INDIANAPOLIS – The initial reaction from some to Philip Rivers’ decision to retire after 17 seasons in the NFL is : Here we go again for the Colts, who need to find another starting quarterback.
Yes, Rivers retired Wednesday, as did Andrew Luck 17 months ago, but this time is different.
The Colts will not have a regular season game in two weeks, as they have not done so since the shocking retirement in August 2019. They don’t even have a game next month or even six months from now. General Manager Chris Ballard has the entire offseason to figure out who he hopes will be the franchise’s long-term starter in this position.
But without a solid team, with the exception of the quarterback, Ballard can’t afford to take another step forward in the AFC next season. Ballard’s mistake could set the franchise back a few more years.
The Colts knew there was a possibility of Rivers retiring. They knew that when they signed the 38-year-old’s one-year contract in the spring of 2020. They knew that when they met after Buffalo’s loss in the playoffs, and they said they would take some time to figure out what path they would choose.
I promise you we understand the importance of the quarterback position, Mr. Ballard said last week. But the difference between [editing] and accepting what is right is essential in our minds. We’ll check it out. We’ll look into it. I promise we’ll go from A to Z. This position gives me no peace. And that’s exactly what we want to fix. But you also need a little time, and luck also comes into play.
It’s hard to believe that the once-rich Colts quarterback could be the fourth different starting quarterback in as many seasons in 2021.
In his one season in Indianapolis, Philip Rivers led the Colts to their biggest win since 2014 and a trip to the playoffs. The team will now look for a long-term solution for the BQ. MSA/Icon Sports Wire
But now they have a blank slate in front of them and all options are being considered. It won’t happen any time soon either. Ballard and his team will be methodical in understanding that Jacoby Brissett was not the long-term answer in 2019 and that Rivers is now a high school football coach at Alabama.
It should be noted, however, that the patch method can only be used a limited number of times on the quarterback. The Colts can’t do it again like they did with Rivers, because at some point they have to provide stability at that position.
From the day he was hired in the winter of 2017, Ballard said it wasn’t just the quarterback. This applies to the entire list. The Colts have a talented team, but now they need to find their quarterback.
Think about it: The four AFC teams that made the playoff-division round last weekend – Buffalo, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland – all have starting quarterbacks 25 years old or younger and have played a significant role in their team’s progression to the playoffs, which means those players won’t be gone anytime soon.
Not to be forgotten are Joe Burrow (24) of Cincinnati, Justin Herbert (22) of the Chargers, Tua Tagovailoa (22) of Miami and probably Trevor Lawrence (21), who travels to Jacksonville with the first overall pick in late April.
It’s not an exact [science], Mr. Ballard said. Everyone thinks you just take one and solve the problem. Look, if you take one, you’re kind of on my neck, but if this guy doesn’t play well, I’m the first one out of the building.
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Internal candidates : Rookie Jacob Eason is the only quarterback under contract with the Colts for next season. He remains an enigma because he spent the entire season as a No. 3 quarterback. The preseason cancellation didn’t help Eason’s development either.
Brissett is a free agent with three seasons of experience in Coach Frank Reich’s system. But remember, the reason Rivers was brought to Indianapolis is because Brissett was in trouble during the 2019 season. Brissett could be a safe bet if Ballard sees nothing useful in the free agent or trade market.
The design: Unless there is a trade, picking the right starter with pick #21 in the spring draft is not an option for the Colts at this time. Ballard believes that all of the best quarterbacks will be removed at the beginning of the draft.
Think of the two greatest quarterbacks in the history of this franchise, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck, Ballard said. And he chose the first option of the project. Well, I can promise you this: If we have the first pick in the project, there will be no press conference with me. It’ll be someone else.
Trade: Let’s get rid of some things quickly: It takes two teams to make a deal. And of course everyone wants the Colts to trade them for the hapless Houston quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Who wouldn’t want one of the best players in the NFL in that position?
I hate to burst your bubble, but that probably won’t happen.
Two names that will continue to come up in Colts business are Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford. Stafford and Wentz’s future with their current teams is uncertain as the Lions and Eagles have hired or are in the process of hiring a new head coach.
The Reich and Wentz have a common history. The Ring coach was Wentz’s offensive coordinator with the Eagles when the quarterback was in the running for the MVP title and suffered a knee injury in December 2017. Wentz has passed for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven steals in 13 games this season.
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But since then, Wentz’s production has deteriorated while he had a big contract. He was benched this season in favor of rookie Jaylen Hurts. The four-year extension of Wentz’s $128 million contract, which he signed in 2019, begins next season. The agreement includes nearly $70 million in guaranteed funding.
Stafford is older than Wentz – Wentz turns 33 in February, Wentz 28 in December, but it’s much cheaper. Stafford is only owed $9 million in base salary. It’s a steal for a player who threw for 45,109 yards, 282 touchdowns and 144 interceptions in his career without always having the best talent around him in Detroit.
Free agents: It’s not the kind of deal where Colts owner Jim Irsay is rushing through his checkbook. This should come as no surprise, as teams don’t often let their star quarterbacks get away with it.
Dallas’ Dak Prescott is the front-runner, but owner Jerry Jones is unlikely to let him go, not after the Cowboys struggled with his end-of-season injury.
The best of the other free agent quarterbacks are Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky and Cam Newton.
At this point, we have to assume the Colts are less likely to find their new starting quarterback through free agency unless it’s Brissett.