Carson Wentz upgrades Washington Commanders' QB room, but has plenty to prove

ASHBURN, Va. -- The Washington Commanders landed their quarterback. But has their three-decade search ended or just, once again, been placed on pause? At worst, trading for Carson Wentz buys Washington time to keep searching for its long-term solution.

This trade with the Indianapolis Colts might be the first step toward finding a longer-term solution: The Commanders, who have started 32 quarterbacks since the franchise last won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, could still draft another one. They could move on after one year from Wentz, with no cap penalty, if he doesn't work out. Or they could stick with him for a couple of years if there's no better option. In other words, they found their guy for right now. Beyond that? Wait and see.

The cost wasn't substantial but it also wasn't insignificant -- the teams swapped second-round picks in 2022 and Washington also gave up a third this year and a conditional third in 2023. Wentz has no guaranteed money beyond this season.

He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2016, but things went south for him in Philadelphia, and one year was all it took for Indianapolis to move on. But in Washington, he still represents an upgrade. That's how bad the Commanders' quarterback play has been in recent years.

Wentz arrives with plenty of questions: Why would a team that traded a first-round pick for him a year ago give up on him so quickly? After all, a former coach in Philadelphia, Frank Reich, was his coach with the Colts -- though this might not have been Reich's decision. Owner Jim Irsay wanted Wentz gone.

There are questions about what happened at the end of Wentz's Eagles tenure, his contributions to it and how he was received in the locker room. There are questions about the state of his game -- is he the same exciting quarterback he was in Philadelphia before suffering multiple injuries to his knee and his back?

Wentz has a lot to prove. So does Washington.

He did have strong numbers last season: 27 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a total QBR of 54.7 that ranked ninth in the NFL. But he and the Colts stumbled badly in losing the last two games of the season, including an ugly defeat against a 3-14 Jacksonville team to miss the playoffs.

As frustrating as the end of the season was for the Colts, Washington hasn't had a quarterback sniff the kind of numbers Wentz delivered since Kirk Cousins in 2017 when he threw 27 touchdowns, 13 picks and ranked 17th with a QBR of 56.2. Since 2018, Washington ranks last in combined total QBR as well as touchdown passes (71). The NFL average for touchdown passes during that time? 104.8.

Not so coincidentally: Since 2018 six teams have a worse winning percentage than Washington (.369).

Washington inquired about Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and offered three first-round picks to Seattle for Russell Wilson. It also considered pursuing the Texans' Deshaun Watson. After it missed on Wilson, Washington turned to Wentz because he can move (1,276 career rushing yards), is experienced and has had success.

Wentz will cost $28 million of the $35.5 million in salary-cap space Washington has available, according to Roster Management. Washington will have to make other moves to add help. For starters, it will either cut safety Landon Collins and save $6.6 million or have him take a pay cut to trim his $16.2 million cap hit.

If Washington drafts a quarterback, sources say the team would like to pair similar styles. Wentz has the traits to make plays outside the pocket and so do 2022 prospects Malik Willis, Desmond Ridder, Sam Howell and Matt Corral. Kenny Pickett can move around as well and is someone whose maturity and experience Washington really likes.

But now they don't have to draft a quarterback with the No. 11 pick, unless they really like one. In that scenario, why not? Get the problem solved.

They can also benefit if one of the top quarterbacks is available at No. 11, enticing another team to trade up. That way Washington could either add more capital in a 2022 draft that has excellent depth beyond the first round or add more picks for 2023 in case it wants to move up to draft a quarterback.

But this is also about building a team that top players want to join.

Seattle let Washington know it strongly preferred trading Wilson to the AFC, but with a no-trade clause Wilson could have nixed the deal to Denver -- if he wanted a different team. He wanted Denver. That's the Commanders' goal: Create that sort of situation.

Washington coach Ron Rivera has reasons for his optimism, but that doesn't mean the outside world shares them. Some do: Former NFL general manager Mike Tannenbaum told ESPN last week that he liked Washington's roster and, with Wilson, would be a true NFC title contender.

But others see a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2016 and has questions among the skill players. Receiver Curtis Samuel, if healthy, would help next season. Receiver Dyami Brown, if he develops, could add downfield success. Tight end Logan Thomas, if he returns in time from his torn ACL, is a terrific target. Running back J.D. McKissic, if he re-signs, is one of the NFL's best third-down backs. If the defense rebounds, it could be a top-10 unit.

That's a lot of ifs. A year from now? After another offseason of strengthening weak areas and a 2022 season that includes more wins than losses, the situation could look a lot different.

Keep this in mind: In the NFC, there's a lack of high-level quarterbacks. There is Rodgers, Matthew Stafford (Rams), Dak Prescott (Cowboys) and then a lot of questions. Wentz in the NFC looks a lot different than he does in the more competitive AFC, where there is a far greater number of top-level quarterbacks.

After striking out on Wilson, Washington found a guy. Wentz now must show he can be The Guy. Otherwise, the Commanders can move on as quickly as the Colts.