By Adam Aniba
Commanders' fans received the news that the Colts and Commanders agreed on a trade for former Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Social media erupted with many Washington fans disheartened by what Rivera gave up for Wentz and the salary they're on the hook for.
Before we get to the cost of the trade, let's take a look at how Washington and HC Ron Rivera got to this point.
In his first season as head coach in '20, Rivera inherited Alex Smith, who was a shell of his former self before his well documented leg injury.
Rivera also dealt with the debacle and fallout with former first round signal caller Dwayne Haskins. The former OSU quarterback, received little development under the former regime and was released after only half of a season. Haskins was added to the list of disappointing 1st round selections.
The short lived Legend of Taylor Heinicke gave fans hope with a competitive playoff game vs the Bucs. Although Washington came up short in their 1st round playoff matchup, Taylor Heinicke kept Washington in the game till the end and earned a 2-year contract with the potential to start the following season.
In 2021, Rivera's "Plan A" was to trade for Detroit Lions' QB Matthew Stafford. Washington's offer came up substantially short, with a reported 1st and 3rd round package offered to Detroit. The Lions, instead, accepted the LA Rams' offer and Washington fans commisserated as Stafford and former Washington OC Sean McVay led the Rams to a Super Bowl victory vs the Bengals.
Rivera then turned to "Plan B", prior to the start of the '21 season, signing gunslinger Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Fitz Magic Era was short lived to half of the first game. Heinicke took over, ending up as the starting QB for the rest of the season. Although the former Old Dominion QB had his moments, It was clear from GM Martin Mayhew and Rivera's comments during the offseason and NFL Combine, Heinicke is not their man.
Prior to the trade, Washington was $31 million above the salary cap. After parting with their '22 and '23 3rd round draft picks as well as swapping '22 2nd rounders, Rivera seems committed to the former Eagles QB.
Washington also now find themselves with little cap available, but similar to the Alex Smith trade, an extension is likely on the horizon.
Although an extension would provide Washington with some cap relief, Rivera will still have to make some tough roster decisions. Re-signing free agents Cam Sims and JD McKIssic could be even more difficult now.
Players like Landon Collins who carry a $16.2 million dollar cap hit are on the chopping block and was announced this week he would be released. His release saves Washington $6.6 million. Extending guard Ereck Flowers, who is a free agent in '23 and carries a $10 million cap hit this season would also be a wise move. Although the salary cap can be manipulated, Washington has work to do.
Statistically, Wentz has had marginal success, although he experienced ups and downs in Indianapolis. The Colts leaned heavily on their run game with 1st-Team All-Pro Jonathan Taylor, who led the league in rushing. Wentz will have a versatile 1,000 yard back in Antonio Gibson and star receiver Terry McLaurin which will help. He was asked to make frequent pre-snap adjustments, which will be a big plus playing in Scott Turner's offense.
Wentz threw for 3,563 yards for 27 tds and 7 ints with a 94.6 passer rating in '21. Although stats don't always tell the full story, Wentz provides the Commanders with a competent and battle tested signal caller.
When Wentz was called upon to put the team on his back, the results have been mixed. The OT loss to the Titans last year will live in infamy for Colts' fans. In that matchup, with time ticking down, Wentz threw an ill-advised interception, while running around on his own goal line, ending a close game with a loss by 3. One game didn't kill the Colts season, but set a tone with their passing game.
An additional criticism against Wentz is that Washington will be his 3rd team in 3 years and there is concern about his locker room leadership.
What To Expect
It's likely Washington will lean heavily on the run game with Wentz, but Rivera needs to address skill positions and depth on the offensive line in this draft. With the current cap situation, it will now be tough to go after blue chip free agents. However, a Wentz extension would give Washington some immediate cap relief.
Washington could essentially defer money in a 2-3 year deal, giving them some relief this season by allocating money into various incentives/bonuses. Unfortunately, $20 million a year seems to be the starting point, so an extension could be costly.
It's unlikely that Washington gave up 2 third round picks and swapped 2nd rounders, just for a short term investment. Turning his contract into a two year deal with a player/team option in '23 would be smart option for both parties, saving Washington from long term negative cap implications.
Fans will have to wait and see the next move in constructing the offense, but selecting a 1st round QB seems unlikely now, with reinforcements needed for their new signal caller. Surrounding Wentz with weapons and protection is imperative.
This will likely be a modest free agency period for the Commanders, so hitting on draft backs is more imperative than ever. Although the addition of Wentz may seem like a move out of desperation, Washington is in a better QB position than they were last year.
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