Saturday night in Indianapolis treated us to much drama off the field but not the drama Colts fans ever wanted to hear. As their third preseason game against the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium progressed an odd shift of emotions could be felt on the faces on everyone in the crowd. A badly kept secret led to Colts fans booing their now-former franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, who officially retired the following day at age 29.
It wasn’t just a huge blow to the chances of a team, expected to compete for the Lombardi Trophy this season. Odds for the Colts to win the division have now moved from 12-1 to 30-1, from favourites to underdogs. Indianapolis, as well as the league, lost one of the most talented football players of the 2010s. The dismissal of the Stanford product also proves to put a big question mark on the plan for the future of the Colts.
Despite them having a clear new starter in former New England third-choice playmaker Jacoby Brissett, the circumstances can see the team head in any direction after the conclusion of the 2019 season. That depends on lots of factors – Brissett’s performance, free agency, draft market and the team’s contractual situation.
So what might the future (or rather the Colts themselves) hold for the 2018 AFC South runners-up? We explore every option and direction Indy might head into, what is most probable and what the right moves might be.
Short term – sticking with Brissett
In this context the meaning of the phrase is even more reduced to fit only the 2019 season – that’s the only season the Colts have a certain answer to the problem in Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has a 5-12 record as starting QB in the NFL and was 4-11 in 2017 when Luck was also out. He was sacked league-high 52 times, but now with one of the best offensive lines his chances look better (Luck was sacked just 12 times last season).
The Colts’ chances certainly take a blow with Brissett instead of Luck but there certainly are many teams that would love to have Brissett on their roster if their starting QB leaves so spontaneously. But one thing is for sure – on Brissett’s performance depends the direction of the franchise and their approach on the market come next summer.
If Brissett shows that he can at least lead a squad so talented close to a playoff spot, the Colts could keep him beyond 2020 when his current contract expires. But with a personnel group with a lot of cap space but many contracts close to expiring, such as Eric Ebron, Devin Funchess, Marlon Mack and TY Hilton, all free agents after 2020 or 2021, Colts should try to build a winning team, even if that takes moving on from Brissett if he doesn’t deliver. The Colts have the cap space but it remains questionable if they can re-sign all four of their stars among others.
Look for the front office to go after Bengals wide receiver AJ Green when we get closer to the trade deadline (Nov 12th, 9pm UK time), if Green remains healthy after returning from an eight-week torn ligaments injury, to help Brissett.
Taking to the draft – Tua Tagovailoa/Trevor Lawrence
And the next step, if Brissett’s results don’t satisfy Indy, naturally, could go through a high draft pick and one of the two superstar QB in the next two NFL drafts – Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Trevor Lawrence of the national champs Clemson.
It’s an approach involving much hazard – Indy’s squad is, top to bottom, too good to waste it on a rookie QB. Meanwhile, when he’s ready the team might be very different and not that competitive.
I still think the top QBs for the 2018 draft were more NFL-ready than Tagovailoa or Lawrence, the latter of whom, though a seemingly good pocket passer, no disrespect intended, played only the second half of his 2018 freshman campaign after Kelly Bryant was sidelined with a concussion, on a college football landscape where no team even comes close to the Tigers and the Crimson Tide. Even if the Colts find a way to keep their important players, they’d want to capitalise on that with a QB that matches the quality of the rest of their team.
The Colts landed their last two franchise QBs via the draft, which was the case with both Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. Indianapolis Colts’ last season without Manning was a 3-13 campaign while Indy’s record in 2012, the last season pre-Luck, was 2-14. But now the Colts are not in a rebuild position.
Another factor is that even if Brissett and whoever replaced him in case of a bad 2019 are statistically the worst playmakers in the NFL, the Colts running game, supported by a dominant OL, and defence are still too good for Indianapolis to have a shot at the first overall pick, which is probably where Tua and Trevor will land in their respective drafts. The best they could get after that would be Justin Herbert out of Oregon.
Signing or trading for a big name
The Colts have enough cap space to pay the big bucks on a big name free agent or to even trade for a proven QB inside the league. It’s hard to envision Kirk Cousins and Cam Newton staying with their teams at age 33/32 in 2021 unless they lead the Vikings/Panthers to the Super Bowl so they might be an opportunity to hit the jackpot, especially the former Washington Redskin. Imagine what both could do behind good O-Lines.
In terms of a trade, Nick Mullens is a possible name as it looks like Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan believes more in CJ Beathard for the back-up job. The San Francisco third-string QB won three of eight games last year, completed nearly 64 percent of his passes and had a solid 90.8 passer rating. While seemingly not as talented, this approach could work the same way as the 49ers trade for Jimmy Garoppolo with the Patriots.
Whatever the choice might be, aggressive moves going forward could be effective, well-working and a quicker way of getting back to competing for a championship. Bearing the Colts available cap space in mind (the team will have the most cap space over each of the next three years) they could re-sign at least half of their starters in the upcoming two years and have the space for an expensive quarterback, which will, in fact, even improve the team moving on from Andrew Luck.
So, what now?
Anyway you look at it, the Colts lost their best and most valuable player so the decline in their odds more than makes sense. However, the organisation is among the few that have the flexibility to keep most of their talent on other position AND be ambitious getting a proven playmaker. The formula is easy – Brissett wins and he keeps his job, if he loses and Indy doesn’t keep re-sign most of its talent – a QB from the draft, and if they keep it – money is getting splashed.