- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2022

ASHBURN — Carson Wentz was in his backyard when Colts general manager Chris Ballard called to inform the quarterback he had just been traded to the Washington Commanders. “Blindsided” is a word that often pops up in stories like this one — but it doesn’t quite apply here. Ballard’s lack of public commitment to Wentz had signaled to the 29-year-old that change was coming. 

Still, for Wentz’s tenure to end with the Colts after just one season? That it ended so soon “definitely surprised” him, he said. How is it that he’s still not in Indianapolis

“Sometimes I wonder the same,” Wentz said Thursday in his first Washington press conference. 

Dressed in a mustard yellow sportscoat and a burgundy shirt, Wentz’s clothes were further reminders that the quarterback is in a new location for a new team — starting the get-to-know-you process all over again. The Commanders are Wentz’s third team in the last three seasons after the former No. 2 overall pick flamed out in Philadelphia and Indianapolis

But for a new quarterback in a new town, Wentz spent much of his time at the podium Thursday talking about the past. Things ended badly in both previous stops for Wentz, whose leadership abilities were questioned on his way out the door. This past season specifically, Wentz’s poor play in back-to-back losses cost the Colts a shot at the playoffs. 

Wentz appeared to take ownership of the baggage he brought with him to Ashburn.

“The way I finished was poor,” said Wentz, who failed to top 200 yards in the Colts’ last two losses.

And those concerns about his leadership?

“Reports are reports and there’s truth in some things all those things,” Wentz said. “If we were in this business trying to combat and argue every report, we’d run out of things to say, you know? And so for me, I just try and be myself, be myself, get to know the guys, build the relationships. 

“I strongly feel I had amazing relationships with people in Philly and people in Indy.”

At the same time, Wentz said he tries to not be concerned with outside perceptions. He said he learned quickly upon coming to the NFL how to “tune it out.” He credited his faith and the support of his family for helping him to do so. 

But the reality remains that two teams have soured on Wentz for a variety of reasons.

That would have been unimaginable in 2017 when Wentz looked to be the frontrunner for MVP before tearing his ACL in December. But by the end of his Eagles tenure, he had been benched for rookie Jalen Hurts. With the Colts, Wentz enjoyed a bounce-back year statistically — 27 touchdowns to 7 interceptions — but management still wanted to move on. 

By comparison, Wentz said he now feels “wanted” in Washington. After all, the Commanders paid up to acquire him: Two third-round picks (one that can become a second), a swap of seconds and his whole $28 million salary. But more than the price tag, coach Ron Rivera seems to have strongly embraced his new signal-caller. 

With reporters, Rivera referred to Wentz as “QB1.” And in a video posted by the team, Rivera told Wentz that the quarterback is “coming somewhere you’re wanted.” Rivera even said he believed Wentz would be the solution to years of problems for the team at the position. 

“To feel that I’m wanted here and people believe in me and support me, I think it’ll be a great situation to flourish,” Wentz said. 

Rivera, meanwhile, wasn’t fazed by the perception of Wentz. He said the team did due diligence into the quarterback and cited the support from past coaches who they spoke with. Rivera also pointed to support from two team captains from the Colts who he said were “dumbfounded” that Wentz was being traded.  

Upon Wentz’s trade, Colts linebacker Darius Leonard tweeted “here we go again!” and noted the Colts will be on their fifth starting quarterback next season in his five years of the league. In the same tweet, Leonard, a Colts captain, thanked Wentz and wished him nothing but the best.

“That’s more than enough as far as I’m concerned,” Rivera said. “The players know. If there’s one thing that happens in this league … you can’t foot them, I can tell you that much.” 

Wentz called the last few years of his career a whirlwind — an experience, he said, that caused him to grow a lot as a man. He told reporters he didn’t hold a grudge for the way his time in Philadelphia and Indianapolis ended, but admitted the experience “refuels my fire.”  

At the NFL scouting combine earlier this month, Ballard said he thought Wentz would grow from this latest ordeal. Ballard noted how he thought most of the criticism toward Wentz was fair.

Asked Thursday whether he agreed with the remark, Wentz interjected.

“Which criticism specifically?” Wentz asked with a smile. “There’s a lot of things out there.” 

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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