NFL

Who is winning the Carson Wentz trade?

By Sports Desk December 17, 2021

The Indianapolis Colts pinned their hopes for the 2021 season on a gamble. It was an educated bet, one made in the knowledge that the last time Frank Reich and Carson Wentz were on the same roster, the results were remarkable.

Still, their decision to trade for Wentz, coming off the worst season of his career, represented a substantial risk. He was a quarterback at his lowest ebb, sacked a league-high 50 times while his 15 interceptions also led the NFL, one viewed by many as beyond repair.

Yet the Colts backed Reich, Wentz's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia in the 2017 season when the Eagles won the Super Bowl and the 2016 second overall pick played at an MVP level prior to a serious knee injury, to successfully resurrect his career, and were willing to give up a first-round pick to make that bet.

A first-rounder in next year's draft will head the Eagles way should Wentz play 75 per cent of the offensive snaps or if he plays 70 per cent of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs.

As of Week 14, Wentz has 97.5 per cent of the snaps and the 7-6 Colts would be in the playoffs as an AFC wild card if the season ended today. Put simply, the Eagles are getting a first-round pick back for a player they were desperate to get off the books.

So with the Colts firmly in the mix for a postseason berth and the Eagles, who themselves are in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the NFC, set to have three first-round picks come April, it begs the question, who is winning the Wentz trade?

A substantial turnaround

The raw numbers hint at a successful renaissance for Wentz, whose 22 passing touchdowns are the 10th-most in the NFL.

Meanwhile, he has done a much better job of taking care of the football, throwing just five interceptions. Of quarterbacks to have started double-digit games this season, only Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson (4) have thrown fewer.

He has thrown 12 interceptable passes this season, according to Stats Perform data, but his pickable pass percentage of 2.99 is the sixth-best among quarterbacks with at least 200 attempts.

While obvious improvements have been made in his ability to limit turnover-worthy players, the reality is that Wentz still struggles for accuracy.

Big moments proving too much

Wentz's completion percentage has improved to 63.3 from a dismal 57.4 last season. Yet that is still some way short of his 2018 zenith of 69.6, which is a clear outlier for a quarterback who has never at any other point sniffed the 70 per cent mark.

He is 25th among qualifying quarterbacks in that category, his disappointing numbers reflective of an inability to produce accurately thrown passes consistently.

Indeed, his well-thrown percentage of 76.1 is below the average of 78.4 for quarterbacks who meet that 200-throw threshold, with the Colts' success this season arguably more a product of a dominant run game than any career revival by Wentz.

The Colts lead the league in rush yards per attempt with 5.15 while registering the fifth most carries (383) in the NFL, with 15.1 per cent of those going for 10 yards or more. Only the Cleveland Browns (16.3 per cent) and the Eagles (15.3 per cent) have done a better job at creating explosive runs.

Indianapolis' prowess running the ball has minimised Wentz's shortcomings. Yet in the situations where the pressure is in his face or on his shoulders, those failings are magnified.

His well-thrown percentage dips to 66.2 when under pressure from the opposing pass rush (the average is 69.3), and when asked to deliver in tight games Wentz has been unable to rise to the challenge.

Wentz and the Colts are 1-4 in one-score games this season, with all five of his interceptions coming across three of those defeats. He also lost a fumble in losses to the Baltimore Ravens and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his three turnovers critical in a 38-31 reverse at the hands of Tampa.

The evidence in that sense points towards Wentz's improved 2021 being a product of his situation, rather than his own merits. When the team has needed him to elevate them to victory in tight games, he has fallen short. There are plenty of quarterbacks who fall into the same bracket, but they did not come at the cost of a first-round pick that could prove key to the Eagles turning things around.

Eagles have crucial flexibility

The Eagles could be deemed unfortunate in potentially having three first-round picks in a draft class that is not regarded as being anywhere near as strong at quarterback as the 2021 crop.

Yet the progress 2020 second-round pick Jalen Hurts, who took over for Wentz last year, has made in his second season gives them the flexibility to potentially use that capital to either build around him or parlay those selections into a blockbuster trade for another quarterback.

Hurts' numbers as a quarterback - 60.1 completion percentage, 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions - are nowhere close to those of Wentz. Yet a 79.9 well-thrown percentage points to him having superior accuracy to that of his predecessor, while he adds significantly more as a runner.

Only Lamar Jackson (767) has more rushing yards among quarterbacks than Hurts (695), who leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns for players at the position with eight.

With a quarterback whose diverse skill set matches the direction of the modern game, the Eagles can use their premium picks to fill the holes on the roster around him to improve Hurts' situation or package him with some of that draft capital to land a quarterback who can quickly turn them into contenders again.

Indianapolis' room for manoeuvre comes in the form of close to $60million in salary cap space, yet they are in a position where they will be building around a quarterback playing well enough to deserve to be the starter in 2022 but with an obvious ceiling.

The Colts are in the better spot in the race for this year's playoffs and have the better team right now, yet the ultimate impact of the Wentz trade could be that it puts the Eagles in a position to leapfrog Indianapolis and their former franchise quarterback in the ranks of contenders.

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