ASHBURN, Va. – Washington Commanders quarterback Carson Wentz has a level of comfort that may have been missing in Philadelphia and Indianapolis.
He feels good about his family situation. They’re living in a rural town in northern Virginia more than an hour outside of the nation’s capital, reminding him more of his North Dakota roots. He and his wife have two young daughters, three dogs and a pace of life that suits them.
Wentz also feels good about his new team. The quarterback will be surrounded by a 1,000-yard receiver (Terry McLaurin), a 1,000-yard rusher (Antonio Gibson), an all-around tight end (Logan Thomas) and a first-round rookie receiver who looked good all summer (Jahan Dotson). There’s more, but that’s the starting point.
At 29, Wentz has reached a good spot. After being traded in each of the last two offseasons, he arrived in Washington as a different person than the one who arrived in Philadelphia six years ago as the No. 2 overall pick. In Washington, his home life is settled, he has bonded with teammates over golf, steaks and date nights with spouses.
Wentz is learning to be a better listener in the locker room and has exuded an air of confidence that has the Commanders hopeful he’ll stabilize a position plagued by inconsistency and change the past five years.
But, as the season begins at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), one question remains: Will any of it impact Wentz's play on the field?
“It's technically two separate things, but my mind's not worried about my wife and kids,” Wentz said. “They're having a good time. I know they're taken care of so I can be fully invested here, which definitely helps.”
IT IS A pivotal season for the Commanders, entering Year 3 under coach Ron Rivera. They are seeking their first winning season since 2016 and first playoff win since 2005.
The organization needs success. It needs stability at quarterback where 10 players have started at the position since 2018. That’s why Washington aggressively sought a proven starter this offseason, calling any team whose quarterback might be available – even inquiring about the retired Andrew Luck.
They ended up with Wentz, sending a second-round pick in the 2022 draft and what likely will turn into a second-rounder next year to the Indianapolis Colts and taking on all of Wentz’s $28.3 million salary this season.
Wentz arrived from Indy with plenty of baggage. He was criticized by Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was unhappy that Wentz was not being vaccinated for COVID-19. Wentz’s inconsistent play and inability to lead the Colts to a victory in the final two games last season, which cost the team a spot in the playoffs, didn’t help matters.
Wentz threw 27 touchdown passes to seven interceptions and ranked ninth in total QBR but was quickly traded to Washington without Indy having an immediate plan to replace him.
The 2022 season hasn’t started so all is well with his new team. The Commanders feel good based on what they witnessed from Wentz in the spring and summer practices.
“He seems to handle everything with an air of confidence but grace,” Rivera said. “He doesn't, fight it. He doesn't snap back at it. You see some of the decisions he makes, and you only make those, in my opinion, if you're confident in what you're doing.”
The Commanders have told Wentz how much he’s wanted – Rivera said it to him, again, as he returned for training camp.
“He has stabilized that position for us,” Washington general manager Martin Mayhew said. “We’re excited about what he brings to the table in terms of his physical talent and also what he brings to the table as a person, as a leader.”
“You've seen things. You understand things. You have a different perspective,” Wentz said. “But also just my perspective on being married for four years with a very young locker room, guys that are maybe engaged or may have real life questions, too. All of that comes with experience and being relatable and trying to be authentic.”
Four years ago, Washington traded for Alex Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft. He, too, arrived having experienced a mercurial career arc like Wentz, complete with benchings and injuries and criticism and a trade – as well as success.
Smith matured on the field throughout his career, showing some limitations but enjoying success. He admitted to letting the weight of expectations get to him early in his career. Wentz understood the sentiment.
“You try to not let those things bog you down, but they're real things,” Wentz said. “I was a 23-year-old kid from North Dakota that never left North Dakota. So, you get thrown into the wildfire of Philly, and you want to succeed. You have to learn to navigate the ups and downs and the pressures, the expectations. I've had a great supporting cast from family, even before I met my wife, and people around me and my faith to keep me grounded. You still got to live it out and go through it.
While navigating that road, Wentz became a controversial figure.
“We’re not perfect. I’m not perfect,” Wentz said. “I’ve definitely failed in moments, and maybe been a certain type of way, but I try to be the same. I try to be consistent, and I try to be authentic. But at the same time sticking true to my values and who I am.”
That means sharing his faith with others, especially if a teammate provides an opening -- a practice one source said rubbed some former teammates the wrong way.
“It’s always a fine line navigating,” Wentz said, “but that’s also one of the cool parts of a locker room because there are guys from a bunch of different backgrounds and cultures, different upbringing and faiths and who are at different points in their faith journey so that’s kind of fun.
"I try not to think I’m better than anyone else and try not to have judgmental opinions. But I am also showing this is what I believe, let’s have a conversation and do it out of a place of love and not judgment.”
Some of that also could stem from his personality. Wentz said he’s had to learn to harness that trait with his family and that, in turn, can help in a locker room.
“I’ve always been Type A and wired to get stuff done,” he said. “[But] sometimes they just need me to listen and shut up and be present. I’ve learned that and tried to grow in that, which is applied to work as well. I like to think I can be loose and relax and have fun with the guys. But when it's time to work, I'm relatively locked in and ready to go.”
THE COMMANDERS CAN help his climb back to the upper half with a solid array of skill talent: McLaurin, Dotson and Curtis Samuel; Thomas; third-down back J.D. McKissic and versatile back Gibson. And if the offensive line protects him, those weapons can be maximized.
“We have a guy that we can now establish and rally around and build off of,” Rivera said of Wentz, “which is what we tried to do in the offseason, as far as making sure we had a stout offensive line to protect him and in the playmakers. That's what you have to do.”
The rest will be up to Wentz. Has he evolved? And will that be good enough? But what comforts him is knowing that his daughters don’t care whether he tossed five touchdowns or two interceptions.
“There’s something bigger than just this game and this job,” Wentz said. “It almost is freeing to just give everything I have to this game and not stress about the outcome, but give it all I have because I want to, because I'm setting an example for my kids.”
That’s partly why he likes living in the northern Virginia countryside, spending time with his wife and kids in horse country.
“We like a slower pace,” Wentz said. “That’s definitely helped the transition for sure. It gives me a sense of peace and a sense of comfort, knowing that they enjoy it. They feel safe. They feel good.”
He’s been golfing with defensive tackle Jon Allen and linebacker Cole Holcomb and punter Tress Way. If you can learn a lot from golfing with someone, these players did.
“He’s an aggressive swinger,” Allen said. “He always goes for it.”
“If he starts playing really, really well,” Way said, “he refers to himself as ‘Poppa.’ If he has three good holes in a row it’ll be like, ‘Oh, Poppa’s got the flat stick working.’ I told him, ‘I can’t wait until you’re shredding some defense in the season, and I’ll be like Poppa’s got it working today.’”
Holcomb hung out with Wentz at the Preakness Stakes and other offseason events. They sit next to each other in team meetings.
“He always takes time out of his day to listen and care what you’re talking about,” Holcomb said. “He’s real competitive, and I just think he’s a good dude.”
There are also the steaks he’s cooked for tackle Charles Leno Jr., and his family as well as Way’s family among others.
And then there’s the date night trips Way and Wentz have made with their spouses to the Escape Room – a timed game in which a party must uncover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks in order to escape from the site of the game. Once in a room, Way said Wentz looks like he’s running the offense – sometimes going into a stance, pointing at a door and telling someone to check it out.
Suddenly, the Type A quarterback in him takes over.
“He needed to know the record [time],” for getting out, Way said. “He doesn’t want hints. He wants to do it all by himself. I’m like, ‘Hey man we can get three hints and still break the record’ but he’s adamant on breaking the record with no hints. I tried to keep it light, but we got out of the room every time.”
That competitiveness surely will show when he faces one of his former coaches who benched him (Doug Pederson with Jacksonville); his original team (Philadelphia, twice) and the Colts this season.
Wentz said he, too, wonders what all went wrong in Indianapolis last season. He also said he doesn’t want to hold a grudge and prefers to look forward; that means regaining the footing of his career. But the guy who was touted as an MVP candidate in 2017 has learned lessons about dealing with both failure and success.
“I’m not going to put all of my life’s worth into this game,” Wentz said. “I'm going to give it everything I have, but I'm going to not stress about the results.
“Life comes at you fast. You’ve got to grow up in a hurry – not that I wasn’t grown up already. But just life transitions change and how they affect you and your perspective on it all changes.”