INDIANAPOLIS – With emotions raw and only able to deal with what’s directly in front of him, Frank Reich was unwavering.
“As I sit here today right now, yes, I want Philip Rivers to be my starting quarterback next year,’’ he said on a Sunday Zoom conference call.
His voice frequently quivered and on a couple of occasions Reich paused to dab a tear from the corner of his eye as he considered Rivers, pending personnel matters and the suddenness of Saturday’s first-round playoff loss at Buffalo.
Whatever control Reich had nearly was lost as he continually was brought back to Rivers. They met at length Saturday night.
“It was pretty emotional,’’ Reich said. “Yeah, it was pretty emotional. Yeah . . .’’
The halting voice, the moisture around the eyes.
Reich’s appreciation of and affection and hopes for his 39-year old quarterback were as genuine as was the depth of the disappointment from falling sort against the Bills that brought Rivers’ future with the Indianapolis Colts front and center.
Fact 1: Rivers’ one-year, $25 million contract expires in March.
Fact 2: The only quarterback on the roster under contract for 2021 is Jacob Eason.
Fact 3: No one should question the playoff worthiness of the Colts, even in the aftermath of the 27-24 loss to the Bills. This is a team with a young core that is built for sustained success. General manager Chris Ballard isn’t likely to turn over the offense to a young, unproven talent.
Fact 4: Until a better option is discovered, Reich’s preference is Philip Rivers, certainly for 2021.
Reich conceded that could change once the organization steps back, decompresses and allows the emotions of the sudden playoff exit to dissipate.
Rivers said his NFL future is in God’s hands. He, wife Tiffany and his family will pray over whatever is best.
“If it’s here in Indy playing another year, then we’ll be here,’’ he said after the game, the 256th in the 17th season of his Hall of Fame-caliber career. “Whatever God’s will is is what I want to happen and I’ll be fine with that.’’
There is no timetable for Rivers’ decision, but it will come sooner rather than later as general manager Chris Ballard looks to 2021 and beyond, not only in regards to the uncertainty at quarterback but with other free agents-to-be.
Reich, Ballard and owner Jim Irsay will huddle at some point to discuss whether it’s in the best interest of the franchise to give Rivers another extension that undoubtedly will at least mirror the $25 million they gave him last March, or move to Plan B.
Whatever that might be.
One thing is clear: Rivers isn’t the long-term answer. He turns 40 in November and has a head coaching position at St. Michael Catholic H.S. in Fairhope, Ala. waiting for him.
“Yeah, we’re looking for an answer,’’ Reich said. “We’ve got to make the answer for next year, but because of Philip’s age, that certainly has to be in the perspective and the discussion.’’
It’s easy to dive into the social media universe and find “answers:’’ Carson Wentz, Matthew Stafford, Sam Darnold, even Deshaun Watson. It must be noted none is headed for the open market, without strings attached. Maybe Ballard can swing a trade for a proven veteran, or come up with a blockbuster trade and move into the top of the April draft and land one of this year’s promising QBs.
To casually dismiss Rivers’ first season with the Colts and 17th in the NFL is a mistake. He more than fulfilled his end of the one-year deal with 4,169 yards, 24 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and a 97.0 passer rating. The Colts won 11 games for the first time since 2014 and earned a wild-card berth.
At Buffalo, Rivers passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns, and had the football in his hands in the final minute with a chance to at least force overtime against the No. 2-seeded, 13-3 Bills. The 472 total yards were the 5th-highest in the Colts’ playoff history.
In a cruel statistical tidbit, the Colts became the first team in playoff history to pile up at least 450 total yards and zero turnovers . . . and lose. Teams had been 11-0, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Among the issues that helped usher the Colts from the playoffs, Rivers was down the list.
But today’s NFL is trending toward more mobile QB1s: Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Deshaun Watson, Kyler Murray.
Does Reich believe Rivers, arguably the least mobile QB1 in the league, can help take the Colts to the next level?
“Absolutely,’’ he said. “The way that happens is everybody gets incrementally better. Maybe at 39, going to be 40, maybe that’s harder physically, but there’s other ways you can keep getting better.
“I really believe physically he can do that.’’
Reich’s emotional investment in this roster never has been in question, and again was clear as he considered the inevitable change that occurs every offseason.
“As I sit here today, I want ‘em all back,’’ he said, his voice again wavering. “I want every guy on our roster back. I really do. I think we had everybody in the locker room this year we needed to win the world championship.
“But I’m 59 years old. I’ve been in the NFL 27 years. I know it doesn’t work that way. There’s change. There’s always going to be change.’’
Reich added: “I think Philip still has a lot of good football. I think Jacoby’s a great player and we could go on and on . . . T.Y., keep going down the list. I can’t go there right now because it’s too fresh, too emotional with these guys,’’
At some point, though, emotions must yield to the business of properly positioning the Colts for 2021.
“I do think it’s possible to maintain the emotion but to have the maturity to understand,’’ Reich said. “As we talked last night, I think we both know how we feel about each other and the year that he had, and we also know that this business is what it is.
“We know the natural tendency is to sit here and say, ‘Hey, this is great stuff. Let’s keep it rolling.’ And that’s how we feel. I hope that’s how he feels.
“But you have to digest. You have to pull away and get perspective. You have to think about the whole thing and maybe that’s the right answer at the end of the day. There might be a good chance that’s the right answer. We’ll have to see.
“But it’s just too early to tell right now. Just know that the love and respect is real and what he did this year was pretty incredible.’’
About Anthony Castonzo
Reich was unable to provide any insight to the plans of Anthony Castonzo. The veteran left tackle considered retirement last offseason before returning with a two-year, $33 million extension.
Castonzo underwent season-ending ankle surgery in late December and wasn’t made available to the media Sunday.
“Talked to him briefly today, said we’d catch up,’’ Reich said. “So, Hey, talk to you soon.’ We’ll hopefully get with him pretty quickly.’’
About Quenton Nelson
If and when Castonzo walks away, don’t rule out Quenton Nelson being his replacement. The three-time first-team All-Pro left guard took a handful of snaps at left tackle in week 14 at Las Vegas when Castonzo temporarily exited the game with a knee injury.
Reich described Nelson sliding to tackle “a realistic option.’’
“Chris and I have already had that conversation obviously when AC got hurt,’’ he said. “It was like, ‘Hey, well let’s take a look at Quention, maybe that’s a real option.’ But yeah, that would certainly be an option, but like every other decision, you have to look at all options and consider all factors.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.