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Commanders reach deal to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts

The Commanders agreed to a deal to acquire Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts. Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2016 draft. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

The Washington Commanders filled one major piece of their offseason puzzle.

A day after Aaron Rodgers announced his return to Green Bay and Russell Wilson was traded to Denver, Washington on Wednesday agreed to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz from the Indianapolis Colts for a package of draft picks, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deal.

The Commanders will swap 2022 second-round picks with the Colts and receive a 2022 seventh-round pick. The Colts will get Washington’s 2022 third-round pick and 2023 third-round pick, which can turn into a second-rounder if Wentz plays at least 70 percent of the team’s snaps.

The trade, which cannot be made official until the new league year starts next Wednesday, gives the Commanders a new starting quarterback — for at least a year. But it leaves open the chance for more change, possibly as soon as April, when Washington still could draft a quarterback to develop for the future.

The Carson Wentz deal

Washington receives …
Indianapolis receives …
QB Carson Wentz
2022 second-round pick
Colts’ 2022 second-round pick
2022 third-round pick
2023 third-round pick that can convert to a second-rounder if Wentz plays 70 percent of the snaps

Wentz, the No. 2 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2016, has three years remaining on his contract and this year has a salary cap charge of roughly $28.3 million, the bulk of Washington’s current effective cap space. His salary, coupled with the draft assets Washington gave up to get him, is costly and has been questioned by some who believe the Commanders overpaid for a player who seemed to be on the outs in Indianapolis.

“That’s a pretty steep price to pay for a guy that is going on three teams in three years,” former NFL executive Mike Tannenbaum said. “That’s always a concern.”

But the quarterback supply-and-demand in the NFL always inflates the price of the position, and Washington was running out of options to upgrade.

For the Commanders, Wentz, 29, is at worst a one-year rental and, at best, a longer-term starter with upside. The final two years of his contract do not include any guaranteed salary, so if they want to move on after this season, they could without taking on any dead money (his cap charges those years are $26.2 million and $27.2 million, respectively, with salary and roster bonuses).

According to one person with knowledge of Washington’s strategy, the team regarded Wentz as one of its more appealing options, behind Rodgers and Wilson, for notable reasons. He has the size and the arm strength often coveted for the position; he’s a good fit for offensive coordinator Scott Turner’s scheme; and he helped the Eagles to a Super Bowl run in only his second NFL season. Wentz was 11-2 as the Eagles’ starter in 2017 before suffering an ACL injury late in the year. Nick Foles finished out the regular season and led Philadelphia to its first Super Bowl victory.

The Eagles signed Wentz to a four-year, $128 million contract in 2019, and he promptly led Philadelphia to another division title while throwing for more than 4,000 yards. But injury again cut short his season; he suffered a concussion in an NFC first-round game.

And behind the scenes, tensions began to mount.

Ron Rivera’s first game as Washington coach, the 2020 season opener at FedEx Field, marked the start of Wentz’s downward spiral. He threw two interceptions in the Eagles’ loss and finished the season with 15, tied for the league high, before he was benched. Relationships with Eagles coaches, teammates and executives fractured and eventually led to his — and then-Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s — exit in 2021.

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Indianapolis traded for Wentz in February 2021 with the hope that a change of scenery might jump-start his career and solve its quarterback woes. The Colts gave up a third-round pick and a second-rounder that turned into a first because of a play-time incentive, and although Wentz’s numbers were serviceable — 62.4 completion percentage, 94.6 rating, 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions — his tenure there ended poorly, too.

He struggled in the Colts’ final two games — both losses, to Las Vegas and Jacksonville — costing Indianapolis a playoff spot. Team owner Jim Irsay described it as “an epic shortfall that stunned and shocked and appalled us all,” and after only one season, the Colts were ready to cut ties with Wentz.

“Ultimately, you’ve got to have a guy you believe in and you can win with,” Colts General Manager Chris Ballard said of the team’s quarterback situation last week. “That will play some into it, but ultimately we will make the decision that we think is best, both in the short and the long term.”

Trust issues again appeared to be at the heart of the Colts’ divorce from Wentz. Ballard danced around giving a direct answer when asked whether the team still believed in the quarterback, telling reporters last week, “Whatever decision we make will be the best one for us.”

So now Wentz joins a years-long cycle of quarterbacks in Washington and will presumably be the 11th to start a game for the team since 2018. In Rivera’s tenure alone, the team has tried six starters because of injury, health or performance issues and began this offseason with renewed urgency to find a solution.

“We don’t have that piece,” Rivera said last week. “So we’re trying to find it. We’re working hard to find it.”

Last season, the team believed it found an upgrade for at least a season in Ryan Fitzpatrick. But that hope faded in Week 1, when he suffered a season-ending hip injury. Taylor Heinicke took over and went 7-8 as a starter. His experience gives Washington a trusted backup quarterback, but the Commanders entered the offseason needing a No. 1.

Commanders General Manager Martin Mayhew said last week that "[Heinicke] did yeoman’s work. … One of the hardest-working guys that I’ve been around. One of the toughest competitors. So I just think the world of Taylor and really appreciate him. But we are looking to upgrade that position, and we’re looking at every angle that’s possible.”

The Commanders’ options started to dwindle, however, when Rodgers announced his return to the Packers and Wilson was dealt to the Broncos.

Washington tried to land Wilson, offering Seattle at least three first-round picks, multiple people with direct knowledge of the team’s proposal said. But Seattle partnered with Denver, which offered up two first-round picks, a couple second-rounders, a fifth-round selection and three players (defensive lineman Shelby Harris, tight end Noah Fant and quarterback Drew Lock) for Wilson and a fourth-round pick.

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Although Rivera didn’t shy from the prospect of starting a rookie quarterback, he has said he prefers a veteran — someone with the experience to step in and win. Deshaun Watson, the Houston Texans’ quarterback who led the league in passing yards in 2020, was also enticing to Washington, according to people with knowledge of its plans. But Watson’s availability was complicated by 22 civil lawsuits and the possibility of criminal charges for alleged sexual misconduct.

Wentz was among a shortlist of potentially available players that the Commanders called about, and despite his up-and-down career, the team regarded him as a clear upgrade, at least on paper. And at least, for now.

The question still is whether another change of scenery will put his career back on track.

“Can it? Sure,” said Tannenbaum, an ESPN analyst and co-founder of the website “The 33rd Team.” “Does it usually? No. You need someone that has rare mental and physical toughness to start playing at a consistently high level. I’m sure what their thinking is, is he’s better than Ryan Fitzpatrick, he’s better than Heinicke. But it’s a very steep price to pay for somebody that’s been very inconsistent.”

But Washington presumably isn’t done. Wentz is a start — albeit an expensive one — but will prompt additional roster moves. The team soon could start to re-sign some of its own free agents, but it will need to clear cap room, and restructuring the contract of safety Landon Collins or releasing him outright is a possibility.

Continuing to bolster the quarterback room could be in the works too. Heinicke is under contract for another season, and Kyle Allen will be a restricted free agent next week. It’s plausible that with only one guaranteed year with Wentz, the Commanders could try to add a quarterback — maybe two — in the upcoming draft.

The class of 2022 is generally regarded as weaker than most in quarterback talent, with Kenny Pickett from the University of Pittsburgh and Malik Willis from Liberty University as the top two options. Rivera and his staff met with both at the NFL scouting combine and probably will be spotted at pro days and in the coming weeks.

But for now, the Commanders have their No. 1.

“They got a really good coach; they got a good defense; they’re going to have to play a lot of teams and really play to their strengths,” Tannenbaum said. “But I think what we’re quickly seeing in the NFL are the haves and the have-nots. If you don’t have a quarterback, it’s really, really hard.”

What to read about the Washington Commanders

Exclusive: An employee of Washington’s NFL team accused Commanders owner Daniel Snyder of asking for sex, groping her and attempting to remove her clothes, according to legal correspondence obtained by The Post. A team investigation concluded the woman was lying in an attempt to extort Snyder.

Capitol Hill: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), the chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, announced that the committee intends to issue a subpoena to compel the testimony of Snyder.

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Penalized: The NFL fined Commanders head coach Ron Rivera $100,000 and docked the team two OTA practices in 2023 for excessive hitting during their offseason program this year, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.