INDIANAPOLIS – Three-fourths of Jim Irsay’s Foundation of Success are in place. The Indianapolis Colts’ owner has surrounded himself with general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich.
That point was driven home early and often during a Wednesday Zoom conference call that served as a State of the Colts.
“Let me state very clearly the only reason we are where we are and we got to where to got is because of Chris Ballard and Frank Reich,’’ Irsay said. “Believe me, we have the best two guys.’’
That out of the way, Irsay spent a good portion of the rest of the conference call – it lasted roughly 50 minutes – on how to address that fourth leg of the foundational chair. You know, the missing leg.
That would be the quarterback. The position was shoved to the top of the offseason to-do list last week when Philip Rivers announced his retirement.
Irsay is embracing the challenge, one that needs to not only address the immediate future of the franchise but the long-term as well.
The solution might be found in the April draft. The Colts hold the 21st overall pick, and upward mobility almost certainly will be required to get into position to select one of the top five prospects. Most early mock drafts project the top four being yanked off the board in the top 10.
The solution might come from free agency or through a trade. Speculation is running rampant the Colts will move heaven and earth – which means giving up at least their first-round pick and possibly more – to acquire Matthew Stafford in a deal with the Detroit Lions.
The solution won’t be in the form of Andrew Luck. To be blunt, the Colts are in this position because the first overall pick in the 2012 draft suddenly retired Aug. 24, 2019 after six seasons as their QB1.
Irsay hasn’t had any recent discussions with Luck about a possible return.
“It kind of stands where it stands. Andrew’s retired,’’ he said.
But make no mistake about it, Irsay wouldn’t hesitate to give Luck a key fob and the security code to the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center if he decided to un-retire.
“He knows we would love to have him back,’’ Irsay said. “But only he can answer that question deep in his heart and his soul: ‘Hey, do I really want to come back and be a quarterback for the Colts again in the NFL?’ It’s easy for us. He knows how much we’d love to have him be our quarterback.
“I don’t really know if we’ll see that. I think he’s happy. He’s raising his daughter. He has a wonderful family. He’s a great Colt. He knows that he can come back anytime he wants, but at the same time we respect he’s made that decision.’’
As Irsay kept discussing the realistic options involved with the most pressing offseason issue – yes, quarterback – one preference seemed clear.
While the ideal path to finding a starter is through the draft – that comes with long-term ramifications if Ballard and his scouting staff are correct and is a better option financially – a viable veteran presence might be a better fit. The roster is viewed as one ready to build on last season’s playoff appearance and take further steps in 2021 and beyond.
Irsay already has had extensive meetings with Ballard and Reich.
“Our belief is we’re close,’’ he said. “We have a tremendous nucleus of players that are capable of competing for the Super Bowl very soon. Ideally if you can get someone to come in this year and several years after who is ready, it gives you your best opportunity, and you don’t have to have as much of a maturation aspect of seeing them develop and get to that level that they need to get to and get to the Super Bowl and win it.
“We’ll just have to see where opportunity pushes us. We’d love to be able to get a great, young quarterback, and obviously there are some out there that have been talked about coming out in this draft.’’
The consensus top five: Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, BYU’s Zack Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance and Alabama’s Mac Jones.
“We have to really evaluate and see where we are with that,’’ Irsay said.
The Colts enjoyed rare QB stability from 1998 through Luck’s sudden retirement prior to the ’19 season. It began with investing the 1st overall pick in the ’98 draft in Peyton Manning and, after Manning missed the ’11 season with his neck issues and the team bottomed out at 2-14, selecting Luck with the 1st overall pick in ’12.
Going from Manning to Luck, Irsay conceded, “certainly is the ideal way to travel.’’
Now, the franchise faces what could be a defining offseason.
“It’s not, ‘Oh, how do you solve the quarterback situation? Isn’t that going to be hard?’’’ Irsay said. “No. That’s opportunity. I see this as opportunity. It can go in a lot of different directions.
“We’re just excited about the football team we have, and we just have to make sure we go in the right direction without setting ourselves back as we pursue the new quarterback frontier.’’
Irsay understands the significance of having a top-tier quarterback. Again, he benefitted from Manning and Luck.
“It’s not just getting it right, meaning, well, we want to qualify for the playoffs and look like we belong there once we play,’’ he said. “No, we want to win a Super Bowl and plural Super Bowls. The bottom line is that special guy under center can make up (for deficiencies) and change your trajectory like no one else.’’
Irsay recalled the 2013 playoff win against Kansas City. The Colts fell behind 38-10 in the third quarter before Luck led them to a 45-44 victory. One of the key plays was Luck scooping up a Donald Brown fumble near the goal line and diving in for a touchdown.
“There’s not a lot of guys that can do that, and you search for them because you know at the moment of truth, those guys can bail you out in the most important time,’’ Irsay said.
What about T.Y. Hilton?
Another of the offseason decisions facing the Colts involves T.Y. Hilton. The four-time Pro Bowl wideout becomes a free agent in March and is coming off a modest ninth season with the team that selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft: 56 receptions, 762 yards, five TDs.
“We’d love to see T.Y. back. There’s no question about it,’’ Irsay said. “He’s such a great Colt. What a great competitor and still has excellent skills and can take over a game.’’
The obvious issue: the level of financial commitment the team will make to a wideout who turns 32 in November.
“Look, there’s a business side to it,’’ Irsay said. “You want a guy back, but it has to fit into what you view, what the marketplace dictates. It really comes down to that. The biggest thing I’ve found is you want guys who really want to be here, and so sometimes if they don’t hit their price mark, you don’t want them to be resentful.
“When all is said and done, I’m really hoping that it works out that we can work something out . . . We’re a better football team with T.Y., and we love him as a legacy player and as a present player and how he can help us get to where we want to go . . . (he) still has plenty in the tank.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.