It is not often a once-heralded quarterback in the midst of his prime leaves the team he found all his success with. Quarterbacks leave those teams sometimes; last offseason saw several such transactions when Tom Brady left the New England Patriots and Cam Newton left the Carolina Panthers. But Brady is the exception to all rules and Newton is on the wrong side of 30, so it's hard to say he left in his physical prime. Quarterbacks who have exhibited both quality play and measurable success in their mid-to-late-20s just don't go elsewhere because their teams will do anything to keep them around. But it is the rare circumstance indeed that brings together the confluence of factors required for a team to move on from a quarterback who brought them success and has the potential to do so in the future while he's at a ripe age for football players.
Yet such is what happened this past week when Carson Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts by the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for a third-round pick and a second-round pick that could become a first-round pick next year. The reasons for why Philly wanted to move on are obvious; Wentz was very good in 2017, then slowly declined over the next two seasons thanks to injury before it all culminated in a horrific 2020 season that saw Wentz lead the league in interceptions despite getting benched after 12 games. They also had a backup in Jalen Hurts who looked like he could be an upgrade if he were given the starting position for more than four games. Wentz looked broken beyond repair, and that's why the Eagles shipped him off despite signing him a a massive contract extension with the intention of keeping him in green for his entire career less than two years ago.
Wentz will now attempt to find himself again and become the great quarterback everyone expected him to be quite recently. He will be aided in that effort by Colts HC Frank Reich. Reich is widely accepted as one of the league's better gameplanners and if anyone can fix Wentz, it's Reich, who also coached Wentz as offensive coordinator in his best season. Indianapolis didn't really have a choice, given they had no long or short-term answer at quarterback and Wentz was the most realistic option available for a cheap price and able to bring the team to great heights if he can regain his old form.
It brings to mind the Drew Brees situation in New Orleans 15 years ago. It's hard to imagine now, but there was a time where Brees was not in black and gold, playing with the entire population of New Orleans behind him. Brees started his career with the Chargers when they were still in San Diego and was decent; in four seasons as starter, Brees went 30-28 with 12,127 yards passing, 79 touchdowns, and 53 interceptions. He made the playoffs once with the Chargers but lost his first and only postseason game there.
The offseason leading into the 2006 season is when everything changed. The Chargers had a feisty backup and former first-round pick named Philip Rivers who they believed was ready for the full-time starting job. Coincidentally, Brees was also dealing with a serious injury at the time, dislocating his throwing shoulder while also tearing his labrum in the same shoulder in the final game of the 2005 season. With a QB ready to go and the Brees injury looking like a death knell for his career, the Chargers thanked Brees for his service and bid him adieu.
We all know what happened after that. Brees signed with the Saints, who had just hired a young offensive-minded coach named Sean Payton. Brees and Payton would become one of the best QB-HC combinations in football history and won the 2009 Super Bowl. They never managed to make it back to the big game but regularly engineered one of the league's most prolific offenses in their 14 years together. It was an all-time great free agent signing.
Now, there are obviously lots of differences between Wentz and Brees and their respective situations. Wentz doesn't have any serious injury to point to and explain why his team didn't want him anymore. He was acquired via trade and the Colts have a better team starting off than those Saints did. Reich is already fairly respected instead of an unknown quantity like Payton was.
But Indianapolis is trying to summon a similar energy. Both Brees and Wentz had serious question marks about their ability to be even average starting quarterbacks heading into their new situations. The pressure to deliver is enormous and the fate of the franchise rests on their shoulders. Both had offensive masterminds to help them along the way.
Brees immediately proved that every team in the league was wrong to not pursue him in free agency. He led the league in passing in 2006 and won 10 games while averaging an NFL-best 276 yards per game. Can Wentz do something similar? He's well-positioned to. The Colts have an excellent defense and high-quality offensive line to support him. The skill positions aren't stacked, but guys like Jonathan Taylor and Michael Pittman showed flashes last year that suggest they could be in for a prolific season next to Wentz. Indy has a winning team. Wentz just needs to step up.
There remains a realistic future in which we wonder how Wentz only went for a third and a second. It's less realistic that he plays well enough to justify the gigantic contract he has, but he showed what he could be under Reich three years ago. Everyone has left Wentz for dead. It's time for him to try and prove we were all wrong to do that. It's time for him to try to become the next Drew Brees.