INDIANAPOLIS – The transformation of the Indianapolis Colts’ most influential position room has been nothing short of, well, miraculous.
Remember March 9? Remember the Colts deciding anyone but Carson Wentz would be their starting quarterback in 2022?
That led to the trade with the Washington Commanders and left the Colts without a QB who had thrown a meaningful NFL pass. And there were only a few semi-interesting options. Maybe Mitch Trubisky. Maybe Andy Dalton. Maybe Jameis Winston. Maybe Marcus Mariota.
Frank Reich smiled as his mind drifted back.
“It’s interesting,’’ he said Wednesday. “After the transition from quarterback and it was, ‘OK, what are we going to do?’
“Then it was almost like the skies opened up and we got Matt (Ryan), and that was a miracle. It was like, ‘Wow, Matt Ryan just got dropped into our lap when we weren’t expecting that to happen.’’’
The day the Colts jettisoned Wentz, Ryan still was the face of the Atlanta Falcons. That all changed when they began serious pursuit of Deshaun Watson.
With Ryan suddenly available, general manager Chris Ballard pounced. The March 21 trade with the Falcons added a quarterback with a Hall of Fame-caliber bio: 2016 MVP and Offensive Player of the Year, oh-so-close to a world championship in Super Bowl LI, 222 starts and a 120-102 record in 14 seasons, 59,735 yards, 367 touchdowns and on and on.
But what about a veteran backup? Ryan’s understudies remained Sam Ehlinger and James Morgan.
Reich and Ballard talked it over on several occasions.
“In a perfect world,’’ Reich said, “you get a proven backup. But if it doesn’t happen, we’re not going to chase it. We’re not going to overpay. We’re not going to do something crazy that could hurt the team long-term.’’
Then May 1, the Chicago Bears cut Nick Foles. He immediately became a major blip on the Colts’ radar.
To quote Yogi Berra, it was déjà vu all over again.
“What Chris and I were saying the other day, that happened again because honestly we’re happy with Sam; think Sam’s developing well and think Sam has a bright future,’’ Reich said.
“But our responsibility, Chris and I, to the team is to make the roster as strong as we can. We believe we have a really good team . . . and you can appreciate how I value the backup quarterback position all the time, but especially when you feel like you have a really good team because every little game counts along the way.’’
Reich and Foles developed a close relationship in Philadelphia in 2017 when Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator and Foles would replace an injured Wentz and lead Philly into the playoffs and to a 41-33 win over New England in Super Bowl LII. They talk on a regular basis.
Reich’s appreciation for Foles – as a person and a player – never has been a secret.
“You guys know I’ve wanted Nick,’’ he said. “I wanted Nick since I’ve been here to be on this team because I think he’s that good of a player.
“You’ve got a guy in Nick Foles who has proven that he can do it at the biggest level and the biggest stage, in any kind of weather, in any kind of moment.’’
Some backups, Reich noted, are capable of stepping in and managing a game, and perhaps win a game or two with the right supporting cast.
“And there are some that can throw for 500 yards and win a game,’’ he said. “That’s what Nick has proven he can do. He can win a shootout and he can win a close game, make the key plays in a close game.’’
Foles has passed for at least 300 yards 10 times during the regular season, including four 400-plus yard games. In the Eagles’ three-game playoff run to a world title, he passed for 246 yards against Atlanta and 352 in the NFC Championship game win over Minnesota, then went for 373 yards and three TDs in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
“I just think he adds good depth and now you’ve got two experienced guys,’’ Reich said. “We’re incredibly fortunate.’’
As was the case with Ryan, Foles “literally fell into our lap,’’ he said. “If it wouldn’t have worked out, we would have been happy with Sam, but we’re really happy we got Nick.’’
They got him this week with a two-year deal.
In the span of 75 days, the Colts’ QB room has morphed from 0 starts and passes to 278 starts, 73,738 yards, two Super Bowl appearances and one world championship.
Ryan is the unquestioned leader of the offense offense.
“This is Matt’s team,’’ Foles said.
But if something happens, the Colts will be able to turn to a backup with 56 starts under his belt.
Foles was asked if he brings a starter’s mentality or backup’s mentality to the Colts. He’s handled both roles over the course of 10 seasons.
His response spoke volumes.
“When you’re the starter, you just take the entire reins of the team. You’re the starter,’’ he said. “You’re talking more. You’re taking the reins.
“Obviously when you’re the backup, you’re preparing to play, but your voice is going to be different. You’re listening more. You’re going to be observing more. It’s more so how you handle yourself. You can be prepared to play, but at the same time you can want your buddy to succeed because then your team succeeds.’’
As much as the timing was right for the Colts when it came to both Ryan and Foles, the situation had to be right for Foles.
He and wife Lily have a daughter and son, and a third child on the way. Foles had little desire to sign with another team just to be extending his career.
“I was always wanting to play,’’ he said, “but I wasn’t just going to settle and go play somewhere this year. I wanted to go somewhere where I really just enjoyed the grind. If I could, (join) someone I know; schematically I know I’m going to enjoy playing for.
“This was at the top of my list, but it doesn’t always mean it’s going to happen. It worked out and I’m grateful to be here.’’
Lily Foles apparently is a football junkie and continues to follow many of her husband’s former teammates and coaches.
When the Colts became their next destination?
“My wife was like, ‘It had to be Frank, didn’t it?’’’ Foles said with a smile. “I was like, ‘I’m grateful it is.’’’
The two-year contract was essential.
“I wanted two years just because I’m not looking to come here for one year,’’ Foles said. “I want to be here. I know this is the latter part of my career. My goal is to be here, whatever role it is as long as I can play, as long as they want me.
“That’s something my wife and I did a lot of talking about this offseason, just being somewhere it’s a healthy culture, where the team’s great. This has been a really talented team for many years, they’ve been building. Being in this locker room for a few days you can see it has great leadership. Frank allows his players to take over the leadership role.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.