Monday’s revelation that new Indianapolis quarterback Carson Wentz will undergo immediate surgery to remove a bone in his left foot, an operation expected to rule him out for up to 12 weeks, promises to have major ramifications who probably won’t be limited to the Colts and their 2021 season.
It’s obviously a shame for Wentz, who was set to reset his once promising career amid a meeting with head coach Frank Reich, who served as Wentz’s offensive coordinator for two years in Philadelphia. This included the 2017 campaign, when the Eagles won the Super Bowl after being largely propelled by Wentz’s MVP-caliber performances in the regular season … until he was sidelined in Week 14 by a torn ACL.
Prior to last year’s disaster in Philly, Wentz had been solid without Reich but failed to regain his 2017 golden touch while still suffering from injuries. He had earned praise from his new Colts teammates during the offseason, including All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard. But whatever progress Wentz has forged in a positive direction – after a season in which he tied the NFL lead with 15 interceptions (in 12 games) – is now on hiatus indefinitely.
In the meantime, he is hardly the only one affected by his latest physical setback:
Quarterbacks of the Colts
As of Monday afternoon, Indianapolis had four substitutes for Wentz on the roster: newly signed veteran Brett Hundley, 2020 fourth round Jacob Eason – he never took a snap last year, when there was no preseason due to COVID-19 – and rookies Sam Ehlinger and Jalen Morton.
Hundley has been around the league since being a Packers’ fifth-round pick in 2015, going 3-6 in nine NFL starts while completing less than 60% of his passes and throwing more career interceptions (13) than touchdowns (9). His experience, however mixed, could suggest he will be the favorite to replace Wentz once the season begins. Yet Reich currently favors Eason. “The job is up to Jacob right now,” the coach said Monday, “and he has to earn it. But he’s in charge.”
Still, general manager Chris Ballard could still try to buy out former replacement Jacoby Brissett, who signed with the Miami Dolphins in free agency and has a base salary of $ 2.5 million in 2021. The list of replacements The league’s capable includes the Marcus Mariota Raiders and the Gardner Minshew II Jaguars.
And, of course, Ballard could always ask a question of a team three hours away. The Chicago Bears’ Nick Foles played so memorably in Wentz’s place for Philadelphia, but also cast a shadow thanks to his MVP performance at Super Bowl 52. He is now third on Chicago’s depth chart behind the veteran. Andy Dalton and the first round Justin Fields and acknowledged the speculation is seeping around him.
“Look, Frank Reich is one of my favorite – if not favorite – coaches of all time. He understands me as a player, he understands me as a person,” Foles said on Monday. “But we haven’t had any discussions.”
Indy’s playoff hopes
Despite a revolving door under center – Wentz was expected to be the Colts’ fourth predominant QB1 in four seasons, following Andrew Luck, Brissett and Philip Rivers, who retired after the 2020 season – Indianapolis reached the playoffs twice in three years under Reich, pass a collective 28-20 in the regular season.
However, the Colts open this season against the Seahawks, Rams, Titans, Dolphins and Ravens, teams that have all won at least 10 games in 2020 and also project themselves as playoff contenders this year. Indianapolis overcame a terrible 1-5 start in 2018 behind Luck before winning nine of 10 to close out the regular season. If Wentz is out for a full 12 weeks, he won’t return to action until October 24 in San Francisco, which is week 7. As solid as the Colts’ roster plans, it could be unrecoverable given that Wentz has yet to see any play action with this group, a distinct difference from Luck’s situation.
Titans of Tennessee
If the Colts lose their relevance during Wentz’s absence, who’s going to stop the defending AFC South champions Titans from running away and hiding with another division crown? Tennessee haven’t seen a losing season since 2015 and have improved their already impressive offense this offseason by knocking out Julio Jones of Atlanta, the eternal pro Bowl wide.
It’s hard to imagine that the Texans or Urban Meyer’s restart Jaguars pose a big threat to Tennessee, which hosts the Colts on September 26 (week 3) and visits Indianapolis on October 31 (week 8), when Wentz will be to be theoretically in alignment. Still, a seemingly major opportunity for the Titans to deliver an early playoff blow – if the Colts aren’t already on the mat by Halloween – while potentially gaining the upper hand for the AFC’s No.1 seed and the only goodbye to the first round considering how packed the conference summit seems to be.
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The second-year full-back had a good chance of being the focal point of Indy’s offense – with the help of Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack – regardless of Wentz’s circumstances. A second-round pick last year, Taylor’s end-of-season blooming – 741 yards and seven rushing touchdowns in his last six regular-season games of 2020 (including five wins) – coincided with the surge of the Colts to the AFC’s wild final – sleeper card. Overall, Taylor’s 1,169 rushing yards were ranked for third in the league and his 11 touchdowns tied for seventh. With Wentz out for the foreseeable future, Taylor could get a jump on his rushed first title out of necessity… or more likely be a man besieged by nine-man boxes.
Probably the best division in the league from top to bottom, they will face a suddenly more fragile South AFC in 2021. With the Seahawks and Rams pulling Indianapolis in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively, they could have a head start on the aforementioned 49ers – they’re likely to face Wentz, even if he’s rusty – and the Cardinals, who will host the Colts on Christmas night.
Aside from the Colts, perhaps no team is more directly affected by Wentz’s injury than the old one. The Eagles finally jumped off a roller coaster of Wentz when they agreed to trade him in February. Philadelphia, which received a Round 3 selection this year, will also pick up a first-round pick in the 2022 Draft – if Wentz plays 75% of Colts’ offensive snaps this season or 70% and Indianapolis reaches the playoffs – otherwise, the compensation will be a second-round pick. The Eagles will very much want Wentz to be back by Week 5, hoping he stays healthy and playing well enough that the Colts remain relevant enough that they don’t stop him late in the season. The expanded 17-game schedule could at least give Philadelphia more reason to be hopeful – especially if it quickly becomes clear that sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts isn’t playing like a worthy successor to Wentz.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Nate Davis on Twitter @ByNateDavis.