NFL Personnel Sources: Colts Likeliest Partner If Eagles Deal Wentz
On Jan. 24, just 13 days after the Eagles fired head coach Doug Pederson, the team announced that Nick Sirianni would be their new head coach.
The team interviewed several candidates over the near two-week search amid an uncertain quarterback situation, as Carson Wentz had not spoken publicly since being benched after a Dec. 6 loss to the Green Bay Packers that dropped the Eagles to 3-8-1, even as local and national media reports leaked that Wentz’s relationship with Pederson was strained.
The team’s firing of Pederson and hiring of Sirianni, with whom Wentz has no prior history, hasn’t moved the quarterback to end his public silence, except for a brief social media post congratulating Eagles safety Rodney McLeod for being the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award nominee.
Wentz’s distancing from the franchise has left the Eagles in an unenviable position of deciding to either trade him and absorb the largest dead money cap hit (over $33m) in the sport’s history or hold on and try to mend the relationship.
But the feeling from some high-ranking NFL personnel sources who have spoken to Inside The Birds’ Adam Caplan and Geoff Mosher recently is that the Eagles will eventually wind up moving Wentz despite the massive cap hit that comes from the four-year extension Wentz signed in 2019. Wentz has a $10m fully guaranteed roster bonus due on the third day of free agency (3/19). So it's logical to think that if the Eagles wind up trading Wentz, they'll do so before the $10m becomes due.
Multiple league sources, including a high-ranking executive from a team that attempted to trade for Matthew Stafford and a high-ranking executive from a team with an entrenched quarterback, told ITB that they believe the Colts are the most logical landing spot for Wentz.
The reasons: The Colts have an ample amount of projected salary cap space, a major need for a starting quarterback, and some coaching staff familiarity with Wentz.
Colts head coach Frank Reich served as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator under Pederson from 2016-2017 and developed a close rapport with Wentz, who played at an MVP level in 2017 before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December that sidelined him for the team’s Super Bowl run. One source said that Reich was like a "big brother" to Wentz.
The Colts are also reportedly expected to add former Eagles pass-game coordinator Press Taylor to the staff. Taylor was Wentz’s position coach for the past two seasons in Philadelphia and sources have told ITB that Taylor and Wentz developed a close bond during their time together.
The Colts, who pick 21st overall in April’s NFL Draft, aren’t well positioned to use the draft to replace Philip Rivers, who recently became second Pro Bowl quarterback in two years to retire from the Colts.
Andrew Luck retired in August of 2019, leaving Indianapolis to forge ahead with backup Jacoby Brissett for a season.
Brissett’s contract is set to expire at the start of free agency on March 17. Second-year pro Jacob Eason, a fourth-round pick last April, is the only quarterback under contract for the Colts in 2021.
Colts general manger Chris Ballard has shown aggressive trade tendencies. Last year, he dealt the 13th overall pick to San Francisco in exchange for Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Bucker.
The Colts, who currently have just two players slated to carry a cap number above $10 million in 2021, will be well under the projected cap, even if the cap plummets to a $175 million floor because of lost revenues from the pandemic.
Sources indicate that the Colts should have a minimum of $55-60 million in cap space, an advantage over other quarterback-needy teams that aren’t as financially equipped to trade for an established quarterback, such as the Bears, who are projected to be tight against the cap. However, the Bears shouldn't be ignored in a potential acquisition for Wentz just because of a potential cap issue. Bears general manager Ryan Pace, according to a league source, was believed to be high on Wentz for the 2016 NFL Draft, but he was long gone (went off the board at No. 2) by the time the Bears picked at No. 9. The next year they traded up for quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who wound up not having his 5th-year option picked up last year and is slated to become an unrestricted free agent. The only quarterback under contract for the Bears in 2021 is journeyman Nick Foles. The 10th year signal caller is due a $4m fully guaranteed roster bonus on the 5th day of free agency (3/21) along with $4m in base salary, which also becomes fully guaranteed on 3/21. And it's also worth noting that Bears quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo was the Eagles quarterbacks coach for Wentz's first two seasons with the Eagles. So, like with the Colts, there's at least some coaching familiarity.
The high-ranking personnel sources also say they believe the Eagles are willing to pull the trigger on a deal for Wentz, even though Howie Roseman, the team’s executive vice president of football operations, in his last press conference on Jan. 4 said a Wentz trade “is not anything we are talking about right now.”
Sources told ITB that Wentz’s name came up during the team’s interviews with head coach candidates. The team wanted to hear ideas from prospective head coaches on how to repair Wentz, who posted career lows in completion percentage (57.4 percent), passer rating (72.8), passing yards per game (218.3) while being sacked an NFL-most 50 times in 12 games.
But sources also said team brass never told candidates that Wentz would definitely be on the team in 2021.
At his introductory press conference Friday, Sirianni dodged several questions about Wentz, telling reporters that he needed to watch tape and make evaluations on all Eagles players before making any decisions.
Sirianni didn’t commit to Wentz – or anyone else – as his starting quarterback this coming season. Sirianni said he had talked to Wentz, saying the two had “good conversation.” Sirianni also said new offensive coordinator Brian Johnson had also talked to Wentz.
Sirianni said he’s “excited” to work with Wentz but also noted earlier in the press conference that Wentz and Jalen Hurts, who started the final four games of the year, are both “top-notch quarterbacks.”
He added. “A lot of teams don't have any. Just really excited to work with both of them.”
– Geoff Mosher (@geoffmoshernfl) and Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) are hosts of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and staff writers for InsideTheBirds.com.
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