INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The $140 million quarterback wasn’t ready, the season loomed and something had to be done.
As teams across the NFL were shuffling and tweaking rosters Sept. 2 to reach the 53-player limit, first-time general manager Chris Ballard worked a trade with New England that delivered to the Indianapolis Colts a young quarterback they desperately needed (Jacoby Brissett) at the cost of a young receiver (Phillip Dorsett) who had shown little indication he would make a difference.
Then, the fun began. The coaching staff had some serious homework ahead of it.
How much did Chuck Pagano know of Brissett when the trade went down?
He held up his right hand, his fingers and thumb formed a circle: zero.
“I knew who he was, just like you,’’ Pagano said. “I read the evals (evaluations).
“We weren’t in the quarterback market for obvious reasons.’’
Position coach Brian Schottenheimer possessed only cursory knowledge of the new player in the meeting room. As part of the Colts’ preparation for the 2016 NFL draft, he compiled a write-up on Brissett, a prospect out of North Carolina State who would be taken in the third round by New England.
“I had seen him a little,’’ Schottenheimer said Wednesday, “but obviously didn’t know a whole lot about him.’’
When acquiring Brissett from the Patriots became a real possibility, Schottenheimer pulled out the video.
“You saw the same things you see today: the arm talent,’’ he said. “What he’s been able to do and the way he’s grown has been fun to watch.’’
This isn’t where the Colts thought they’d be. Not 3-7 at the bye. Not bearing down on a top-10 pick in next April’s draft – shoot, maybe a top-5 selection – instead of fighting to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
But imagine their predicament had the second trade with New England in seven months – remember shipping tight end Dwayne to Foxborough in March? – not materialized. The memory of Scott Tolzien suffering a pair of pick-6s in the season-opening debacle against the Los Angeles Rams is indelible.
Andrew Luck was not an option, then or now.
His rehab from January shoulder surgery had barely advanced to the point he was throwing in September. Luck’s sixth season ended Nov. 2 when he was placed on the injured reserve list.
Enter Jacoby Brissett. He’s kept the Colts relevant. He’s given them a chance virtually every week despite being forced to learn coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s playbook on the run. Brissett started week 2 against Arizona after three practices with the No. 1 unit.
“Week 2 was pretty small,’’ Schottenheimer said of the portion of the playbook made available to Brissett against the Cardinals. “It’s hard to put a number on it, but there was a very, very small package Chud had to choose from.’’
Brissett completed 20-of-37 passes for 216 yards and the Colts led 13-3 midway through the fourth quarter. But they faded – it would mushroom into a frustrating trend – and lost 16-13 in overtime after Brissett’s first pass in OT was intercepted.
So it’s gone: the good and the not good enough. To no one’s surprise, this has been a work in progress. Brissett is 24 and started two games with the Patriots.
As Brissett has gained familiarity with the playbook, his decision-making and play-making have increased. He has nine touchdowns, and five have been for at least 60 yards, the most in the league. He’s suffered only five interceptions, but two have been returned for touchdowns and two occurred in overtime against the Cardinals and 49ers.
Brissett has made plays with his legs, rushing for a team-high three touchdowns. But even his mobility hasn’t kept him out of harm’s way. No quarterback has been sacked more (35 times). Jeff George was sacked 56 times in 1991, the most by a Colts QB. Brissett is on pace to go down 58 times.
Some of that is a result of shoddy pass protection. Some of the blame rests with Brissett, who occasionally has been hesitant in the pocket.
Brissett has been sacked at least three times in eight of his nine starts, and was buried 10 times in the 27-0 drubbing at the hands of Jacksonville. He finished Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Steelers, but afterwards was diagnosed with a concussion.
Through it all, Schottenheimer’s early impressions of Brissett have been reinforced.
“He’s obviously extremely tough,’’ he said. “He’s a big, physical guy. None of them like to get hit, but he realizes some of those hits are because of him and not being decisive enough. Those are things we’re working on.
“He’s always going to take the blame. He’s always going to be accountable. There’s a lot of respect I have for him because of that.’’
Brissett has been the quiet face of a franchise headed to its first losing season since 2011. He stands at his locker each week, politely answering questions without providing much depth. It’s obvious he’s a product of the Bill Belichick environment.
He’s been a sponge since arriving eight days before the opener, and been an arrive-early, stay-late guy.
“He’s in here constantly,’’ Pagano said. “He’s here all the time . . . he’s a tireless worker.’’
That’s something – a critical something – Schottenheimer realized as he prepared for Brissett’s Sept. 2 arrival. He called individuals who had had interaction with Brissett. They harped on Brissett’s insatiable appetite to learn. They harped on his work ethic.
“The people that I talked to that knew him or had been around him, that’s what they talked about: ‘Hey, the guy is going to wear you out with his work ethic,’’’ Schottenheimer said.
“They loved the kid. They loved Jacoby Brissett as a person. They talked about his work ethic. They talked about arm talent, arm strength. A couple of people said, ‘You’d better have a couch somewhere ‘cause he’s going to want to spend a bunch of time with you.’’’
As soon as the trade was finalized, Schottenheimer called Brissett, who was headed to the airport for his flight to Indy.
Brissett’s message: Coach, I’ll be in tonight and we can get started.
“That,’’ said Schottenheimer,’’ was pretty cool.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.