PALM BEACH, Fla. — Indianapolis Colts coach Frank Reich moved on from Carson Wentz, but he’s not budging off what he thinks the quarterback can still become in the NFL now that he’s in Washington.
“I really believe he can be a top-10 quarterback,” Reich said. “That’s not just a given. That has to be earned and proven, so we’re all hoping that happens for him.”
The Colts traded Wentz to the Washington Commanders earlier this month, one year after acquiring him from the Philadelphia Eagles. Washington swapped second-round picks with the Colts and sent them a third-round pick as well as a conditional third. Washington also received a seventh-round pick.
Though Reich said the decision to trade him was unanimous, he remains sold on Wentz’s potential. He was the offensive coordinator for Wentz’s first two seasons in Philadelphia, including in 2017 when the quarterback was considered an MVP candidate before tearing his ACL.
“I love the guy, I really do. And I think he’s a really good quarterback,” Reich said. “He’s going to play really well for the Commanders and I’m excited to see that. … We as an organization thought highly of Carson in a lot of ways. Obviously, we traded for him. But then secondly, sometimes you can’t explain everything. You want to, but you just have to make a move that you think is right.”
Last season, Wentz threw 27 touchdown passes to seven interceptions and ranked ninth in total QBR. But the Colts still decided to trade him, a move that sent red flags to others about Wentz.
“Ultimately there was a consensus,” Reich said. “You don’t want to have seller’s remorse. We had already determined that wasn’t going to happen. This was well thought out. It was not a quick decision.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s altered his opinion of Wentz. Washington coach Ron Rivera talked to Reich about Wentz and said the Colts’ coach called him after the trade to congratulate him — and to say he’ll love coaching him.
“They’re getting a player who, first of all, is a highly intelligent player, who can process a lot of information quickly. They’re getting a guy who, physically, is a prototype NFL quarterback,” Reich said.
For Wentz to return to top-10 status, Reich said it’s a matter of playing consistent, winning football. With a chance to clinch a playoff berth by winning one of the final two games last season, the Colts lost both. In those games, losses to the Las Vegas Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, Wentz posted a combined total QBR of 13.0, having completed 58.9% of his passes with two touchdowns and one interception.
“He has been a top-10 quarterback in this league,” Reich said. “I think ’17 he obviously was. I think ’19 you could probably argue, the way he finished that year was the case. He put the Eagles team on his back in the last four games of the ’19 season and made all the plays needed to be made to make the playoffs. This year, we had some good moments as well.”
Within a week, the Colts had traded for Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan — whom Reich said was not on their radar when they traded Wentz to Washington.
“Lucky, blessed, whatever you want to call it, we’re thankful Matt became available,” Reich said.
Reich sounded similar feelings about Wentz a year ago. The reunion did not go as planned. “It’s 2022. Not everything is a storybook ending,” Reich said. “Those are the decisions that an organization has to make, that the leaders of an organization have to make. That was just the decision that we felt like was best for our team at this point.”
Jacksonville coach Doug Pederson, who coached Wentz for five seasons in Philadelphia, also spoke to Rivera before the trade. Wentz, the No. 2 pick in the 2016 draft, led the Eagles to an 11-2 record before getting hurt in the ’17 season. Philadelphia won the Super Bowl with backup quarterback Nick Foles. A year later Wentz missed five games and the Eagles went 4-1, winning the last three to make the postseason.
But in 2019, Wentz finished strong. In the final four games, all wins, he threw seven touchdown passes and no interceptions as the Eagles again made the postseason.
Pederson refuted rumors about Wentz’s leadership style, saying among other things that he would involve young players in his offseason workouts. He pointed to Wentz’s work ethic.
“They’re getting a tremendous leader,” Pederson said. “They’re getting a guy that’s going to lead that football team and he’ll lead that locker room. … I only know him from a couple years ago and it’s hard to speak on what he did last year in Indy and what he can do in Washington, but the guys responded to him.”