Each week SB Nation presents a prompt to its NFL member sites. This week each team site will be answering, “Who is the one players you can’t afford to lose.”
The last three seasons have been frustrating for Indianapolis Colts fans and certainly for Andrew Luck. This franchise has been going through just about every bit of adversity that you can imagine throwing at one. Failed draft picks, a failed free agent philosophy, aging veterans trying to serve as the glue to hold the pieces together, it just wasn’t a winning formula.
It has been so long since there has been a dominant offensive line in Indianapolis. Colts fans have had to watch a Hall of Fame legend suffer through numerous neck surgeries and even a bursa sac in his knee, injuries that whittled away at his illustrious career and certainly shortened it by a season or two. These fans were bailed out by an unimaginably “lucky” situation following Peyton Manning’s year-long recovery by holding the top overall pick and keys to the most celebrated sure-thing since Manning was drafted in 1998.
As though Indianapolis was stuck in some kind of scene from Nightmare on Elm Street, the fans got to watch as Andrew Luck took more hits and sacks than any other quarterback in the NFL to start his career. They have had to watch him suffer through a concussion, a lacerated kidney, numerous pulls to abdominal muscles, and a shoulder injury that he played through for two and a half seasons (which is hurting his recovery now). The culmination of all of this is that he has had to miss all of 2017 and has chosen to escape to Europe to find any treatment that can help rejuvenate his shoulder and his career.
During his absence, there have been grumblings among the fan base that maybe the best option is to trade Luck away for draft picks. Some have suggested that he will never be the same, even if he returns to football, while others suggest that he will never play again. Some fans believe the team should roll with Jacoby Brissett and others see numerous quarterback prospects in the 2018 draft who they feel present an opportunity to move on from a quarterback the team has managed to break in only a few seasons.
No matter how all of this turns out, there is one thing that is absolutely clear. The Indianapolis Colts simply cannot afford to lose Andrew Luck.
Discovering top flight NFL quarterbacks is not easy. The number of first round draft busts at the quarterback position throughout history dwarfs the number of quarterbacks taken in the first round who went on to be perennial Pro Bowlers or future Hall of Famers. Every time a team has to make a change or replace a known quantity at quarterback it is forced to take a risk with decidedly poor odds.
The Cleveland Browns have been looking for a quarterback since Derek Anderson gave them a couple of solid seasons in 2007 and 2008. They have drafted 4 first round quarterbacks since 1999, a year after Peyton Manning entered the league. None of those quarterbacks have worked out, for their team or really at any meaningful level in the NFL.
The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t had a solid NFL starting quarterback, outside of a year here and there for David Garrard and Byron Leftwich, since Mark Brunell was their quarterback. They have draft three first round quarterbacks since Brunell departed, none of them have been their long-term answer.
The point is, you simply cannot afford to walk away from or throw away a top tier quarterback when you get one. There are no guarantees that Brissett will be anything other than serviceable throughout his NFL career and it is possible he will never be anything more than a solid backup. There are no guarantees that any of the incoming quarterbacks are going to amount to anything in the NFL. In fact, it might be a bad sign that there is a group of quarterbacks who are considered top prospects and a rather broad argument about which one is the best. Typically, when a legitimate top tier quarterback is available in the draft it is either completely clear who that player is or there is at best a discussions about two players that are the best at the position.
General Manager Chris Ballard has done a relatively good job of bringing in some young talent in his one off-season. While statistics may not present a pretty picture for a bottom of the league defense, there is no arguing that this Colts run defense took a leap in one off-season that former General Manager Ryan Grigson couldn’t conjure over five seasons with the franchise.
There are even reasons to feel some confidence about pieces in the secondary, with rookies Malik Hooker and Nate Hairston flashing real potential already this season. Even veterans like Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desir have played solid football when healthy and on the field together. The defensive line is the strongest unit on the team and there is only one starter who returned from Grigson’s regime and two total players in the rotation who Ballard inherited.
This season has made it glaringly clear that more work needs to be done on the offensive side of the football but it should also make something else completely obvious. The Indianapolis Colts are in a great position with tremendous cap room and higher draft picks than they have had since they drafted Andrew Luck in 2012 and Peyton Manning in 1998. They are in a position to help take big steps in completing a rebuild of the offensive line, add some talent to help generate some pass rush, and add more athletic players at inside linebacker. They even have the luxury of adding a weapon or two to bolster the Colts wide receivers and backfield.
All of that gets drastically altered if the team doesn’t have Andrew Luck. Without Luck there is another period of transition and rebuild with question-marks at the most important position on a football field. All of the other pieces you get might not amount to anything without that final piece. Ask the Chicago Bears. Ask the Jacksonville Jaguars. Ask the Denver Broncos.
There are exceptions to every rule but the Colts cannot afford to lose Andrew Luck if they hope to have any chance to compete for the multiple championships Jim Irsay has been promising since he was drafted.