INDIANAPOLIS – The two words never crossed Frank Reich’s lips.
Not once during a 25-minute Zoom conference call Thursday afternoon.
One of the NFL’s more ridiculous rules prohibited the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts from commenting on the week-old trade that delivered – sssssshhhh!! – a new QB1 from Philadelphia to Reich’s offense. The trade is not official until March 17, the start of the new league year.
“As you would expect me to say with the relative news that’s been out in the headlines recently, you guys know the rules,’’ Reich said. “I’m going to be unable to make any serious comments on some of that stuff.’’
The closest Reich came to putting a toe over that line – you know, actually confirming there was a trade – was in response to Michael Pittman Jr. respectively declining to give up his No. 11 jersey to Wentz, who wore that number at North Dakota State and with the Eagles.
The subject came up last week when Pittman and Wentz shared a conversation. After the trade swept across the NFL landscape, of course.
Pittman informed his new quarterback he was “locked in’’ to 11.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,’’ Reich said. “I would have been shocked (if he had given it up). Players don’t like to give up numbers.
“I think Michael looks good in that number and he played good in that number. I’m excited he’s keeping that number.’’
Wentz, meanwhile, must settle on a new jersey number. When he officially joins the Colts, of course.
While Reich was unable to discuss The Quarterback, Who Shall Remain Nameless Until March 17, he nonetheless fielded several questions that tangentially dealt with him.
A few carried franchise-shaping ramifications.
Everyone associated with the organization – from owner Jim Irsay to general manager Chris Ballard to Reich – believes the Colts are on the cusp of competing from something significant. The roster is young and talented and came within a few plays of pulling an upset of the Buffalo Bills in the first round of the playoffs. But it also headed into the offseason with major questions at consequential positions: quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher, cornerback, wideout.
With Philip Rivers enjoying retirement after leading the Colts to an 11-5 record and wild card berth last season, it’s imperative everyone’s assessment of Wentz was correct.
“As we all know, it’s a critical position,’’ Reich said. “We believe we have the right roster – the right culture – and getting good quarterback play is something that is necessary to win a world championship.
“Obviously here in this organization the standard has been set, and I feel like we’ve gotten good quarterback play in recent years, in our three years as well. We need to continue to have that kind of play and even continue to improve on that kind of play for us to win a world championship.’’
Along with needing Wentz to rebound from an atrocious 2020 with the Eagles and make an immediate impact, the Colts need him to return stability to the position. They acquired the final four years of his contract, worth roughly $128 million. It essentially is a two-year, $47 million commitment considering guaranteed money.
Wentz will be the Colts’ fifth different starting QB in as many season openers, following Rivers (2020), Jacoby Brissett (’19), Andrew Luck (’18) and Scott Tolzien (’17). The last time the same guy started consecutive openers: Luck in 2015-16.
“Continuity – whatever our job is – is important. I just think for the whole team,’’ Reich said. “In one respect you always feel like, ‘OK, we’re going to play whatever cards we’re dealt and we’re going to play the cards well.’ If we keep having a different starting quarterback every year, you do what you have to do.’’
However, constant reloading at quarterback impedes offensive growth and makes it more difficult for Ballard and his personnel staff to build the roster around a specific player.
The goal heading into this offseason: find that guy and stop the dizzying QB carousel.
“The moves that we make in free agency are going to be designed to have a longer-term answer there,’’ Reich said. “That has always been the goal, to have a longer-term answer at that position that you can build around and grow.’’
Wentz is 28 and not that far removed from being considered one of the NFL’s promising young guns. Remember, in 2017 he was 11-2 as a starter and in the midst of an MVP-caliber season – 33 touchdowns, seven interceptions, a 101.9 passer rating – before tearing two ligaments in his left knee against the Rams.
It all came crashing down last season. Injuries decimated his offensive line – the Eagles started 14 different combinations – and supporting cast, and Wentz’s performance deteriorated until he was benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts over the final four games. At the time, he had suffered 15 interceptions and 50 sacks, both league highs.
As the season unraveled, it was apparent Wentz lost his confidence and commitment to his mechanics in the pocket.
“Everybody loses confidence for a moment,’’ Reich said. “It may be brief, but it always goes back the same way. One of the ways you build confidence back is you go back to the basics. You go back to the fundamentals and technique.
“You go back to your basic schemes and you build it one play at a time.’’
Last offseason, the Colts wanted an upgrade over Brissett and considered Rivers a quick fix at the position. Reich’s meticulous evaluation of Rivers and their three-year relationship with the Chargers were critical in the acquisition.
Now, Reich’s closeness with Wentz can’t be discounted. Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2016-17, Wentz’s first two seasons in Philly. Those two seasons Wentz passed for 7,078 yards with 49 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Rivers’ familiarity with Reich’s offense “accelerated’’ his relocation to Indy, especially when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the entire offseason workout program.
Wentz’s familiarity with Reich could have a similar impact. They’ve remained close friends.
“There’s a personal aspect to coaching a player. It’s not done in a vacuum,’’ Reich said. “Anytime there’s a personal connection with a player and there’s a familiarity with the offense and the terminology and what you’re trying to accomplish and the vision for what you’re trying to do, it can accelerate it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.