Colts’ offseason concerns: Quarterback

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Indianapolis Colts QB Philip Rivers

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – DECEMBER 13: Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the Indianapolis Colts throws against the Las Vegas Raiders in the first half of their game at Allegiant Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Colts defeated the Raiders 44-27. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – In a quarterback-driven NFL, the Indianapolis Colts have a problem: they don’t have a viable one moving forward.

Even though a strong argument can be made general manager Chris Ballard and his personnel staff have constructed a young, talented roster, there are concerns at the most significant positions.

Who replaces Anthony Castonzo at left tackle? Who’s the alpha-dog edge pass rusher? If free agency offers Xavier Rhodes more than the Colts are willing to pay, who’s their top cornerback? Even if T.Y. Hilton returns, is a top-end wideout needed?

But most important, who’s QB1?

“I promise you we get the importance of the quarterback position,’’ Ballard said. “We’ll figure it out.’’

Here’s a look at their options.

INTERNAL SOLUTION

  • Gone: Philip Rivers (retired)
  • Going?: Jacoby Brissett (expiring contract)
  • Here: Jacob Eason, Jalen Morton (reserve/future contract)
  • Comment: With all due respects to his unquestioned leadership qualities, Brissett must be viewed as Plan Z. We’ve seen his ceiling and owner Jim Irsay isn’t interested in limited expectations of perhaps a 9-7 record and possible wild-card slot. And what could the coaching staff possibly have seen from Eason – a fourth-round pick last season, remember? – to convince it he’s ready to step in and lead the offense?

The answer isn’t on the roster.

VETERAN SOLUTION

  • Trade options: Carson Wentz, Philadelphia; Sam Darnold, N.Y. Jets; Matt Ryan, Atlanta; Marcus Mariota, Las Vegas.
  • Free agents-to-be: Dak Prescott, Dallas; Mitchell Trubisky, Chicago; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Miami; Andy Dalton, Dallas; Cam Newton, New England; Jameis Winston, New Orleans.
  • Comment: The asking price for Matthew Stafford was too stiff, so now we’ll see whether Ballard and the Eagles find common ground on Wentz. And by common ground we’re talking draft pick compensation. The early reports – probably coming from the Eagles – indicated Philly wanted a package similar to what Detroit received from the L.A. Rams for Stafford (two first-round picks, a third rounder and Jared Goff). Good luck with that.

It’s likely Philly is seeking a deal that includes a first-round pick and a few additional picks. Ballard might hold firm on not giving up the 21st overall pick in the April draft, instead offering something that includes two second-round picks. That would enable him to address another need – left tackle, corner, edge rusher – with the first-round pick.

The fact the Colts are viewed as front-runners to land Wentz – along with the Chicago Bears – reinforces the idea Ballard and Frank Reitz are convinced Wentz is fixable after his disastrous, error-plagued 2020. They wouldn’t bother with pursing him if they had serious doubts. It’s too big of a decision unless everyone is on board. Wentz had two of his best seasons in 2016-17 when Reich was his offensive coordinator.

The Bears probably are more desperate as criticism mounts on GM Ryan Pace and coach Matt Nagy, and that desperation could force them to make Philly an offer it can’t refuse and the Colts won’t challenge.

If not Wentz, might Darnold be next in line? The 3rd overall pick in the 2018 draft could be on the trading block if the Jets opt to reload and take a quarterback with the 2nd overall pick in April. Good luck evaluating Darnold’s first three seasons. He’s just 13-25 as a starter and has completed only 59.8% of his passes with a 78.6 rating, but the Jets haven’t exactly given him a legit supporting cast. They’re 13-35 over the last three years.

DRAFT SOLUTION

  • Top prospects: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; Zach Wilson, BYU; Justin Fields, Ohio State; Trey Lance, North Dakota State; Mac Jones, Alabama.
  • Ammunition: 21st overall pick in round 1.
  • Comment: We just don’t see this being a viable option for two reasons. One, the Colts are perched on the No. 21 rung. Two, the desperation of teams trying to find that guy in the draft will push the top prospects up, up, up the board. Todd McShay’s latest mock draft on ESPN has four QBs being taken with the 1st four picks. Most have four being gone by No. 8 (Carolina). Trades could alter that. Maybe Jones lasts until the middle of round 1, but does Ballard like him enough to move up and get him? And as the draft nears and the desperation mounts, he probably will have to shimmy his way into the top-10 to grab a QB. That would be expensive.

The Colts have twice solved their quarterback dilemma via the draft, but each time they held the 1st overall pick (Peyton Manning in 1998 and Andrew Luck in 2012). They got the desired results. Since 1998, the Colts are 194-100 (.660) with Manning/Luck under center. They’re 30-44 (.405) with someone else, and that includes 11-5 with Rivers last season.

However, the recent history of round 1 is hardly reassuring.

“Everybody just thinks you take one and you’re going to fix the problem,’’ Ballard said. “Look, taking one will get y’all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well, I’m going to be the first one run out of the building.’’

Excluding 2020 when four quarterbacks were taken in round 1 – it’s ridiculous to evaluate them based on one season – 30 have been selected in the 1st round from 2010-19. Only 11 are still with the team that drafted them, and none before the 2016 draft.

For every Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson and Baker Mayfield, there’s Dwayne Haskins, Josh Rosen, Patrick Lynch, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, E.J. Manuel, Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.

Mahomes is a Super Bowl champion and league MVP. Jackson and Cam Newton had MVP seasons. But Haskins, the 15th overall pick in 2019, lasted one season with Washington. Rosen, taken 10th overall in ’18, lasted one season with Arizona, which re-loaded with Kyler Murray, 1st overall in ’19. Patrick Lynch, the 26th overall pick by the Broncos in ’16, spent two seasons in Denver and is out of the NFL. Remember the Manziel Mania in Cleveland?

For those who don’t believe the “inexact science’’ aspect of drafting a quarterback in round 1, consider from 2010-19 Cleveland has used a first-round pick on the position three times (Mayfield in ’18, Manziel in ’14, Brandon Weeden in ’12). Eight teams have taken a quarterback in round 1 twice during that stretch. Tennessee, Jacksonville, Arizona and the Rams have taken two QBs with top-10 picks, and only one of those players – Murray – is still with the team that selected him.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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