Carson Wentz and Colts, NFL power rankings, Deshaun Watson and more

Sports

If Carson Wentz is out for a significant amount of time, the Indianapolis Colts and Philadelphia Eagles both lose in major ways.

The Indianapolis Colts would like to hit the reset button. Hard.

After quarterback Philip Rivers retired in February, the Colts acquired his replacement in Carson Wentz a month later. On Thursday, disaster struck.

During a rollout, Wentz reportedly heard a pop in his foot and was sent to noted foot specialist Robert Anderson. The injury is believed to involve a ligament and bone, and while it may not be a season-ender, it could certainly be season-altering. While determining whether he needs surgery, Wentz plans to rehab and then make a more concrete decision.

For the Colts, this looms as a potential crushing blow. Indianapolis surrendered a 2021 third-round choice and a 2022 conditional to the Philadelphia Eagles in March. The latter pick is guaranteed to be a second-rounder which turns into a first if Wentz plays at least 75 percent of the upcoming season’s snaps. With the injury, it appears Wentz could miss the conditional threshold.

The Colts spent the offseason largely sitting on ample cap space, with general manager Chris Ballard apparently believing the reunion of head coach Frank Reich and Wentz — the two worked together in Philadelphia when Reich was the offensive coordinator — would be enough. Now, with Wentz potentially missing time and the depth chart behind him consisting of Brett Hundley, Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger, Ballard faces a crisis.

Considered the favorite in Vegas to win the AFC South prior to Wentz’s injury, the Colts’ offense suddenly goes from intriguing to anemic if Wentz is sidelined. No defensive coordinator is staying up late worrying about a team with no quarterback, no elite receiving threat and an offensive line that while good, is without left tackle Eric Fisher as he recovers from a torn Achilles.

For Ballard, the obvious move would be to call the Chicago Bears and trade for Nick Foles, who won a Super Bowl for Reich and the Eagles in 2017 following Wentz’s torn ACL. Still, Foles was abysmal last year and while he knows the offense, the upside of Wentz compared to Foles presents a massive gap.

More bad news for Indy shows up in the schedule. Should Wentz miss games early, the Colts could be buried. Their first five opponents: the Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Rams, Tennessee Titans, Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, with the last three all away.

If a healthy Wentz isn’t under center, the Colts are underwater.

Furthermore, Wentz being sidelined in camp means no chemistry with new weapons and a good bit of rust. Even when he returns, it’ll be some time before the partnerships begin clicking.

The entire season was a massive gamble by Ballard, who surrendered a pair of top-100 picks and took on a bloated salary for a player so bad in 2020, the Eagles are willfully eating $34 million in dead money.

Now, with Wentz hurting and the Colts scrambling, things have gone sideways in Indianapolis. And while Ballard and Reich figure out their next move, the other 31 clubs continue with their preparations, leaving Indy to search for a reset button which doesn’t exist.

Power rankings

Top 10 trade candidates prior to regular season

1. Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins
2. Zach Ertz, TE, Philadelphia Eagles
3. Nick Foles, QB, Chicago Bears
4. Chandler Jones, EDGE, Arizona Cardinals
5. Stephon Gilmore, CB, New England Patriots
6. Deshaun Watson, QB, Houston Texans
7. Gardner Minshew, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
8. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, OG, Kansas City Chiefs
9. Clelin Ferrell, EDGE, Las Vegas Raiders
10. Jerry Hughes, EDGE, Buffalo Bills

Quotable

“I’ve found my voice more. I really enjoy being around my teammates, my coaches. It’s been a different environment. Just really enjoying the experience of playing football, playing with this group of guys. You guys are catching me on a bad day today. We had a really (expletive) practice, so I’m not feeling great about what we did today. It is what it is.”

– Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady on his second camp with the team

After winning a Super Bowl in his maiden voyage with the Buccaneers, Brady now feels more comfortable and at ease in the room. This is bad news for the NFC, which also saw Tampa Bay retain all 22 starters. While repeating isn’t easy, the Bucs have a terrific chance.

The last team to do so? The 2003-04 Patriots. Quarterbacked by Brady.

Podcast

Random stat

The 2020 New Orleans Saints are the only team in NFL history to employ two 5,000-yard passers at once in Drew Brees and Jameis Winston.

Info learned this week

1. Texans are grossly mismanaging Deshaun Watson situation

The Houston Texans have the feel of an unending circus. Largely because they are one.

After an offseason featuring the trade request of quarterback Deshaun Watson, followed by the ugly sexual assault allegations against Watson by 24 women involving 22 civil suits and 10 criminal complaints, training camp is off to a bizarre start.

While the team appears ready to move on from Watson, no trade has been reached as clubs assuredly want to see the legal process play out. Instead of paying Watson to watch from afar or making him a backup to Tyrod Taylor, first-year head coach David Culley is playing him as a reserve, stand-in safety on the scout team.

This is what bad teams do. They take a situation and make it worse. The rest of the roster must think the notion insane, which would jive with everyone else around football.

The Texans need to make Watson the backup, install him as the starter ( … at quarterback) or tell him to take a paid vacation while everything is sorted out from football to legalities.

2. Packers finally resolve situation with Aaron Rodgers … for now

The longest of offseason stories ended with the solution we’ve been forecasting in this space for months: Aaron Rodgers is back with the Green Bay Packers.

After months of cryptic nonsense and posturing, Rodgers showed up the first day of training camp after he and the Packers’ brass reworked his deal. Essentially, Rodgers is now a free agent after the 2022 season, shaving a year off his current pact. It allows for him to have more bargaining power in the upcoming offseason, to force a trade if he chooses.

Green Bay also traded for veteran slot receiver Randall Cobb, at Rodgers’ request, saving Cobb from Houston while throwing the Packers’ quarterback a proverbial bone. Meanwhile, Rodgers roasted the team in one of the more honest pressers you’ll ever see, getting in a final word before football takes over.

The acrimony between Green Bay and Rodgers isn’t gone, and could well resurface come February. For now, though, the Packers have their MVP quarterback, and a chance to win another ring.

3. Browns sign Nick Chubb to lucrative extension

The Cleveland Browns are built on the run game, and throwing off play action. Their actions late last week showcased that.

On Saturday, the Browns signed running back Nick Chubb to a three-year, $36 million extension, keeping him in town through the 2024 campaign. Chubb, 25, rushed for 1,494 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 before gaining 1,067 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns in ’20 despite missing  four games.

With Chubb and running mate Kareem Hunt, Cleveland has the best backfield tandem in the game behind arguably the league’s top offensive line.

This is good news for quarterback Baker Mayfield, who enters his fourth season in search of a life-changing extension come the offseason. Mayfield is primed for a huge year in the second go-round under head coach Kevin Stefanski, buttressed by the run game and the return of Odell Beckham Jr. from his torn ACL.

4. Washington dealing with COVID outbreak as vaccination rate suffers

Ron Rivera must be ripping his hair out. Despite practically begging players to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and bringing in experts to explain the benefits, Washington reportedly lags behind most NFL teams in vaccination rate. Now it’s coming to the forefront.

Last week, seven Football Team players went on the Reserve COVID-19 list including All-Pro guard Brandon Scherff and star defensive lineman DaRon Payne. While it might not mean much in August, such a situation could be crushing to any contender, let alone a group like Washington which doesn’t have much margin for error.

Rivera is not the only coach voicing frustration this week. Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is exasperated with his group after his quarterback room, including Kirk Cousins, was put on the COVID list.

The good news? A whopping 89 percent of NFL players are vaccinated. Still, work to do.

5. Chiefs might have three rookies starting on OL in front of Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2020 Draft. Still, somehow, the Chiefs may have three rookies starting on their offensive line in Week 1.

On Friday and Saturday, Kansas City had the left side manned by veterans Orlando Brown Jr. at tackle and Joe Thuney at guard, the two biggest additions of its winter. At center, the Chiefs have installed second-round center Creed Humphrey, with sixth-round pick Trey Smith settling at right guard. At right tackle, veteran Mike Remmers and ’19 third-round pick Lucas Niang, an opt-out for COVID last year, are battling.

To be clear, the Chiefs aren’t worried about going this route. In fact, they’re giddy. Kansas City feels it got a tremendous value in Smith, who fell in the draft due to past blood clot issues. Smith was initially going to compete with veteran Kyle Long, but after Long suffered a lower leg injury in June, Smith stepped in. Humphrey, who was actually a Day 2 choice, started three years at Oklahoma and came into camp having already been the starter since OTAs.

Whether Niang beats out Remmers is the big unknown — Remmers was running with the first team before missing the last two practices — but it’s possible three rookies line up shoulder-to-shoulder with the task of protecting the man with the sport’s richest deal in Patrick Mahomes.

Two cents

The Tennessee Titans might be the most fascinating team going into August.

No contender changed personnel more than Tennessee, which lost corners Malcolm Butler and Adoree Jackson, safety Kenny Vaccaro, receiver Corey Davis, tight end Jonnu Smith and offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. However, the Titans also added corners Janoris Jenkins and Caleb Farley, receiver Julio Jones, edge rusher Bud Dupree and defensive lineman Denico Autry.

What to make of all the changes? Are the Titans better? Are they worse? Impossible to say.

My take: the Titans need good fortune more than most, but they’re dangerous. In short, Autry, Jones and Jenkins are are the wrong side of 30 with recent injury issues. Farley, a first-round pick, fell to Tennessee because of significant back problems. while at Virginia Tech. Dupree is only 28 years old, but is coming off a torn ACL suffered in November.

Hope is there for Tennessee, especially in a weak division, but the potential pitfalls are aplenty.

Inside the league

If the Cincinnati Bengals are going to improve, focus on the middle on the field.

After a disastrous offensive line led to rookie quarterback Joe Burrow being battered before blowing out his ACL, the Bengals committed to rebuilding their front. In the second round of the April’s draft, they selected Clemson guard Jackson Carman, who one current scout told FanSided was his favorite sleeper during the pre-draft process. While Carman hasn’t gained a starting job early in camp, he’s key to Cincinnati’s shuffling.

Additionally, the Bengals signed right tackle Riley Reiff to a one-year deal while left tackle Jonah Williams comes back for his third year with 10 extra pounds and plenty to prove. After missing his rookie year in ’19 with a shoulder surgery, the Alabama product only started 10 games last year, again hampered by injury. He’ll need to stay healthy and keep Burrow clean from the blindside.

Ultimately, Cincinnati is banking on a rookie, a veteran and a highly-drafted youngster to improve one of the league’s worst units from a season ago. General manager Duke Tobin believes in the group, something proven when he drafted LSU receiver Ja’Marr Chase over Oregon’s hulking left tackle Penei Sewell.

If Tobin’s gamble works, the Bengals have another elite weapon for Burrow to target and a line which allows him the time to make him valuable. If not, it’s another tough year in the Queen City.

History lesson

The mid-90s San Francisco 49ers might go down as the most talented teams of the salary cap era (1993-current).

In ’94, the Niners loaded up on Hall of Famers, bringing in linebacker Rickey Jackson, cornerback Deion Sanders and defensive end Richard Dent to go with quarterback Steve Young and receiver Jerry Rice.

Then there were the litany of top-end players who aren’t enshrined in Canton, including running back Ricky Watters, tight end Brent Jones, defensive linemen Charles Mann, Dana Stubblefield and Bryant Young, safeties Merton Hanks and Tim McDonald, receivers Ed McCaffrey and John Taylor, center Bart Oates and guard Jesse Sapolu.

Not surprisingly, the 49ers beat the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX, 49-26, after being installed as a whopping 18-point favorite.

In ’97, San Francisco might have done itself one better.

After losing out on the NFC West crown to the upstart Carolina Panthers the year prior, the 49ers still had Rice and Young, but they were joined by future Hall of Famers in defensive end Chris Doleman, outside linebacker Kevin Greene, corner Rod Woodson and receiver Terrell Owens. Somehow, San Francisco didn’t reach the Super Bowl despite being the NFC’s top seed, losing to the Packers in the conference title game.

Parting shot

It’s going to be a busy next 10 days at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

On Aug. 5, the festivities kick off with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys playing in the annual Hall of Fame Game. In most years, the contest concluded the star-studded weekend. This time, it gets everything going.

The reason? With COVID cancelling all planned events last year, the mega-class of 20 enshrines from 2020 are being honored this August, along with the eight members of the ’21 group.

The ’20 Centennial class will be presented on Aug. 7, with the latter class with have their ceremony the following night. The amount of star power is dizzying, with coaches Jimmy Johnson, Bill Cowher and Tom Flores being inducted, along with players including Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson, Calvin Johnson, Steve Atwater, Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James and others.

It will be a week in Canton truly unlike any other, and it’s a great way to kick off the 2021 season.

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