By Peter Gleason

The Eagles are now in a salary cap ditch because of the benching of quarterback Carson Wentz

Had boy genius Howie Roseman not paid Wentz like a franchise QB, this convo would be moot.

Now, after Wentz’s 12 mostly bad, occasionally awful starts in 2020, that contract will almost certainly be one of the primary reasons the Eagles retain Wentz beyond this year, if they do.

Here’s a look, courtesy of Over The Cap, at how Philly would be affected financially if it wanted to trade or outright release No. 11 before the 2021 season:

Cut before March 20, 2021 $59M Lose $24.5M
Cut between March 20-June 1, 2021 $74M Lose $39.5M
Cut after June 1, 2021 $34.6M Gain $0
Traded before March 20, 2021 $33.8M Save $850K
Traded after March 20, 2021 $43.8M Lose $9.1M
Traded in 2022 $24.5M Save $6.7M

The Eagles are already projected to be well over the reduced 2021 salary cap, so even a career miracle from general manager Howie Roseman would not be enough to justify releasing Wentz as anything other than a post-June 1 cut. And at that point, rather than eating a nearly $35M dead-money charge in 2021, the Eagles might as well just keep Wentz — hefty salary and all — regardless of his standing on the depth chart. The only path to 2021 savings, then, is a trade prior to March 20, the third day of the new league year. Even those savings ($850K) are extremely minimal, but that represents the one conceivable scenario for a 2021 Wentz departure.

Now that Jalen Hurts has also been handed at least one start (and, likely, the rest of the season), it’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle. Asked this week what Philly will do after the season, one NFL source told CBS Sports it’s more likely than not the Eagles will try to trade Wentz. The source, who is familiar with Eagles management, added that it’s “possible but not likely” the team will view Wentz as salvageable, and that Wentz’s “lack of consistency and injury history make him expendable.”

Former Eagle Chris Long, who counts both Wentz and Nick Foles as close friends after their 2017 title run together, probably hit the nail on the head when he speculated on his Green Light podcast this week that Wentz and Pederson are no longer married now that Hurts has taken over. In Long’s mind, the final four games of 2020 will likely allow higher-ups (e.g. owner Jeffrey Lurie, or perhaps even general manager Howie Roseman) to determine whether this lost season was primarily due to Wentz or Doug, and then sever ties with at least one of them. In other words, if Pederson’s team suddenly comes alive with the rookie QB, management can justify — fairly or not — blaming 2020 on Wentz and proceeding accordingly. If Hurts also fails to elevate the offense, management can easier justify rebooting the coaching staff and trying to rebuild around Wentz.

But barring some kind of miraculous return to the lineup, in which he mystifies the NFL by returning to form and leading the Eagles to the playoffs, Wentz frankly just seems better suited for a relocation. That’s partly because of his own doing and partly because of what’s happened around him. As Long noted this week, you can dismissively criticize Wentz for not “meeting the challenge” of keeping Hurts off the field this year, but no athlete — $100M contract or not — is walking past a statue of his Super Bowl-winning replacement every day, and then practicing alongside the team’s next big investment at that position every day, and proceeding unfazed.

Unless the Eagles defy general logic, ignore their high draft position, etc. and fully recommit to restoring Wentz, both parties suddenly and genuinely seem destined — and better off — for a split. Maybe that comes in 2021, which would almost have to be the case if Philly enters the offseason dead set on exploring new rookie QBs. Maybe it comes in 2022, after the Eagles swallow the tough pill of their finances and retain him as the league’s highest-paid backup. But then you’re probably just asking for a bigger controversy down the road. We’ve seen miracles happen at this QB position in Philly before, and common sense says Wentz — who deserves all the credit in the world for what he accomplished on and off the field in midnight green — is nowhere near as bad as he’s looked this year, but for now, all signs point to a move.

Who could trade for Wentz (according to CBS Sports)?

The annual offseason QB carousel will go a long way in determining which teams would actually be interested in pursuing Wentz, but there’s no doubt a few teams would come calling in the event the Eagles shop him ahead of 2021. Here’s an early stab at the five most logical destinations outside of Philly:

  1. Indianapolis Colts

They’ve already been floated as potential suitors in early speculation — and for good reason. Philip Rivers might lead them to the playoffs, but he’s 39 and has already said he won’t be around much longer. Coach Frank Reich just happened to be Wentz’s offensive coordinator during the most promising stretch of his career (2016-2017). The Colts are built to contend now. They aren’t going to be in a great position to draft a top long-term prospect in 2021. Best of all, they’re projected to lead the NFL in salary cap room. That’s a whole lot of dots already connected, and then there’s the fact the Eagles would be able to unload him outside of the NFC.

The sight of Wentz suiting up for the team his old team beat in the Super Bowl (while he was forced to watch from the sidelines) would be wild. But the connection is logical. Cam Newton may or may not be back as a short-term solution. Bill Belichick is a noted fan of Wentz’s skill set. The Pats are still looking for a longer-term option post-Tom Brady. They’re arguably more willing than any team to take a swing on big-name castoffs. And the Eagles have been notorious trading partners with New England. This move would allow the Pats to bet on Wentz’s upside but potentially still return to contention sooner rather than later.

3. Denver Broncos

Drew Lock is already in town, and John Elway has appeared genuinely interested in helping the youngster grow. Elway’s also probably getting sick of waiting for a turnaround, with the Broncos guaranteed a non-winning season for the fourth straight year. He’s certainly not been shy about cycling through veteran QBs. Wentz wouldn’t necessarily love the idea of walking into a QB room with a well-liked early-rounder already established, but Lock is under an inexpensive deal through 2022. Denver would have plenty of time to evaluate both options alongside an underrated supporting cast.

4. Detroit Lions

This one depends almost entirely on what the new regime looks like, but it’s reasonable to assume Detroit could look to pivot from the “defensive” focus of the Matt Patricia era and restart the entire offense, complete with a trade of Matthew Stafford. Is Wentz an upgrade over Stafford? That’s very debatable, but he’s at least five years younger and might benefit from the change of scenery. At worst, he’d make for an intriguing bridge/reclamation project a la Teddy Bridgewater in Carolina.

5. San Francisco 49ers

Kyle Shanahan would probably prefer to reunite with one of his trusty old friends, like Matt Ryan or Kirk Cousins. But neither of those QBs figures to be readily available. Jimmy Garoppolo, meanwhile, seems like a 50-50 shot at returning for 2021. The Niners might not see Wentz as an obvious upgrade over Jimmy, but Shanahan could be enticed by the idea of resurrecting a superior talent in his QB-friendly system, especially with that defense also on his side. San Francisco openly entertained replacing Garoppolo with a veteran ahead of 2020, so there’s no reason they won’t do it again.

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