After Carson Wentz trade, could Eagles draft a QB at No. 6 to compete with Jalen Hurts?

Eric Edholm
·7 min read

When the Philadelphia Eagles found a Carson Wentz suitor willing to meet their price (or as close to it as possible), it changed the offseason paths for both the Eagles and Indianapolis Colts, who agreed to trade for Wentz on Thursday.

Pretty dramatically, too.

Let's take a look at how the trade will affect each team's plans, not just in free agency but also as it pertains to the 2021 NFL draft.

Could Eagles still take a QB at 6?

For the Eagles, trading Wentz comes with a massive albatross. Moving him prior to June 1 means that Philadelphia will incur a massive salary cap hit in the form of $33.8 million in dead money.

We were told initially that Doug Pederson's firing was an indicator that the Eagles were choosing Wentz over the former coach. The retcon was delivered with the trade, and the sheer size of the dead cap hit makes it clear how badly the franchise wanted to rid itself of both.

That dead money is a boat anchor that, even with the rosier-than-expected salary cap projections announced just before the Wentz trade, puts the Eagles well, well over the cap and in need of some serious salary slashing. Only the New Orleans Saints arguably have a bigger cap issue to remedy this offseason.

So that puts the chances of the Eagles being able to spend on outside free agents this offseason pretty low.

Now let's fast forward to the draft. The Eagles pick No. 6 overall in the first round. They also now have the Colts' third-round pick (No. 85 overall) via the Wentz trade, along with picks in every other round except Round 4. (They have an additional fifth-rounder from the Dallas Cowboys and are likely to receive three Day 3 compensatory picks, likely in Rounds 6 and 7.)

By our count, that will give the Eagles 11 selections overall this year. They also acquired Indy's second-rounder in 2022, which can turn into a first-round pick if Wentz plays enough this coming season.

That's a pretty good stockpile with which to work. But there's still the question of how the Eagles assess their QB situation.

On the one hand, trading Wentz clearly means the Eagles see something in Jalen Hurts, who started the final four games of last season and seemed to give them a bit of a burst of energy. But the final results were far from perfect, even for a rookie quarterback.

Are the Philadelphia Eagles good with quarterback Jalen Hurts? Or could they still draft a QB in Round 1? (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Are the Philadelphia Eagles good with quarterback Jalen Hurts? Or could they still draft a QB in Round 1? (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Are the Eagles happy enough with Hurts to not draft a QB with the sixth pick? We can't say that definitively.

We also can't imagine the collective reaction of Eagles fans if they did somehow draft a QB at six, but it's a scenario that can't be ruled out.

Our best guess is that they'll do their due diligence on the draft's top QB prospects. They likely will emerge from that process with one, maybe two, who could be to their liking.

Drafting a QB at six does put you back in a similar spot at last year, with two young quarterbacks being pitted against one another with the hopes that one pans out. But passing on one there also levies a lot of trust on Hurts and leaves the Eagles shorthanded if he gets hurt or struggles.

Trading down certainly is an option, and you'd have to assume the aim would be to accumulate more 2022 picks than selections this season, unless the Eagles believe their 11 picks are not suitable to fill all the holes on the roster. There are questions at receiver, cornerback, linebacker, safety and perhaps edge rusher and running back, too. Being in the cap spot they're in, other need positions could emerge as well.

Trading up? That would only be for a quarterback, we'd assume, and it would indicate that Hurts isn't the future — and perhaps that the Eagles aren't that fond, at first glance, at the 2022 draft options at the position. It also would signal an even bigger rebuild in the short term, even for the morass that has been the NFC East the past few years.

But staying at six and taking a non-QB — such as one of the top wideouts — still remains the safe and steady option. It's just not the route we can fully guarantee they'll take.

Look for Colts to trade down

The Colts held firm on their immediate offerings for Wentz and only had to relinquish a third-rounder for this draft cycle to land him.

Whether they were bidding against themselves is another matter for another platform. But we can say that GM Chris Ballard stuck to his guns on not giving up either the Colts' first-round (No. 21 overall) or second-round (No. 54) picks and kept the team pretty well stocked for this year's draft. They'll have all their original picks minus the third they sent to Philly, and will also likely get back a pair of seventh-round compensatory picks.

But they can get more.

One of Ballard's hallmark characteristics as GM has been his devaluing first-round picks and being willing to move down in the draft — in the first round or any of the other six rounds, for that matter.

The Colts have moved down in the draft (or traded current picks for future picks) nine times in the past four draft cycles under Ballard's guidance. They've moved up, by our count, three times over that period. Last year, the Colts traded their first-rounder to the 49ers for DeForest Buckner.

The most notable trade down was the 2018 NFL draft deal that sent the Jets the No. 3 overall pick for the sixth selection (which turned out to be Quenton Nelson) and three second-rounders that all, one way or another, helped build up Indy's talent base.

They also slid back twice in 2019, the first one out of Round 1 completely (the pick Washington used for Montez Sweat) and then down a few more spots from the second-round choice they received from it. It didn't work as well this time around, but it's a pattern for Ballard.

Chris Ballard's MO as Indianapolis Colts general manager has been to trade down when possible, and we expect that again in the 2021 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
Chris Ballard's MO as Indianapolis Colts general manager has been to trade down when possible, and we expect that again in the 2021 NFL draft. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

We expect a similar approach this time around. The Colts could move down from 21 (or from 54) and try to recoup their missing third-rounder this year, or maybe even add 2022 picks.

The Colts have done some major damage in the middle rounds of the draft under Ballard. Not every one of their picks in, say Rounds 2 through 4, have been home runs. But with more at-bats, they have been afforded the occasional whiff and not been hurt by it.

And when a Jonathan Taylor is sitting there a few picks away from their own, Ballard has shown he can work back the other direction and target a player the team loves.

Nelson and Malik Hooker are the only first-round selections Ballard has made in Indy. One was a grand slam, the other a disappointing pop-out. And yet the vast majority of the Colts' starters and major contributors are homegrown talents. We count 11 starters, plus another half-dozen of their role players, who came via the draft, and only two were from their Round 1 selections.

If the right offensive tackle or edge rusher were to still be on the board at 21, perhaps Ballard makes a pick there. Anthony Castonzo's retirement leaves a void at left tackle, and we saw what Wentz looked like last season behind shoddy blocking. But if not, we certainly envision them opening up the phone lines to add more picks.

They also could use their more than $50 million in salary cap space to target Castonzo's replacement. The Colts are not afraid to make targeted investments (such as Buckner and Justin Houston) and pay them handsomely to plug major holes.

Otherwise, if they do take someone at 21, the Colts could slide back in Round 2 with the same ideas. The Colts have shown us a blueprint of how they like to operate this time of year, and we feel the trade for Wentz only makes it more likely that we'll see a similar strategy unfold this time around.

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