All signs are pointing to the Carson Wentz experiment ending in Indianapolis after only one season. The Colts traded for the quarterback last offseason despite his extraordinarily high price tag, both in terms of his salary and the draft picks given up to acquire him. For two-thirds of the season, it looked like reuniting Wentz with his old coach Frank Reich was a pretty good move. Then Indy spiraled in the last few games of the season, blowing multiple playoff-clinching games before it all came crashing down when they lost to the no-good, very bad Jacksonville Jaguars in the final week of the year to miss the postseason entirely.
Considering the Colts were a popular Super Bowl sleeper as late as Week 15, it's fair to categorize the end of their season as a meltdown. When meltdowns happen, changes are made. We heard some rumblings on Super Bowl Sunday that Indianapolis was thinking about trading Wentz for whatever they could find. The Athletic's Colts reporters, Zak Keefer and Stephen Holden, released an episode of their podcast on Monday expressing their beliefs that Wentz will be moved before the start of next season. The smoke is there, and you know what they say about that.
The Big Lead's Stephen Douglas rattled off some teams that may be interested in trading for Wentz when the news of his possible departure first broke. Now we look at the other side of things. If the Colts are moving on from Wentz, they presumably have a backup plan. Sometimes Wentz is very bad, buut his good days are better than the good days of many other starting QBs in the NFL. The Colts will not give that up if there's any uncertainty of what comes afterwards.
So who could replace Wentz? Any high-price acquisitions would be difficult because he has a $15 million dead cap hit in 2022 and the team trading for him may want Indianapolis to pay a chunk of his $22 million salary. The Colts are projected to have about $35 million in cap space this offseason, which will help. The draft is probably not an option given their lack of high picks. With all that in mind, here are three possible replacements for Wentz under center for Indianapolis.
The Colts are no stranger to blockbuster QB trades. They will likely be out on the Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes because they owe their first- and third-round picks this year to Philadelphia because of Wentz. They won't win a bidding war for Rodgers if they have nothing to offer for this year's draft. The Packers are looking to retool on the fly if they're forced to trade their franchise QB.
But Wilson and the Seahawks? A different matter entirely. There may not be the same level of bidding war for Wilson if Rodgers hits the trade market at the same time. And what will work in the Colts' favor is that Seattle GM John Schneider cares more for established talent than draft picks, as is evidenced by the way he's used draft picks to acquire talent over the years. The Colts have a lot of good players on defense and if Wilson is on the table the only untouchable should be Darius Leonard, whom the Seahawks wouldn't be super interested in anyway because they have Bobby Wagner. Sending out a few future firsts and young defensive talent might be enough to get Seattle, in need of a major overhaul on both sides of the ball but especially on defense, interested.
Mayfield is not officially available. He and the Browns had their conflicts this past season but Mayfield is a better option than the other QBs on the roster and if it stays that way he'll play out the fifth year of his contract in 2022, motivated to prove people wrong and make money. Cleveland shouldn't mind that too much because 2020 proved Mayfield is a good enough QB to operate in Kevin Stefanski's offense and make the playoffs. But there is a universe in which the Browns search for an upgrade this offseason. Should they successfully do so, Mayfield will hit the market and be sent to the highest bidder.
In that scenario, Indianapolis should do whatever they have to in order to get Mayfield. He obviously isn't a home run by any means, but is younger and currently less expensive than Wentz. The Colts get him under contract for a year at a reasonable price and can take a long, hard look at what Mayfield brings to the table in Reich's offense. If they like what they see, they'll get first crack at signing Mayfield to a long-term deal and their QB problem is solved. No more quick fixes. There is the clear downside that Mayfield is actually worse than Wentz and the Colts find themselves in the same position next year, but it's a risk worth taking considering the upside.
We'd be remiss to discuss possible Wentz replacements without mentioning the guy on the roster behind him right now. Ehlinger was a sixth-round pick in 2021, so the pedigree is lacking in pretty much all respects. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and the folks at Texas were very excited about his potential to turn around the program. Ehlinger didn't manage to do that but he played pretty well at points for the Longhorns over the course of his college career, peaking in 2019 when he threw for 3,663 yards and 32 touchdowns with 10 picks. Those numbers and his draft profile (NFL.com tabbed him as a career backup at best) are pretty much all we have to go on after he did not play a meaningful snap his rookie year.
The Colts clearly like Ehlinger, considering they waived 2020 fourth-round pick Jacob Eason to give Ehlinger the full-time backup job. Do they see something in him the rest of us don't? Maybe! As previously mentioned, the Colts wouldn't be moving on from Wentz unless they had a backup plan all but solidified. Perhaps they believe Ehlinger can keep the offense on track at a fraction of the price of Wentz. Not exactly a championship move but one that could make sense as the Colts try for a bigger fish next year.