INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Chris Ballard’s most significant one-year investment in four years addressed the Indianapolis Colts’ most glaring need.
Philip Rivers is QB1. The cost: $25 million.
But while adding a 38-year old quarterback with Hall of Fame-worthy stats addresses the here and now, it’s nothing more than a short-term fix.
The best-case scenario moving forward has Rivers returning to his 2018 form – 4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns and a 105.5 passer rating for a Chargers bunch that posted a 12-4 record – and not only justifying Ballard’s vision for 2020, but also returning for ’21.
“I’m taking it one year at a time,” Rivers said. “If I feel like I feel right now next year, then I’ll be excited to keep going. I’m not going to get carried away. I don’t think you’ll see me in the Tom Brady range.”
Again, at best Ballard and Frank Reich have their quarterback for the next two seasons.
But then what? As it now stands, the Colts don’t have a quarterback under contract for 2020. Like Rivers, Jacoby Brissett will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Chad Kelly will be restricted.
That brings us to the April 23-25 NFL draft.
Last month, the Colts were viewed as one of those QB-needy teams that might invest their first-round pick – 13th overall – in that position. LSU’s Joe Burrow is the presumptive 1st overall pick (Cincinnati), while most draft analysts project Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa going 5th overall to Miami.
Maybe Oregon’s Justin Herbert still would be on the board when the Colts were on the clock. Or Utah State’s Jordan Love.
Then Ballard went to work.
First, he shipped his first-round pick to the San Francisco 49ers for defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. A few days later, he signed Rivers.
It’s not a leap to assume Ballard either wasn’t enthralled with his possible QB options at 13, or was unwilling to give up what it would have taken to move into the top 10 to enhance those options.
Also, as much as Ballard is committed to the long-term viability of the roster, the moves with Buckner and Rivers were a clear indication he isn’t giving up on the present. Review the 2019 season – 7-9 with 11 games and six losses decided by 7 points or fewer – and it’s not a stretch to assert better play at quarterback, and on special teams, would have resulted in a playoff berth.
“We are trying to win now,” Reich said. “Our fans want to know we are going to win now.”
But what about next year, or the year after that if Rivers returns for 2021?
Who’s the QB of the Future? Herbert? Love? Georgia’s Jake Fromm? Washington’s Jacob Eason? Another QB that Ballard and Reich view as a viable candidate?
“As far as drafting a quarterback, you know how we feel about this,” Reich said. “We are always looking hard at the quarterbacks. There’s no guarantee. You identify one, two, three guys who you like, you think fit.
“There’s no guarantee you get them because there are 31 other teams who can get them as well.”
There’s no guarantee, period, when dealing with the draft in general and quarterbacks in particular.
The 2017 draft saw the Kansas City Chiefs add MVP and Super Bowl catalyst Patrick Mahomes (10th overall), and Houston hook up with Deshaun Watson (12th). The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, traded up to the 2nd overall spot and grabbed Mitchell Trubisky, who remains a question mark.
For every Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, there’s a Blake Bortles or Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker.
Jamesis Winston (Tampa Bay) and Marcus Mariota (Tennessee) went 1-2 in 2015, and each will play elsewhere this season.
Ballard described this year’s quarterback crop as “a good group. It has good depth at all levels.”
The consensus among draft analysts has four quarterbacks being selected in round 1: Burrow, Tagovailoa, Hebert and Love. A few have Love falling into the top of round 2, which is where the Colts sit with the second pick of the round, No. 34 overall.
Might Ballard pull the trigger if Love still is available? Everything depends on how he and his personnel staff have the quarterbacks aligned on their draft board. It’s conceivable the Colts’ evaluation of the position differs from other teams.
A rookie quarterback would benefit from watching and learning behind Rivers for a year, perhaps two.
However it shakes out, Ballard will trust his draft board and exhaustive evaluations.
“We all know that that position usually gets pushed up,” he said. “You’ve got to be true to your evaluation. I think more mistakes are made when you push that position up and he doesn’t deserve (it).
“All of a sudden the expectations and everything else builds up on that kid.”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.