What's the next step for the Commanders/Wentz relationship?
In March, the newly-minted Washington Commanders traded for former Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz, and the news sparked mixed reactions across the NFL landscape. For more than a few analysts and fans, the Wentz story was too played out: a new team taking a chance on the former second-overall pick in hopes that he can return to his MVP form of 2017.
And with Week 15 on the horizon, the doubts of the skeptics have mostly come to fruition. In six starts this season, Wentz posted a 2-4 record, throwing 10 touchdowns to six interceptions with a QB Rating of 84.1 — his third lowest in a single campaign. After a hand injury forced Wentz out of action, former Old Dominion record-breaker and XFL backup Taylor Heinicke has navigated Washington into the driver’s seat of the NFC wild card race, currently 5-1-1 as QB1 in 2022.
While portions of the Commanders fanbase call for the stronger-armed passer in Wentz to return to the starting lineup, after his elevation back onto the active roster, Head Coach Ron Rivera confirmed that the North Dakota State product will serve as QB2 behind Heinicke until the results force a change.
Therefore, whether fans like it or not, Rivera and company must — at the very least — consider the possible routes for the team’s relationship with Wentz moving forward. Does he compete for the starting job in 2023? Do they release him before next season for salary cap purposes? Do they seek a trade partner? There’s a legitimate justification for each of these probable options.
Option 1: Keep and compete
When it comes to the mental makeup of Carson Wentz, this area has widely been one of the most critiqued of him as a player. In 2020 with Philadelphia, Wentz was benched midway through the season in favor of then-rookie Jalen Hurts, and reports at the time indicated that Wentz’s response to the move was less than favorable. After being traded to Indianapolis, rumors of leadership issues once again arose around Wentz, which was linked to the team’s decision to move on from him after just one season.
That’s why this first option of retaining Wentz to compete with (presumably) Heinicke and rookie Sam Howell is an unlikely scenario, as history would suggest. However, the argument could be made that Wentz’s abilities as a teammate have matured since then — he’s had nothing but supportive things to say of both Heinicke’s play and Rivera’s decision to roll with the hot hand.
If the Commanders’ coaching staff decides Wentz has a real shot at starting in D.C. again, keeping the existing quarterback room together and allowing each member to grow together and battle in an open competition for the starting job is a no-brainer. After all, out of the three aforementioned passers, Wentz is the most experienced and arguably possesses the most talented arm. Those factors alone would make any staff take a longer look at a decision such as this one.
Option 2: Release and reload
Since Rivera arrived in Washington, the Commanders have been notable for entering each offseason in the top half of the league for available cap space and placing a focus on building through the draft and addressing needs that way, as opposed to signing aging veterans in free agency (i.e. the selections of LB Jamin Davis and CB Benjamin St-Juste in 2021).
Therefore, if the Commanders’ coaching staff decides that it’s time to move on from Wentz, releasing the veteran before next season would save $26,176,471 against the cap in 2023 and $27,235,294 in 2024, leaving behind no dead money either year. The only consequence the front office would be left to face is the loss of a third-round pick in the upcoming draft (which would’ve turned into a second-round pick had Wentz played 70 percent of the team’s offensive snaps this season).
A Wentz departure would leave Washington with a quarterback room consisting of Heinicke, Howell, and practice squad-er Jake Fromm with the ability to acquire a veteran for depth. It would leave Wentz with something he might already have in the back of his mind: a fresh start with one of the many QB-needy organizations around the league, which is also something the Commanders may look to take advantage of with the final viable option:
Option 3: Trade and get paid
Before cutting Wentz, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if Washington seeks trade partners in an attempt to recoup that lost third-round pick while enjoying the aforementioned cap benefits — even if the potential consolation comes in the form of a pair of fifth-round picks, per se. Analysts and fans alike know that there’s always a QB-needy class within the NFL, and three possible suitors could be landing spots for Wentz to serve as a bridge quarterback.
The New Orleans Saints are a team that has officially reached the dreaded ‘QB Hell’ that Commanders fans have become far too familiar with in recent memory. With Andy Dalton steering the ship for the time being — and no first-round pick in the 2023 draft — New Orleans may feel that with RB Alvin Kamara behind him and a strong play-action game developed, Wentz could elevate a sputtering offense.
The Houston Texans and New York Jets are both worth mentioning as teams to keep an eye on, though it strictly depends on whether their respective coaching staffs feel Wentz is enough of an upgrade from what they already have. It’s more likely the Saints make a move than New York and more likely the Jets make a move than Houston (which currently holds the first overall pick).
Since his benching, neither Rivera nor any Washington representative has hinted toward a decision regarding Wentz’s future in the nation’s capital. It’ll likely (and, frankly, should) stay that way until the conclusion of the ongoing campaign. Regardless, it’s safe to note that whichever route the organization takes, the move will impact how the team goes about talent acquisition before next August significantly.