As Zaire Franklin unpacked at Colts minicamp 5 weeks ago, he spotted a tall, broad guy with a red beard at the other end:
“I was in the locker room and I was like, ‘Who’s the new tight end?’ "
It was Carson Wentz. Franklin is a 6-foot, 235-pound linebacker, and he’s from Philadelphia, but he couldn’t believe the size of his hometown’s former Pro Bowl passer.
“He catches you off guard,” Franklin said. Wentz looks like a regular guy from a distance, but his 6-5, 237-pound frame can be startling up close: “He’s waaay bigger than you think he is.”
Way more chill, too, as it turns out.
“He’s super cool. Super personable,” Franklin said.
Wentz wasn’t quite what Franklin expected after all he’d heard and read, and Franklin, a diehard Eagles fan as a kid, had heard and read a lot.
Franklin grew up in West Philly and graduated from La Salle College High School, so he knows every chapter of Wentz’s story: how a little-known quarterback out of North Dakota State star No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL draft, which caused friction with starter Sam Bradford, who eventually was traded; how Wentz started as a rookie and was the MVP favorite in 2017 before a knee injury opened the door for Nick Foles to lead the Eagles to their only Super Bowl win; how Wentz’s subsequent injury issues, the shadow of Foles, the drafting in 2020 of Jalen Hurts, and Wentz’s poor play last season led to Wentz getting benched and forcing a trade to Indianapolis.
It’s been just five years, but Wentz has endured enough adversity for two NFL careers.
“I ain’t gonna lie; he’s excited for the fresh start,” Franklin said.
Franklin has returned to Philadelphia for a few weeks this summer to celebrate his 25th birthday next Friday and to conduct a two-day on entrepreneurship for kids at Russell Conwell Middle School, which he attended. During the seminars, he teased the kids that “Now we’ve got Carson!”
The kids couldn’t have cared less.
They are, after all, Philly fans, a breed of supporter whose passion devolves into disdain when they believe an athlete quits on them. Franklin was raised a Philly fan, and Wentz has seen the best and worst of the species.
“He and I kinda rapped about it a little bit — just about what it means to be a Philadelphia athlete,” Franklin said. “And how rewarding, but demanding, the fans can be sometimes.”
From 2016-2019, Wentz was the most popular athlete in the region. He’d made runs at Rookie of the Year and MVP, he’d helped lead the team to the playoffs three times, and he’d played hurt and played hard. But Wentz’s horrific performances in 2020, coupled with Wentz’s trade demand upon being benched, made him the most despised hometown athlete in the city’s history.
It probably didn’t help that, after the trade, Wentz called Indianapolis “the perfect fit,” a place more aligned with his “culture” and “values.” That might be true, if insulting ... but frankly, after Philly, Wentz would’ve been more comfortable in Chernobyl.
“He wishes things had gone better in Philly, but he’s super happy to have a fresh start,” Franklin said. “Especially him being back with Frank. He and Frank, obviously, already have that connection.”
Colts head coach Frank Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator in 2016 and 2017. It was Reich who urged the Eagles to draft Wentz the first time he saw Wentz’s college tape. When Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater shredded his knee in the 2016 preseason, Reich urged Pederson and Eagles general manager Howie Roseman to trade Bradford because Reich believed Wentz was prepared to be an NFL starter.
The connection between Reich and Wentz goes far beyond the field.
Reich, Wentz, Foles, and third-stringer Nate Sudfeld all are devout Christians. They routinely would hold spontaneous, de facto Bible studies in the quarterbacks’ meeting room; Reich is an ordained minister.
Reich also has a knack for getting a lot out of his quarterbacks. In his three years with the Colts, he’s guided backup Jacoby Brissett and retirement-bound Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers to productive seasons. He’s probably going to get Wentz’s best, too. Franklin described Wentz as a reenergized, rejuvenated, refocused player.
“He’s locked in. He’s really excited,” Franklin said. “I’m ready to get to [training] camp to see how he is, competitively.”
Wentz didn’t seem very competitive when he demanded a franchise-crippling trade rather than compete with Hurts for the starter’s job ... but then, Indianapolis isn’t Philly.