INDIANAPOLIS -- The season is officially over. The Super Bowl champion has been crowned. Now it’s on to the offseason -- which will be a more pivotal time for some teams.
The Indianapolis Colts are one of those teams.
The coaching staff and front office were likely thinking about this offseason long before owner Jim Irsay arrived back in Indianapolis to meet with general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich after his team lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 18 and missed the playoffs.
The player who will be talked about the most on the Colts' roster is quarterback Carson Wentz, the man handpicked by Reich to be his starter last season.
ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported on Super Bowl Sunday it looked “bleak” for Wentz to return to Indianapolis for a second season.
“Yes, the Colts did not give him support verbally after the season,” Mortensen said on ESPN. “Said that they weren’t guaranteeing him anything. Well, right now, it looks bleak. ... So, for Carson Wentz and the Colts, it looks like it was a one-year marriage that went wrong.”
A divorce between the Colts and Wentz would have to occur within the next four weeks or so, for financial reasons. Wentz will get $15 million whether he’s on the Colts' roster or not next season. But the team can save about $13 million if it releases him by March 18. Wentz' contract runs through 2024, though there is a potential out after 2022, per Spotrac.
A league source said no decision has been made on Wentz or any other player on the roster.
The chances of the Colts moving on from Wentz increased when Ballard refused to say the quarterback would be his starter next season.
“Sitting here today, just so y'all know, I won't make a comment on who is going to be here next year and who is not going to be here next year,” Ballard said on Jan. 13. “That's not fair to any player."
The possibility of Wentz wearing a Colts uniform for one season was never supposed to be an option after Ballard gave up a first-round and a third-round pick to acquire the quarterback from the Philadelphia Eagles a year ago this month.
But Wentz -- and only Wentz -- put the Colts in this position with his play, which did not come close to his 2017 season, when he was in the running for MVP before getting injured.
Wentz’s stats were average: 3,563 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions. But a closer look reveals that he did not single-handedly win any game for the Colts.
The Colts needed Wentz to step up at the end of the season when the Las Vegas Raiders and Jaguars did a good job of limiting running back Jonathan Taylor. They needed one win in their final two games to make the playoffs.
Wentz didn’t produce it. He didn’t top 185 yards in either of the final two games, completing 58.9% of his pass attempts and throwing a total of two touchdowns.
"But the hyper-importance of that position, it's real,” Ballard said last month. “You have to get consistency there. The years we've gotten it, we've been pretty good, and we thought we had it until the end of the season. Something we have to continue to work through."
That’s not supposed to happen with a franchise quarterback. And that’s one of the reasons why the Colts appear to be on their way to looking for a new starting quarterback in 2022. That, and the fact that other talented quarterbacks like Joe Burrow, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Mac Jones and Justin Herbert are also in the AFC.
The trouble is finding an upgrade over Wentz is not as simple as picking up the phone and calling another team to acquire one.
Of course, all that could be wishful thinking since the Colts don’t have a first-round pick as trade bait in this year’s draft -- thanks to the Wentz trade.
The list of 2022 free agents doesn't include the type of names who would make Ballard want to rush out and spend part of the Colts' projected $41 million in salary cap space: Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota.
So what about the draft?
With no first-round pick and not a deep quarterback draft class, it seems unlikely the Colts could find a starter for next season taking that path.
The Colts appear to be wanting to move on from Wentz, but the pickings look slim. Hopefully they have a plan in mind, because if not, they’ll be right back in this position at this time next year.