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NFL Rumor Roundup: What to make of Carson Wentz trade and more free-agent chatter

Matt Harmon
·11-min read

The NFL rumor mill is roaring at full speed as we approach the official start of the league year in March. One particular part of the mill reached a resolution this morning when the most gossiped-about man this side of Deshaun Watson was finally traded.

The Colts acquired Carson Wentz from the Eagles in exchange for a 2021 third-round pick and a conditional 2022 second-rounder. That 2022 selection will become a first if Wentz plays 75 percent of the snaps or 70 percent and the team makes the playoffs.

Taking on the 28-year-old Wentz is a fine gamble for the Colts. The team has employed a pair of one-year stop gaps in Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers the last two seasons following Andrew Luck’s surprising 2019 retirement. This move is an effort to put an end to that churning. If Wentz fails, Chris Ballard and company are unlikely to miss those picks. Should Wentz produce something just shy of the output he offered in 2017, he gives a team that had no path forward at quarterback once Rivers retired an answer.

How Wentz performs for the Colts will be the ultimate test in how much ecosystem really matters for a quarterback. I’m of the opinion it matters a great deal.

Quarterback Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles
Nah that Carson Wentz has been traded to the Colts, we're about to see how much ecosystem actually matters for a QB. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Wentz is leaving one of 2020's stone-worst quarterback ecosystems to what was one of the best. One of the most noticeable differences is that he’ll operate behind one of the best pass-blocking offensive lines after dealing with a hideously banged-up Eagles unit last year.

We can also comfortably say the Colts’ skill position room carries more promise than the Eagles as it stands today. Jonathan Taylor looks like the league’s next young star running back and can carry the brunt of the dirty work for Wentz. Receiver Michael Pittman played better as a rookie (when healthy) than Jalen Reagor did for the Eagles. Fantasy drafters will be eager to take these guys in their second seasons and, no matter what you think of Wentz, he keeps their appeal afloat much more than some vagabond journeymen or a return to the Brissett era would.

Unlike Philadelphia, Ballard and company actually have a bevy of cap space to dip into a deep free-agent wide receiver market. This situation could get even better in a few months.

Beyond all the roster appeal, let’s not forget Wentz will be returning to the tutelage of an offensive coach he loves and thrived with in Frank Reich. As much as ecosystems matter, relationships might carry even more importance toward a healthy working result.

Ultimately though, how good Carson Wentz ends up being will largely come back to the player himself.

Back in Philly, the Eagles will take on an NFL-record $33.8 million dead cap charge to get out from under that hideous contract. While you might be tempted to lock in Jalen Hurts as your favorite quarterback sleeper and rocket him up fantasy draft boards, don’t be shocked if the rug gets ripped out from under you. Hurts is a good prospect but the Eagles still might draft a passer in Round 1 this year.

Howie Roseman dropped the term “quarterback factory” after last year’s draft and it’s doubtful he feels fully staffed up with just Hurts. And despite his weird death grip on the owner’s good graces, Roseman probably needs to field a winning roster to keep his seat from heating up. Going Hurts or bust at quarterback would be ultra-aggressive.

Now that the dust has settled, it’s clear that no situation better embodied the type of outright BS thrown around this time of year before big moves actually happen. At first, it sounded like Wentz was going to be traded for multiple first-round picks amid a huge bidding war. That was oh so obviously spun from inside Philadelphia to drum up interest. But even with that layer of BS applied to the top, the truth of the situation lay underneath the rumors: It was only a matter of time before Wentz was traded.

With that said, it’s a perfect time to get into a new ongoing series based around my trademarked “BS Meter” used to parse out the rumors sure to be flying during this wild offseason. Here’s how it’s going to work:

The parameters of the BS Meter

1 - Little to no BS detected

2 - Some degree of BS but not significant

3 - You’re starting to push it

4 - Probably BS but hints of truth detected

5 - Total BS

Most importantly, after we decide just how much BS is clouding a rumor, we’ll look at exactly what it might mean that this bit of gossip has even hit our ears.

Behind every NFL lie, there is some layer of truth.

Rumor: Kevin Colbert and Steelers aren’t fully committed to Ben Roethlisberger in 2021

NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala put it best in saying the Pittsburgh brass had “every opportunity” to commit full-stop to Roethlisberger as the starter in 2021 and passed it up. It’s hard to argue with that interpretation. That’s what happens when you drop an “as we sit here today,” line and praise backup Mason Rudolph’s progress when discussing your aging Hall of Fame quarterback.

BS Meter: 1 out of 5

If you slipped Colbert and Mike Tomlin a little truth serum, they would say they were hoping Roethlisberger would have retired by now.

It was clear to anyone watching objectively that, outside of two quarters against the Colts in Week 15, the second half of the season showed Roethlisberger is a quarterback who is well into his decline. He captained a popgun offense that was easy to figure out. His presence capped their ceiling and was the reason they started losing games.

The Steelers are surely not eager to undergo a nasty breakup and cut a franchise legend. However, their current salary cap quandary makes the possible savings tempting, especially considering where he is as a player as we sit here today.

This situation absolutely bears watching, especially for fantasy footballers eager to draft young receivers like Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool in 2021. The Steelers could be one of the many teams to ride the quarterback carousel this offseason. As for Roethlisberger, if he’s unable to work out some sort of bridge deal with Pittsburgh, who knows if any other team would even be tempted to bring him on.

Rumor: The Bears could tag and trade Allen Robinson

NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the Bears and Robinson haven’t had contract talks since September. That seems like a bad idea for Chicago. It also makes the idea of an extension being hammered out in the next few weeks unlikely. But as Pelissero said, this brings the franchise tag into focus ... with the added wrinkle of a possible trade.

BS Meter: 2 out of 5

Robinson is too good of a player for a team to just lose without looking stupid. If there’s any way the Bears can prevent that egg on their face, they’d be wise to explore it.

Unfortunately for them — and fortunately for all those praying to the football gods Robinson finally plays with a good quarterback — it sounds like the wideout is done with the Bears. And not without regret either. He loves the city, the region, and the fanbase, but is put off by the Bears’ non-committal attitude to their best offensive player. Don’t think for a second he doesn’t also daydream about catching passes from a guy we’d agree is even just above average for once.

So, if Chicago (weirdly) doesn't want to commit to an elite receiver but also doesn’t want to watch him just stroll into the open market, the tag-and-trade move has its logic. The tag is only likely to deepen their divide, so if it’s applied, don’t give up on your hopes Robinson plays for another team. It’ll be a high-wire act for the Bears to pull off but the possible compensation makes it worth a try.

Rumor: Marcus Mariota could snag a starting job via trade

The annual “Is Derek Carr Jon Gruden’s guy?” gossip has started up right on time. This year it’s accompanied by an additional wave of chatter regarding the Raiders’ backup, Marcus Mariota. The Athletic reports that the organization prefers to flip the latter, considering they can’t hope to carry both of their cap charges on the books. Mariota’s presence on the market has teams intrigued, with Washington and New England reportedly in the mix.

BS Meter: 3 out of 5

It’s hard to buy Mariota entertaining a team enough to persuade them to part with significant draft resources to get him — and hand him a starting job. The Raiders have every reason to want that to be the case but a simple trip to OverTheCap.com would let the 31 other teams know that.

Nothing is more difficult for an NFL team than trading a player everyone knows you have to get off your roster.

It feels more likely that other organizations will wait Vegas out. Perhaps a team like the Patriots will slip a Day 3 pick to the Raiders at the last minute to ensure they get Mariota without a bidding war. That’s about the best-case scenario for Gruden and Mike Mayock.

The other side of this is Mariota’s appeal as a clear-cut starter. While he was legitimately awesome in his one-game relief appearance for Vegas, he was just as equally uninspiring with the Titans. Trusting him as the answer is aggressive.

He’s sellable as an option for a veteran-laden team like New England or Washington that’s just looking for average play under center. But even that scenario would come without a blockbuster deal preceding it and would include a few other options in camp. Even so, if Mariota can be something in between what he flashed with the Raiders and what he became in Tennessee, it would be an upgrade over 2020 Cam Newton, Alex Smith, or Dwayne Haskins for those teams’ pass-catchers. It’s worth tracking this one but you have to sift through a few layers of bravado.

Rumor: Jonnu Smith and Corey Davis are on their way out

Titans general manager Jon Robinson didn’t sound like a man who was especially convinced he’d be able to bring back two key young pieces next month. Both Corey Davis and Jonnu Smith are set to have their contracts expire and the Titans are one of the many teams already over the projected salary cap floor for 2021. They’ll have to stretch to make that work.

BS Meter: 1 out of 5

It would be an outright shock if at least one of these guys wasn’t playing for a new team next year. Robinson is probably right that the Titans stand to lose both.

Davis and Smith are both under 27 years old and combined for 13 touchdowns last season. Neither is likely to break the bank, either. These are the exact kinds of players smart teams usually pursue when they hit the open market after the first wave of name-brand guys sign.

Don’t rule out either pass-catcher making fantasy noise with their second squad. Smith is an uber-talented receiver at tight end and while he has been more tease than consistent in Tennessee, a different spread-out style of offense could suit him well. And remember, it’s the tight end position; we aren’t asking for much in fantasy.

Davis has always been unfairly judged because he was aggressively drafted fifth-overall in 2017. He was a solid starting NFL receiver during the first two years of his career amid some miserable Tennessee offenses. He finally put up big numbers last year when his own health allowed him to participate in the high-end Tannehill attack. Davis won’t be a team’s No. 1 option but he could be quite productive in a pass-first offense as a second fiddle.

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