IINDIANAPOLIS — Carson Wentz woke up Thursday morning in Philadelphia, headed to the airport and got on a plane bound for Indianapolis.
For Wentz, the flight felt symbolic, a final goodbye to a city he thought would be his home for his entire NFL career.
Headed for an introduction to a city that hopes Wentz recovers his confidence, realizes his immense potential and finally stops the revolving door at the quarterback position that started spinning the moment Andrew Luck decided to retire.
The Colts traded for Wentz because they believe the former Eagle can be the franchise quarterback they desperately need.
“I do believe this, after looking at this game for 50 years, seeing guys come and go at that position: I really think that he can be that guy that’s the centerpiece,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said Thursday, in the franchise’s first public comments since the deal was struck in February. “The guy that’s going to be around with these teams we put together for the next decade that give the Colts a chance for greatness.”
The Philadelphia Eagles bet everything on him. Traded up to the No. 2 pick in the draft to get him, handed him a massive four-year, $128 million extension two years later. Up until the 2020 season, it looked like Wentz would be the face of Philadelphia’s franchise for the foreseeable future.
“When you’re drafted by a team, everyone desires, ‘I’m going to play 20 years, and I’m going to do X, Y and Z and win all these games,’” Wentz said. “All that stuff, that’s what you desire, that’s what you have in the back of your mind, but things unfold, they go differently.”
Wentz was forced to spend plenty of time in his introductory news conference in Indianapolis talking about how his Philadelphia dream had gone to pieces so quickly.
The big quarterback briefly referenced how things had gone so well at the beginning, talked about how Doug Pederson had been a good fit for him in Philadelphia, hinted that it’s hard to believe how it all ended.
Wentz called his ugly 2020 season, the season that made him available to the Colts, a culmination, although he repeatedly declined to delve into the details of the discussions with his agents and the Eagles after the season that led to his trade to Indianapolis. Wentz did push back, hard, on the oft-repeated suggestion that Philadelphia’s decision to draft Jalen Hurts in the second round last season played a role in his struggles, although he did acknowledge that Pederson’s decision to bench him for Hurts against Green Bay was the first time he realized he might not be able to realize his vision for his time with the Eagles. Wentz sees himself as a competitor, and he bristled a bit at the suggestion that he walked away from the battle.
But for the most part, Wentz declined to litigate the charges that have been thrown at him, choosing instead to acknowledge that he’d likely made some mistakes.
Wentz wanted to look forward, as much as the questions kept trying to pull him back.
“It wasn’t the ending that everyone envisioned,” Wentz said. “I don’t know why (a lot of) things happened, or how they happened the way they did, but as a man, you have to look yourself in the mirror, learn from it and become a better man and a better player.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard has long said that if a veteran player’s available, he’s available for a reason, and that reason has to be weighed before a team makes a move.
“Frank Reich and I, and Chris, we really had some long, hard conversations. … ‘Why is he available? Is this some sort of trap for the franchise?'” Irsay said. “I can’t emphasize how strongly I feel that Carson is the man for the job for the Colts at this time.”For Irsay, “at this time” means at a point in the franchise’s history when Indianapolis badly needs a long-term answer at the quarterback position, a need Wentz sees as providence.
“There are a lot of kind of crazy circumstances, not how you expect things to unfold, especially when you’re drafted in a place like Philly, you have a lot of high expectations and everything,” Wentz said. “I believe that God has a perfect plan, and here we are, we’re excited for this new opportunity, and hopefully to start building something special here in Indy, be a part of something special that has already been created here.
”Under Ballard and Reich, the Colts have built a team that has shown it is capable of contending on an annual basis, as long as it has a quarterback, and Reich’s deep belief in Wentz during those conversations carried a ton of weight with the Indianapolis owner.Insider: What do GM Chris Ballard's 4 free agent tendencies mean for the Colts in 2021?Irsay is deeply confident in Reich’s reputation as a quarterback developer.
In Wentz, Reich has a pupil who already knows him and trusts him implicitly, going back to his draft evaluation, when Wentz was a skyrocketing prospect at North Dakota State and Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator.
“It was just instant. We had this connection,” Wentz said. “Both, obviously, men of faith, able to talk about our values and different things, it was natural. Finally getting to work with each other for two years, not just the personal side of things, but the X’s and O’s of football, how we see the game, how we can have healthy discussions and disagreements but really challenge each other and ultimately make each other better.”
Unlike the crumbling roster Wentz had been trying to lead in Philadelphia, the Colts believes they have the kind of roster that can help the quarterback recover his form, a young, talented core on the rise.
“Working with Frank, first and foremost, what he’s been able to do here, the culture that’s already been established here over the years, gets me excited,” Wentz said. “Obviously, the o-line, the skill players, all of that, what they were able to do last year, be right on the verge of something special, how close they came.
”The more Reich, Ballard and Irsay talked, the more the owner believed the Colts had an opportunity to pull off a rarity: finding a franchise quarterback through trade.
Irsay likes Wentz’s competitiveness, the way he leads, liked what he heard from talking to equipment managers and trainers who’d worked with Wentz before, and he believes the quarterback has all the physical tools necessary to play like a franchise quarterback again.
“He knows this is a tremendous opportunity for him,” Irsay said. “I think he’s going to take it and run with it, and our community will really come to love him.”