The Colts knew Carson Wentz had some durability issues when they decided to trade for the former Eagles quarterback. With Wentz suffering an early foot injury during his first training camp in Indianapolis, its coaching staff now needs to scramble for a potential half-season replacement.
Coach Frank Reich told reporters Wentz with opting to have surgery to remove a bone and repair the foot instead of rest, the 2016 first-rounder could miss up to 12 weeks of action. Although there’s a chance Wentz could come back to action earlier, that rough three-month timetable means there’s a great possibility of Wentz missing 8 games, or almost half of the 2021 NFL season before an early November return.
For an 11-5 returning playoff team, that’s a big blow to the Colts, who had hopes of Wentz rebounding into form while reuniting with Reich. With Philip Rivers retired, the Colts’ depth chart is short on in-house experience behind Wentz, even with the recent signing of journeyman Brett Hundley.
With GM Chris Ballard, the Colts tend to be aggressive and are willing trade for outside veterans to fill key holes (see Wentz). They also have a couple intriguing late-round picks from the last two drafts to evaluate more in camp.
Here are Indianapolis’ six best options to replace Wentz:
1. Trade for Nick Foles
This is by far the best solution and might be the only realistic one to maintain the Colts’ status as playoff contenders. The Bears have no short- or long-term plans for Foles anymore after giving up on Mitchell Trubisky. Andy Dalton is tabbed to be the new veteran bridge starter with first-round future franchise QB Justin Fields ready to be unleashed at some point during the season.
Chicago made a desperate mistake by taking Foles off Jacksonville’s hands last year. Now the team can send him back to the AFC South to take advantage of Indianapolis’ own desperation for some decent return on a QB they don’t need.
Reich had strong working relationships in the past with Rivers and Wentz, which is why they were the consecutive solutions after the sudden retirement of Andrew Luck with Jacoby Brissett not being a good fit for the system. Foles was the ultimate supersub for Wentz in Philadelphia under Reich, winning Super Bowl 52 MVP honors. Ballard and Reich need to think about bringing Foles right down I-57 to play for his sixth NFL team as soon as possible.
2. Trade for Marcus Mariota
After one great Raiders fill-in performance for injured Derek Carr late against the Chargers last season, some thought the former Titans No. 2 overall pick quarterback should get some consideration to start again in the league, whether in or out of Las Vegas. Mariota, like high draft classmate Jameis Winston, has had time to reboot as a backup. He operated and grew well in an efficient passing system under Jon Gruden, using his legs to his advantage, too.
In terms of positive skill set — a good intermediate arm and mobility for playing well off the running game — Mariota can be a good, quick philosophical fit with Reich to facilate the rest of the offense, where Jonathan Taylor and the power rushing attack is the centerpiece. This would be a sneaky Plan B if not trading for Foles.
3. Turn to Jacob Eason
Eason, the 23-year-old fourth-rounder from 2020, at least gives the Colts a year-plus of experience operating with Reich. The pocket passer also learned well watching Rivers last season.
Eason has some upside because of his arm and familiarity with the weapons and expectations, but physically and mentally, Eason needs plenty of work. With Eason, the Colts would be going the careful caretaker route, knowing his forced playmaking could really hurt the offensive efficiency.
4. Trade for Gardner Minshew
File Minshew under Mariota as another starter pushed to backup status who could help the Colts out of their bind. Teams usually don’t make trades within the division, but a Colts-Jaguars swap would come under unique circumstances. Trevor Lawrence is the unquestioned franchise future and Jacksonville would be fine with former 49ers backup C.J. Beathard being the No. 2.
The question is how quickly Minshew, could make the transition and pick up Reich’s system to the coach’s satisfaction. There are some crossover West Coast principles from Minshew’s time with Doug Marrone to think he could move the offense along well. But also as.a still young late-round pick, there’s no good feeling that he will be much better than Eason.
5. Turn to Sam Ehlinger
This is the wild card to watch. The 22-year-old rookie sixth-rounder from Texas had a prolific college career as a dual threat. He can provide the in-house athletic dimension Eason can’t. Don’t be surprised if he can become to the Colts what Minshew was for the Jaguars in 2019 when Foles went down early. There are some off-script plays Ehlinger can add on top of executing what needs to be done — and not forcing what isn’t there — to make sure Taylor and the running game doesn’t drag.
6. Trade for Jimmy Garoppolo
Trey Lance is getting a ton of key reps in 49ers training camp to suggest the high-upside first-rounder youngster is on a faster track to start than expected as a rookie. As a result, that’s limiting the time Garoppolo has left as a lame-duck bridge starter. That would then suggest San Francisco, with its own aggressive GM in John Lynch who has a trading history with the Colts (see DeForest Buckner), could get something good in return for Garoppolo to officially usher in the Lance era.
The problem is that Kyle Shanahan may not be ready to hand the reins to Lance full time and Garoppolo carries a $24.1 million salary for 2021. The 49ers will also ask for more compensation for him, given his recent accomplished resume, vs. the Bears want can ask for Foles. Garoppolo also would need to adjust to Reich vs. Shananan in a crash course and comes with his own history of big durability issues.
There’s less logic with this big move out of desperation than any of the rest. Renting Garoppolo is high risk with low reward in relation to his price. The Colts need to focus on getting a deal done for Foles, or they will left scrambling with a lot more uncertainty.