INDIANAPOLIS – The desire has been simmering inside Jim Irsay and has intensified with each failed attempt at addressing his franchise’s most consequential position with another aging/flawed veteran quarterback.
We need to draft our own. Draft him and develop him. We’ve got to get off this quarterback carousel.
Philip Rivers worked for one season, but Carson Wentz was an unmitigated disaster and Matt Ryan was actually a step backwards in terms of on-field success.
And now as the Indianapolis Colts once again look for answers at quarterback, they’re at least doing due diligence with another veteran. That would be Lamar Jackson.
“You’re always looking for great, dynamic players,’’ Irsay told a small gathering of Indy reporters attending the owners’ meetings Monday evening in Phoenix, Arizona.
The attraction is obvious — and real. Jackson turned 26 in January and isn’t that far removed from being named the NFL’s 2019 MVP. The Baltimore Ravens have made him available by giving him the non-exclusive franchise tag. Jackson in turn showed his frustration with the Ravens by demanding a trade.
But Irsay’s gut is relentless.
We need to draft and develop our own.
“We’re looking for the future guy, and we want the guy that can be there for the next 10 years,’’ he said. “After Philip’s year, I wanted to go young. I was, ‘Let’s go young. Let’s grow our own. It’s time.’
“It was great having Philip the one year and he was very successful and exceeded our expectations, but [we] knew it was a short-term thing. I really wanted to go young and drafting our own and finding our own that way.’’
As Irsay scanned the NFL landscape, he noticed several championship-caliber teams thriving behind a quarterback they drafted: Kansas City (Patrick Mahomes), Buffalo (Josh Allen), Cincinnati (Joe Burrow), Philadelphia (Jalen Hurts).
The Los Angeles Rams (Matthew Stafford) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Tom Brady) won Super Bowls by acquiring veterans, but now each is paying the price for loading up so heavily for short-term success.
Irsay believes long-term success is tied to finding the right guy in the draft. He remembers Bert Jones, the no. 2 overall pick of the Baltimore Colts in 1973 and no. 1 overall selections Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck.
The Colts hold the no. 4 pick in the April 27 draft, and an intriguing individual – Florida’s Anthony Richardson, Kentucky’s Will Levis, maybe Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker – should be available when Indy is on the clock.
“It’s a good year to have the opportunity to pick the right guy,’’ Irsay said. “Of course, no one knows which guy could be a guy that really is that guy for the next 10 years, so to speak.
“It’s exciting because I think there’s real options that you have; whatever five guys that you have debate on who should be talked about at 4. It seems like there’s going to be a great prospect there and we just have to make sure.’’
Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and coach Shane Steichen will spend countless hours over the next four-plus weeks determining whether the team’s quarterback of the future resides in the draft.
Or might the answer be Lamar Jackson?
“It’s a really tough question, I’ll be honest with you,’’ Irsay said. “The three of us are open to anything that’s going to make us better.’’
Going with another veteran, even one with Jackson’s pedigree, comes with significant issues.
“You’re always looking at salary cap, draft picks, which are like gold,’’ Irsay said of the possibility of sending Baltimore two first-round picks to acquire Jackson. “Our belief and my belief is you build through the draft.
“The draft is your pipeline for success or failure.’’
Irsay made it clear he’s more than willing to dole out whatever it would take to sign Jackson to a mega-offer sheet.
“That’s not an issue,’’ he said.
The issue: Jackson apparently is seeking a contract that’s either fully guaranteed or has the majority of it guaranteed.
“As an owner I do not believe in fully-guaranteed contracts,’’ Irsay said. “I think that a percentage is one thing, but from what I’ve seen from the NBA and baseball, I don’t see it as a positive competitively.’’
Adding Jackson at the likely cost – two first-round picks and perhaps $200 million in guarantees – would limit the Colts’ ability to build the supporting cast around him.
“You need more than just a quarterback,’’ Irsay said. “You have to have the quarterback, but to go where you want to go, everyone knows you need more than the quarterback.
“And you have to find the way to get that ‘more.’ And the best way to find it is in the top three (rounds) in the draft. Those first three rounds, you start giving away those gold nuggets . . . oh boy, I tell ya. Also, making sure salary cap-wise you can be in a [good] position.’’
That’s why the looming decision is so critical. It figures to have lasting impact, one way or the other.
“It’s like driving your car down an expressway,’’ Irsay said. “Once you make this choice, there’s not going to be an exit ramp for a while. So, you hate to be going 60 miles an hour in the wrong direction. It’s a long turnaround.
“We know you can chase your tail with franchise-building with developing that quarterback. We don’t want to get into that, obviously.
“The issue is what’s the right thing to do for the franchise in terms of what helps us win in the long run?’’
Hitting on a franchise quarterback in the draft allows a team to use his relatively affordable contract for the first three or four years to address other personnel matters.
“That’s so essential,’’ Irsay said. “The money is going to be spent. That’s not the question. The question is how do you spend it and are you going to be able to sustain greatness?’’
“I look at this as a great opportunity because if you have a rookie quarterback, you’re going to have a chance for those years to really have extra dollars to make your team better.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.