What has been whispered for months has seemingly come true. Multiple NFL sources report that free agent quarterback Philip Rivers has agreed to a one-year, $25 million contract with the Indianapolis Colts. Rivers will reunite with head coach Frank Reich, who coached the San Diego Chargers’ quarterbacks in 2013 and coordinated their offense in 2014-15. Current Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni was also a Chargers assistant from 2013-17, coaching quarterbacks in 2014-15. This move is not official until the league year starts tomorrow afternoon, of course, but there is no reason to believe it will fall apart. Now the question becomes: what corresponding moves will come of this?
Jacoby Brissett started 30 total games in 2017 and 2019 and served as Andrew Luck’s backup in 2018. Reich and general manager Chris Ballard seem to like Brissett as a person and a teammate, but his on-field play clearly did not do enough to convince them of his long-term viability as a starting quarterback. Brissett has a record of 11-19 in Indianapolis, and his completion percentage of 59.8 is subpar. After Andrew Luck’s retirement, Brissett renegotiated a two-year deal with the team, and he counts over $21 million against the salary cap this season. With Rivers’ contract on the books, the Colts would be paying roughly $46 million to two players. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport indicated that the team intends to keep both players. That seems unlikely to hold true.
If the team decides to cut Brissett outright, he will count $12.5 million in dead money against the cap. Trading him, though, could bring back some value in the form of draft picks. Whether a team agrees to trade for him at this stage remains to be seen. Either way, it appears Brissett’s days as the Colts’ starting quarterback are over.
Many fans and pundits suspected that the team would draft a quarterback to groom behind Rivers for a year or two, and that may now be the case. Yesterday’s trade for DeForest Buckner cost the Colts their only first round pick, #13 overall. With the 34th and 44th overall picks still in his possession, Ballard could trade back into the first round, hope that a prospect falls to the early second round, or draft someone in the middle or later rounds as a developmental project. Barring any further moves, the Colts will have Rivers, Brissett, Brian Hoyer, and Chad Kelly on their roster at the start of the league year tomorrow.
Kelly may be in the team’s future plans, although Brissett and Hoyer are likely gone before training camp. A quarterback such as Jacob Eason, Anthony Gordon, Jalen Hurts, or James Morgan could be in play on draft day. None of them seem ready to start as rookies, so a year of learning from Rivers and Reich is only natural. The team could also choose to franchise tag Rivers in 2021 to keep him around for another year if all goes well in 2020.
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Rivers will have the protection he needs behind the Colts’ offensive line, but to whom will he throw? T. Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle are proven targets. Beyond them, things get dicey. Nyheim Hines will likely see an increase in targets, similar to Austin Ekeler’s utilization in Los Angeles the last few years. Parris Campbell, Daurice Fountain, Zach Pascal, and Mo Alie-Cox could see their catch volume increase significantly. Ballard will look to draft a wide receiver and a tight end to support his new quarterback as well.
Marlon Mack and the running game will surely benefit from having a more aggressive passer in Rivers. Few opposing defenses felt they had to respect Brissett’s throwing prowess last season, yet Rivers has never been afraid to uncork a tight-window throw. From a risk-taking standpoint, Rivers is the anti-Brissett. Of course, his 20 interceptions in 2019 are a cause for concern. But checkdowns and short passes are not enough to win a championship, and it seems Reich wanted a gunslinger instead of a game manager.
Until the league year starts, financial details are only speculation. The Colts entered Monday’s legal tampering period with approximately $86 million available to spend. Buckner and Rivers now account for over half of that figure, if reported contracts are accurate. These are probably the only splash moves that will come to pass, but Ballard may still sign more players.
Mack, Ryan Kelly, and Malik Hooker will receive contract extensions soon. Doing so now will eat even more of the salary cap cushion, which is not a position Ballard wants to create for himself. Flexibility under the cap remains key, and trading Brissett may be the next big decision facing the team.
In two days of unofficial transactions, the Colts have made two blockbuster acquisitions. Buckner is in the prime of his career, and Rivers is on the tail end of his. Both players, however, bring this franchise one step closer to a title run.
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