Fans have been clamoring for a new (or improved) Colts quarterback since Jacoby Brissett injured his knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brissett missed most of that game and all of the following week. His backup Brian Hoyer proved completely ineffective. Brissett’s statistics reveal a tale of two Colts quarterbacks: going into Pittsburgh, he had completed 64.5 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and only a trio of interceptions; after returning from injury, he completed only 56.4 percent of his attempts with four touchdowns and three more interceptions. Most striking is that the team’s record with Brissett as the starter before his injury was 5-2. Over his final seven starts, the team went 2-5.
Both general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich have stated that Brissett knows he must improve his play. They have also given him tepid support as the starting quarterback moving forward. The Colts’ quarterback position, they say, is like any other in that it is constantly being scouted for potential upgrades. In other words: no one’s job is secure, and all players are evaluated the same. While that’s all well and good, the Colts will only go as far as their quarterback can take them. The jury is still very much out on Brissett.
Now that the pre-draft combine is complete and free agency is a mere two weeks away, fans will be inundated with mock drafts and rumors aplenty about who the team’s signal-caller will be in 2020. This article will explore three hypothetical scenarios, given in ascending order of likelihood.
Ballard trades into the top 10, selects an elite quarterback
After putting on a show at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend, Utah State quarterback Jordan Love will probably see his draft stock improve. How much remains the question, as many national pundits are now predicting that he will be drafted within the first 12 picks (Indianapolis picks 13th). Ballard would presumably need to move assets to climb into the top six or seven slots in order to land LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, or Oregon’s Justin Herbert. Love had been the wild card, as some saw him as a fringe first-rounder while others believed he was the perfect fit at 13.
If Ballard and Reich get the sense that Love will now be taken in the first 10 to 12 picks, they may want to package their 13th pick and at least a second round selection (the team has the 34th and 44th overall picks as well) to climb up the board. Ballard has proven to be a willing draft-day trader, but he often trades down instead of up, accumulating more picks in the process. Is this the year to break that tendency? It all depends on what the team’s decision-makers think of Love.
Ballard will want to hold on to his picks rather than give the most valuable ones away. As such, this seems to be the least likely scenario.
Colts sign Philip Rivers in free agency, draft a lineman early
Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers have mutually agreed to part ways, meaning the 38 year-old former Pro Bowler will be an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday, March 18. Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni worked with Rivers while on staff with the Chargers in 2013-15, and they are familiar with his talent and work ethic. Additionally, Rivers’ Chargers played division rival Kansas City twice a year during Ballard’s tenure in the Chiefs’ front office from 2013-16. Everyone in the building knows who Rivers is and what he can do. The question is whether his age and diminishing abilities are enough to scare them away from making him the Colts’ quarterback.
Ballard has shown a proclivity toward modest free agent signings, and his philosophy is to build a roster primarily through the draft. However, he recently said this locker room now has enough leadership to accept a big free agent. That was not the case when he took over in 2017. Would there be tension if Ballard and Reich brought in a veteran like Rivers to supplant a locker room favorite like Brissett? That seems inevitable. Would players accept the move if it brings them closer to a championship? They almost certainly would.
With roughly $86 million in salary cap space, this scenario may come to fruition. Adding a pass-rushing defensive lineman like South Carolina’s Javon Kinlaw or Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa would then be a very real possibility at 13.
Ballard stands pat at 13, continues building roster around Brissett
Indianapolis is in a position for sustained success over the next several years. One of the league’s best offensive lines? Check. A great running game? Check. A young and athletic defense? Check. A creative play-caller? Another check. Ballard may hold firm with Brissett if the top rookies are all taken before the Colts pick. Regarding Rivers, Ballard surely has a maximum amount that he is willing to pay. If Rivers wants more, Ballard is comfortable ending negotiations and letting another team close the deal.
The Colts believe they can win with Brissett, provided he improves upon his late season form. They could help him do so with the addition of a star receiver such as Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb or Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy in the first round. Although Ballard is on record stating his preference for linemen over skill positions as a general philosophy, an influx of talent at receiver is necessary. The team will draft Eric Ebron’s replacement at flex tight end this spring as well.
Going with Brissett in 2020 does not mean that the team won’t also select a quarterback to groom for the future. In that case, watch for a player like Jacob Eason from Washington on day two or James Morgan from Florida International on day three. The Colts would then use incumbent third-stringer Chad Kelly and their rookie draft pick to compete with Brissett. Hoyer’s position as the primary backup is tenuous at best.
This scenario could prove to be the most realistic, even though it lacks sizzle.
Jim Irsay’s organization is in an enviable position thanks to shrewd trades and manageable free agent contracts. They have the league’s second-most salary cap space and four picks in the top 75 of the draft. Money and picks mean nothing, though, if they don’t amount to wins on the field. And everyone knows the best way to win is to have an elite quarterback. Irsay, Ballard, and Reich must decide on the Colts’ quarterback this spring or they may be doomed to mediocrity.
Buckle up, Indianapolis fans. This is going to be an action-packed couple of months.