Carson Wentz, the return of the Champions League, Fernando Tatis Jr. and much more in Five Things From the Week.
1. Everyone was a winner in the Carson Wentz trade
In light of the circumstances they found themselves in, the Philadelphia Eagles did well to get what they did for disgruntled quarterback Carson Wentz. If Wentz stays on the field for the Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles get a first round pick for a guy who was awful in 2020 and didn’t want to be there. If he never gets back to his old self, they got rid of him before his extension kicked in. Colts general manager Chris Ballard never wavered and will be able to justify the price he paid regardless of what the conditional 2022 pick turns out to be.
The biggest winner is Wentz, who went from a team in decline to one a slight improvement at quarterback away from being a Super Bowl contender. He now has the protection and weapons he lacked in his last two seasons in Philadelphia and a coaching staff he enjoys working with. There are plenty of similarities between this Colts team and the 2017 Eagles, starting with an elite defense. Wentz doesn’t have any more extenuating circumstances to point to. He is set up to succeed in every way imaginable.
2. College basketball has five elite teams
It took almost the entire season, but five teams have separated themselves from everyone else in college basketball. The first two, of course, are Gonzaga and Baylor. Michigan’s been impressive all season and only helped itself by coming out of its COVID pause with wins over Wisconsin, Rutgers and Ohio State. Those three (Gonzaga, Baylor and Michigan) have been in the elite group for months. Who else belongs in the conversation with them has taken longer to figure out.
Though the aforementioned Buckeyes came up short against their archrivals, dropping 87 points on a top-five defense and going toe-to-toe with a 16-1 Big Ten team was more than enough to validate their place in the second tier of national title contenders. A 31-point victory at Williams Arena (the sight of the Wolverines’ lone defeat) and two triple-doubles in four games from Ayo Dosunmu while Houston and Virginia suffered bad losses means Illinois makes the cut as well. Winning 11 of 13 Big Ten games helps too. If someone other than the Bulldogs or Bears are going to win it all, it will be a team from the best conference in the country.
3. Fernando Tatis Jr.’s extension is the latest example of MLB teams getting smarter
While the 14-year, $340 million extension Fernando Tatis Jr. received from the San Diego Padres is unlike anything baseball has seen, it also continues a trend when it comes to superstar contracts. Mike Trout was 27 when he signed his record-breaking 12-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels in 2019. That same offseason, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper got a combined $660 million over 23 years as free agents. Both were 26 years old.
Contrast that with Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera, who were all in their 30s when they agreed to contracts averaging 9.3 years and $254.3 million. The New York Yankees missed the playoffs three times in four years from 2013 to 2016 in large part because of the money they owed Rodriguez. Pujols is the main reason the Angels can’t build a contender even with Trout in his prime. Cabrera’s Detroit Tigers have one winning season since 2015. The crippling part of those deals is not the number of years; it is the long-term investment in players who will only produce at a high level for a couple more seasons. Like Trout, Harper and his teammate Machado, Tatis should have more than validated the contract by the time he is no longer worth the money he is being paid. It appears MLB teams have learned from their past mistakes and started taking a more intelligent approach.
4. Soccer’s future is becoming its present
After combining for five goals in the first leg of the Champions League round of 16, Kylian Mbappé and Erling Håland rank first and second all-time in Champions League goals scored before a player’s 20th, 21st and 22nd birthday. Mbappé, who doesn’t turn 23 until December, is two goals away from passing Lionel Messi for the most scored before a player’s 23rd birthday. Håland is only 20. Nobody has ever been this good at such a young age before, and their breathtaking performances reminded the world of that fact.
Mbappé’s demolition of Messi’s Barcelona and the surprising loss by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus make it easy to frame what transpired as a changing of the guard, but the reality of the situation is more complicated. Mbappé plays in the fifth-best league in the world and isn’t even winning it despite the overwhelming advantages PSG have. Håland may very well need to find a new club if he wants to be in next season’s Champions League. Though they are already arguably two of the five best players in the world, they won’t become global icons like Messi and Ronaldo until their club’s prominence matches their talent level.
5. Jalen Johnson has bigger concerns than “quitting” on his team
Jalen Johnson left a Duke team whose NCAA Tournament hopes are dangling by a thread because he decided it was in his best interest to begin preparing for the NBA draft. Johnson did not pass up a chance to play in March Madness or put his teammates’ tournament chances in jeopardy. Frankly, the Blue Devils might a better team without him. Plus, there’s the nagging foot injury and pandemic to take into account. While the optics certainly aren’t great, NBA teams aren’t going to be focused on his choice to cut his college career short.
They’re going to be focused on why Johnson never made it work at Duke when every other top-10 recruit that went there did. And why he was unable to handle the responsibility of having an offense built around him. James Wiseman proved the NBA isn’t too concerned with guys who demonstrate a lack of commitment to their teammates by “quitting” on them. What Johnson needs to be able to explain is why Duke’s NCAA Tournament hopes were dead until he left the team.
In the same weekend where surprising results tightened the title races in Germany and Spain, Inter Milan’s 3-0 victory in the Milan derby gave them complete control in Italy. With no European competition to worry about and a four-point cushion, Inter will have nobody but themselves to blame if they fail to win Serie A.