Colts' coach and GM won't commit to Carson Wentz as starting QB for 2022 season
Indy's GM Chris Ballard said Thursday, "I thought Carson did some good things, and there's a lot of things he needs to do better. Our passing game has to be better."
INDIANAPOLIS — For the fifth consecutive offseason, the Colts face uncertainty at the quarterback position.
Uncertainty acknowledged by two of the top three decision-makers in Indianapolis in the four days since the Colts suffered one of the worst losses in franchise history in a win-and-get in situation against the worst team in the league.
First, Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich declined to commit to Carson Wentz as the starter in 2022.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard took the same stance, but he also acknowledged several of the issues that plagued Wentz this season.
Wentz threw for 3,563 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, but his play collapsed in the second half of the season, a collapse that echoed Jacoby Brissett's in 2019. Wentz averaged just 6.3 yards per attempt in the final eight games, threw for more than 200 yards just twice in that span and struggled mightily in the team's season-ending losses to the Raiders and Jaguars.
Here are five things from Ballard's evaluation of his 2021 starter:
1. Ballard did not commit to Wentz as the starting quarterback in 2022
Ballard, like Reich, was directly asked whether Wentz would be the starting quarterback for the Colts next season, and his answer sounded similar to the head coach's.
"Sitting here today, I won't make a comment on who's going to be here next year and who's not going to be here next year," Ballard said. "That's not fair to any player. I thought Carson did some good things, and there's a lot of things he needs to do better. Our passing game has to be better."
2. Ballard does not regret the price paid to Philadelphia to get Wentz
Indianapolis traded a third-round pick last season and a first-round pick in April's draft to the Eagles in order to get Wentz, making a deal that priced Wentz at essentially the same value Kansas City paid to San Francisco to get Alex Smith in 2013.
If Wentz had been injured, there was a chance the Colts could have given up only a second-round pick, but Wentz played 98% of the snaps.
Ballard did not commit to Wentz as the starting quarterback going forward, but he said he does not regret the swing the team took in order to get a starter after Philip Rivers retired last January.
"After Philip retired and we made the decision to make a move on Carson, at the time of the decision, we felt good about it," Ballard said. "I still don't regret the decision at the time."
3. From a financial perspective, Indianapolis can make a change at QB
The Colts would save $13 million of Wentz's $28 million salary if they release him before March 19, although Indianapolis would incur a $15 million charge in dead cap.
Indianapolis has carried a heavy salary cap hit at quarterback before — the Colts committed more than $50 million to quarterback in 2020 in order to upgrade from Brissett to Rivers — and Ballard believes they could handle the financial impact if the Colts decide to make a change.
The pool of available quarterbacks, either through the veteran route or in the draft, looks thin, but that doesn't mean Indianapolis won't look.
"We'll look at everything," Ballard said. "There's solutions. Sometimes they're not ideal, but there are solutions. Sometimes they're long-term, sometimes they're not. We'll look at everything."
4. The Colts have questions about Wentz's ability to improve in key areas at this point in his career
Ballard's outgoing message to Wentz was simple.
"Make the layups," Ballard said. "The throw against Arizona was incredible. There might be two or three other quarterbacks in the league that can make it, but let's make the layups."
Wentz's penchant for trying to hit the home run often caused him to miss open receivers on shorter routes, whether it was a running back out of the backfield or a wide receiver running wide open on a shallow cross.
"You've got to be able to get the ball out of your hands quickly," Ballard said. "You've got to be able to get the ball out and take the easy completion when it comes, and that is a big part of Frank's offense."
Wentz's accuracy has also been an issue. Wentz completed 62.7% of his passes, a number that ranked 27th in the NFL.
"I do think the accuracy can get better, and you can drill it, drill it, drill it, but usually when you get into the game, you usually revert back," Ballard said.
Wentz has now been a starting quarterback for six seasons, and it's fair to wonder if he can change his style of play at this point.
"I think that's something we've got to work through," Ballard said.
5. Indianapolis needs consistency at quarterback
Wentz's physical tools allow him to make some incredible plays, and early in the season he was able to create big plays down the field, both on completed passes and pass interference calls.
But there were also weeks that he struggled mightily, and the No. 1 reason the Colts missed the playoffs this season was a lack of efficiency and production in the passing game.
"You've got to get stability at the quarterback position," Ballard said. "And that position has to play up to his potential to help the team win. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not blaming this all on Carson. ... The hyper-importance of that position is real. You've got to get consistency there. The years we've gotten it, we were pretty good."
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