The Commanders have their highest-paid quarterback back at practice Wednesday. They designated Carson Wentz to return from IR, giving the veteran passer three weeks to be activated.
Wentz suffered a fractured finger during Washington’s Week 6 win in Chicago and underwent surgery. He has missed five games — one more than the minimum for 2022 IR stays — and seen the team change its quarterback plan during that absence. Taylor Heinicke has since regained his spot as the team’s starting quarterback.
Ron Rivera (via Commanders.com’s Zach Selby) has since confirmed Sunday reports that indicated Heinicke would keep his job even when Wentz returns. While Heinicke’s grip on the gig is still somewhat tenuous, the team’s primary 2021 starter retaking the reins doubles as Wentz’s second benching in three seasons. Wentz is unlikely to return this week, per Rivera, who said rookie Sam Howell will remain Heinicke’s backup, Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post tweets.
After inquiring on just about every potentially available quarterback this offseason — one that included a three-first-rounder offer to the Seahawks for Russell Wilson — the Commanders sent the Colts a 2022 third-round pick and a conditional 2023 choice for Wentz. That pick will looks set to become a third-rounder instead of a second, with Wentz unlikely to hit the 70% snap benchmark necessary for the pick to land in Round 2. This comes after Wentz met the participation-based conditions for the Eagles to nab a first-rounder this year. The Commanders and Colts also swapped 2022 second-round picks in this year’s Wentz trade, giving the Colts the No. 42 overall choice and the Commanders the 47th pick.
Wentz, 29, has been unable to re-establish himself as a solid starter in Washington. The team went 2-4 in Wentz’s starts. While wins and losses are obviously far from the best measure for quarterback success, the Commanders’ surge under Heinicke essentially left Rivera with little choice to stay the course. The team is now 6-5 and gunning for a wild-card spot. Wentz has, however, doubled Heinicke in touchdown passes (1o to five). The two are also separated by just 0.4 points in quarterback rating, keeping the door open for Wentz to re-emerge at some point later this season.
The trade prices notwithstanding, the 2020s have represented a steep fall from grace for Wentz. After seeing an ACL tear almost certainly deny him an MVP honor in 2017, Wentz never regained that form. He has shown flashes — helping a receiver-depleted 2019 Eagles team to the playoffs, a 27-7 TD-INT ratio during a polarizing Colts stay that ended quite poorly — but is moving toward failure in his latest bounce-back opportunity. The former No. 2 overall pick is on the Commanders’ books (via the Eagles extension he inked back in 2019) through 2024 but can be jettisoned free of charge next year.