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Could Carson Wentz be Tom Brady's successor in Tampa Bay?

The former Bison star could be an enticing option for a Buccaneers team searching for a QB but a lot would have to fall into place first.

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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz rolls out of the pocket during the first half against Miami on Oct. 3, 2021 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Jenna Watson / Indianapolis Star
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TAMPA, Fla. — In the wake of an embarrassing late-season collapse, Carson Wentz’s future as a Colt suddenly appears flimsy.

So do his odds of resurfacing in a pewter uniform.

Only 11 months after arriving to Indianapolis via trade with the Eagles, Wentz, 29, finds himself aboard the NFL’s quarterback carousel. On Super Bowl Sunday, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said Wentz’s future as a Colt appears “bleak,” adding he’s likely to be dealt again — or released — before March 19.

But entering any Wentz trade sweepstakes makes little sense financially for the Bucs, who continue their search for Tom Brady’s heir. Moreover, questions abound regarding Wentz’s consistency, durability and mobility. On the surface, he hardly seems a practical — or even plausible — option for Tampa Bay.

But because Brady was benevolent enough to announce his departure from football (he never said “retire”) on Feb. 1, the Bucs have time to explore every conceivable quarterback option. General manager Jason Licht has said the team will “go down every avenue” in their search for Brady’s successor.

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One of those avenues could lead to Wentz, a Pro Bowler in a previous life.

The Colts took on Wentz, 29, and his bloated contract last March, giving the Eagles a 2021 third-round pick and 2022 conditional second-round pick that became a first-round selection. He has three years and roughly $82 million remaining on the deal (originally four years for $128 million), and is owed $28.3 million in 2022.

Any trade would forward the remainder of his deal to his new team. If the Colts release Wentz before March 18, however, they’ll owe him only his $15 million base salary, freeing $13.3 million in salary cap space. After that date, another hearty chunk of his contract becomes guaranteed.

While few, if any, teams appear likely to assume the financial burden of Wentz’s deal, several suitors might arise if the Colts opted to restructure the contract and assume some of the salary. At that point, teams could acquire the one-time Pro Bowler at a relatively equitable price in exchange for perhaps a mid-round draft pick.

Wentz led Division I-AA North Dakota State to a pair of national titles as a starter, and guided the Eagles to an 11-2 record in only his second NFL season before suffering a torn ACL. To that point, he had thrown for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions while posting a league-best 78.5 quarterback rating. The Eagles ultimately won the Super Bowl.

Subtract that season, however, and Wentz is 33-38 as an NFL starter with no Pro Bowls. While periodically an effective runner, injuries have hampered his mobility; Wentz has been sacked 31 or more times in five of his six pro seasons, including a league-high 50 in 2020.

Bucs fans got a first-hand look at his volatility in late November at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Colts managed three points on their first four possessions before Wentz tossed three second-quarter touchdown passes as his team built a 10-point halftime lead. In the second half, however, he was picked twice and strip-sacked (by Shaquil Barrett) as the Bucs rallied for a 38-31 victory.

And in terms of Colts infamy, Wentz’s final two games will rank closely behind the moving trucks bolting Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984. Indianapolis lost both to fall out of playoff contention, including an embarrassing 26-11 loss at 3-14 Jacksonville in Week 18.

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Wentz fumbled on a desperation shovel pass to open the second half, leading to a Jags field goal, and later threw an interception that led to a Jags touchdown.

For all of Wentz’s inconsistency, consider this stat dug up by NBC Sports’ Reuben Frank: He remains only one of five quarterbacks with at least three seasons of 25 touchdowns and seven or fewer interceptions. The others on that list: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Russell Wilson.

And while he’s not likely to be complemented by a Jonathan Taylor-type running back at his next stop, his collection of targets should be better. Outside of Michael Pittman Jr. (88 catches, 1,082 yards), Indianapolis had no player reach 400 receiving yards. By contrast, the Bucs had five.

Still, few quarterbacks are more enigmatic, and Wentz’s astounding 2017 season (pre-injury) now is a half-decade in the rear-view mirror. A red flag also is hoisted when considering Colts coach Frank Reich, Wentz’s coordinator in Philly and arguably the player’s greatest advocate, evidently seems willing to move on from him after one year.

But in an offseason of limited options, the Bucs must perform due diligence on all of them.Within weeks, those options could include the second overall pick of the 2016 draft.

The Tampa Bay Times — tampabay.com — is distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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