After Carson Wentz trade, Indianapolis Colts back to square one at quarterback -- again

INDIANAPOLIS – For a franchise that spent nearly 20 years being spoiled because they had the luxury of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at starting quarterback, the Indianapolis Colts find themselves constantly spinning the wheel these days, hoping to find a long-term answer at that position.

On Wednesday, the Colts traded Carson Wentz to the Washington Commanders, which means they are about to have their fifth different Week 1 starting quarterback in as many seasons under coach Frank Reich.

It’ll be the sixth different starting quarterback in six years, if you throw in general manager Chris Ballard’s first season in 2017, and the Colts have made the playoffs only twice in that span.

It’s no surprise the Colts traded Wentz away. Owner Jim Irsay, Reich and Ballard did everything but come out publicly and say they were moving on from Wentz over the past two months. The moment none of the franchise leaders said Wentz would be the starter next season, the quarterback should have begun boxing up his belongings in Indianapolis.

Wentz finished last in QBR over the final two weeks of the season when the Colts needed to win one of those games to make the playoffs. It wasn’t just Wentz’s inability to take over a game when the Colts needed to him to last season, there were also questions about his leadership inside the locker room, according to sources.

The clock is starting to tick more quickly on Irsay’s desire to win multiple Super Bowls this decade. The reality is the Colts shouldn’t be thinking about winning Super Bowls right now. They shouldn’t even be thinking about winning one Super Bowl.

They should be thinking about simply making the playoffs. The Colts have one playoff win since reaching the AFC Championship game in 2014.

One of the first steps in becoming a regular in the playoffs is finding stability at quarterback. It was during his introductory news conference in 2017 that Ballard said his team would not be about just the quarterback position.

The Colts are finding out how hard it is to win when you don’t have stability at quarterback. It didn’t work with Jacoby Brissett in 2019, and it obviously didn’t work with Wentz in his lone season. At some point, a long-term answer has to come along if they expect to be a contender in the AFC that already features talented quarterbacks Josh Allen, Mac Jones, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Patrick Mahomes and now Russell Wilson.

“I'd like to quit Band-Aiding [the position]," Ballard said in January. "... Find somebody who will be here for the next 10-12 years. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way. I can dream about it, wish about it, do everything I can to figure out the solution, but you do the best with what you can do at the time."

Ballard deserves a little credit for admitting Wentz wasn’t the answer and getting the Commanders’ third-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, which could become a second-round pick if Wentz plays 70% of their snaps. The Colts also will move up five spots in the second round of this year’s draft, as the teams swapped picks.

The problem is this is the wrong offseason to think the answer at quarterback is out there. The Colts currently have quarterbacks Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan on the roster -- neither of whom has started an NFL game. They don’t have a first-round pick, and Mitchell Trubisky is the most notable free-agent quarterback available.

Jimmy Garoppolo’s days with the San Francisco 49ers could be numbered, so a trade could be possible, but the Colts have to ask themselves if he’s truly a long-term player at that position or just another short-timer. There is also a health element with Garoppolo. He recently had shoulder surgery, which could cause him to miss most of the offseason. Garoppolo missed 13 games in 2018 with a torn ACL and 10 games in 2020 because of an ankle injury.

“Ultimately, you have to have a guy who you believe in, and you can win with,” Ballard said on March 1. “That will play some into it, but ultimately, we’ll make the decision that we think is best. Both in the short and long term.”