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The Indianapolis Colts have a potential wild-card element that will impact the quarterback carousel if the front office decides to go in another direction at the position.
Days after the Colts’ season ended, general manager Chris Ballard didn’t want to comment on Wentz’s future with the team, which led to leaguewide speculation.
Last offseason, Indianapolis acquired Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-rounder and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that became a first-rounder once Wentz played 75 percent of the snaps. In Week 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, he had a poor performance, throwing for 185 yards, a touchdown and an interception with a 58.6 percent completion rate. He also gave away a possession on a fumble. The Colts lost the game, and their playoff hopes went down the drain.
Even though Wentz doesn’t deserve all the blame, that’s how it works for quarterbacks in crucial spots. They’re praised in victory and take the brunt of responsibility in defeat. As a result, the Colts may have seen enough to move on from the 29-year-old signal-caller.
Colts quarterback Carson WentzIcon Sportswire/Getty Images
According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen via Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith, the Colts will “probably” trade or release Wentz by March 18.
Despite Wentz’s awful finish to the 2021 season, he had a decent year, throwing for 3,563 yards, 27 touchdowns (10th-most leaguewide) and seven interceptions with a 62.4 percent completion rate. He tied for ninth in QBR (54.7).
Taking a closer look at the Colts offense, Wentz posted solid passing numbers with just one reliable pass-catcher in Michael Pittman Jr., who registered 88 receptions for 1,082 yards and six touchdowns. Aside from the second-year wideout, no other player on the roster topped 40 receptions or 384 receiving yards.
Sure, Wentz made costly mistakes (interceptions) that factored into losses to the Tennessee Titans (Week 8) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 12), and he should’ve had a better showing against the lowly Jaguars, but the athletic big-armed quarterback would still have solid value on the trade or free-agent market.
Nate Atkins of the Indianapolis Star suggests that the Colts can make a trade more palatable for suitors if they restructure Wentz’s deal, but he could have some say about his next career stop.
The Colts won’t be able to flip Wentz for a first-round pick, but they can likely command a third-rounder, and three teams should inquire about him at that price.
Denver Broncos quarterback Drew LockJamie Schwaberow/Getty Images
The Denver Broncos should take an aggressive approach in a plan to acquire Wentz. They have a projected $38.1 million in cap space, per Over the Cap, so they wouldn’t have an issue absorbing his contract.
This past season, the Broncos gave up the third-fewest points and ranked eighth in yards allowed. They’ll have a quality core of players on the defensive side of the ball next season in defensive tackle Shelby Harris, defensive end Dre’Mont Jones, edge-rusher Bradley Chubb, cornerback Pat Surtain II and safety Justin Simmons.
Even more appealing to Wentz, he would have a loaded pass-catching group with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Tim Patrick and KJ Hamler at wide receiver along with tight end Noah Fant. The Broncos can also take some pressure off of him with Javonte Williams, who racked up 903 rushing yards and four touchdowns while averaging 4.4 yards per carry in 2021.
Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor HeinickeDustin Satloff/Getty Images
Along with the Broncos, the new-look Washington Commanders should make a call for Wentz. According to the MMQB’s Albert Breer, the NFC East club is “preparing to take a big swing” for a quarterback.
With $31.9 million in projected cap space, the Commanders have Taylor Heinicke as the only signal-caller under team control in 2022. He threw for 3,419 yards, 20 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2021. Washington can move him into a backup role behind Wentz, who’s a clear upgrade.
Nevertheless, the Commanders may have to convince Wentz that they’ll add another playmaker on offense.
Aside from wideout Terry McLaurin, the club didn’t see much production out of its pass-catchers. With that said, if wide receiver Curtis Samuel bounces back from an injury-riddled 2021 campaign (missed 12 contests), he could add a spark to the short passing attack. On the flip side, Wentz would have a dual-threat running back in Antonio Gibson, who’s logged 2,373 yards and 21 touchdowns from scrimmage in his first two seasons.
If head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio can help a talented defense that features Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne find its 2020 form when the unit ranked top five in points and yards allowed, the Commanders would have some roster balance with Wentz’s playmaking ability on offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Kyle TraskMike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Unlike the Broncos and Commanders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have limited cap flexibility with a projected $3.1 million in cap space in large part because of the leftover cost from (now-retired) Tom Brady’s contract.
However, with some simple restructures, the Buccaneers can clear up to $67.8 million in cap space, which would give them more than enough wiggle room to acquire Wentz.
If available, both quarterbacks would have a big market. Watson’s future remains unclear because of 22 civil lawsuits and 10 criminal complaints filed by women alleging sexual assault and misconduct.
While the Buccaneers may aim high, Wentz seems like a more realistic target at great value if he agrees to rework his deal to facilitate a trade. His tendency to push the ball downfield fits head coach Bruce Arians’ deep-rooted aggressive coaching style.
The Buccaneers could lose several key offensive players in free agency, including running backs Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II, wideout Chris Godwin, tight ends Rob Gronkowski and O.J. Howard, guard Alex Cappa and center Ryan Jensen, but four-time Pro Bowl wideout Mike Evans remains under team control through the 2023 campaign.
Furthermore, if the front office chooses to restructure deals to clear cap space in win-now mode, Tampa Bay may be able to convince some of its impending free agents to re-sign on short-term deals. The club can also attempt to retain cornerback Carlton Davis, edge-rusher Jason Pierre-Paul and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who had key roles in last year’s fifth-ranked scoring defense.
In a quarterback-driven league, the Colts will have options if they place Wentz on the trade block.
In addition to the three teams listed, other quarterback-needy teams such as the Carolina Panthers, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers may do their due diligence on a player with a Pro Bowl season on his resume and a decent touchdown-to-interception ratio (140 to 57).
If not in Indianapolis, Wentz will have a third opportunity to reinvent himself as a starter elsewhere.
Maurice Moton covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @MoeMoton.