teams that could challenge the Kansas City Chiefs. If the Colts can’t fix Wentz, they didn’t have to give up a top pick because the 2022 pick won’t turn into a first-rounder. If they can fix Wentz, that 2022 pick will be a low first-rounder and nobody will care because the Colts will be a playoff team for years. Indianapolis still needs a left tackle in the wake of Anthony Castonzo’s retirement, but keeping that first-round pick this season sure helps that process. This was a very good move for the Colts.

3) Jalen Hurts: Drafted last season to, at least in the beginning, be a gadget player and complement to Wentz, Hurts can now seize the starting job for the future. He completed just 52 percent of his passes, but his 354 yards rushing gave the offense a badly-needed spark late in a lost season. Assuming Philadelphia builds the offense around his skills — and doesn’t use the sixth overall draft pick in April on another quarterback — Hurts will have a chance to grow as the Eagles rebuild. How he responds to defenses that have some tape to prepare from will be telling about his long-term prospects.

Losers

1) Quarterback evaluators and people who grade drafts: Yikes. With the trade of Wentz, NOT A SINGLE QUARTERBACK drafted in the first round from 2009 to 2016 is still with his original team. That’s zero for 22, a batting average that would get someone fired if everyone weren’t in the same boat. Of course, some of those looked great in the short term — Wentz and his draftmate Jared Goff among them — but this NFL Research statistic shows how very hard and how very much luck is involved in landing a long-term quarterback answer.

2) Philadelphia Eagles: Let’s be fair. This can’t be considered a total disaster for the Eagles, considering that Wentz played a big role in Philly winning its first Lombardi Trophy in the 2017 season. The Eagles spent five draft picks to be able to take Wentz in 2016, which would be fine if everything that has happened since that Super Bowl had worked out. But it’s been a long downward spiral. The Eagles gave Wentz a $128 million contract extension less than two years ago. They are now taking a cap hit of nearly $34 million to move on. They did not get a first-round pick this year and only a second-rounder that can become a first-rounder depending on Wentz’s playing time — although, honestly, that’s not terrible, considering Wentz was a backup at the end of 2020. Worst of all, because the market was so small, Philadelphia had to send Wentz to the one place where he is most likely to have success, which means the Eagles could watch their former franchise quarterback flourish while they go through a rebuild. Many think pieces will be written about the decision to draft Hurts, which seemed to be the start of a poisoned relationship between the Eagles and Wentz that even the firing of Doug Pederson could not cure. It has to be weird to work at the Eagles right now — and know that both the quarterback and the coach who were supposed to be the franchise cornerstones for at least a decade are both gone. No way around it: This is a rebuild. Look for a slew of big-name cuts to come.

3) The market for Sam Darnold: If you’re the Jets, the compensation for Wentz probably doesn’t bode well for the return if New York decides to trade Darnold. As bad as Wentz was last season, over the course of his career, he has been better than Darnold, and the Eagles still did not get an outright first-round pick for him. If Darnold becomes available, there will probably be more suitors for him, but the Wentz deal shows a trade for Darnold won’t reap a windfall for the Jets.

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