With incumbent starter Jacoby Brissett’s lukewarm play down the stretch, the Indianapolis Colts could readily be in the market for a veteran quarterback this offseason.
While general manager Chris Ballard stated in his end of season press conference that “Right now, Jacoby is our starting quarterback,” he did indicate that a lot can change in an offseason—reminding fans of when former franchise quarterback Andrew Luck shockingly retired right before the recent season started.
Ballard also noted that the Colts won’t shy away from opportunities that would allow them to upgrade at starting quarterback—or any other position for that matter.
Earlier this offseason, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler stated that he believed the Colts could consider signing longtime Chargers veteran quarterback Philip Rivers, and speculation of arch-nemesis Tom Brady joining Indianapolis has been swirling in recent weeks—in part due to Fox Sports national radio host Colin Cowherd.
Those aren’t the only names thrown around the Colts in recent weeks though, so let’s take a closer look at some of them:
Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers
As the former 4th overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, Rivers has consistently been one of the better quarterbacks of the past 15 years or so.
Whether he’s a future Hall of Famer is a debate for another day, but he’s been really good at times—arguably even elite for some stretches of his 16-year career, playing one of the league’s toughest positions.
Still, Rivers just turned 38 years old in December and is coming off his worst season in recent memory: he completed 390 of 591 passing attempts (66.0%) for 4,615 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 8 fumbles (3 lost), and a quarterback rating of 88.5—making all 16 starts for the Chargers in 2019.
Even at this stage of his career, Rivers presumably would provide the Colts greater big play passing ability than Brissett, as he’s never been afraid to throw the ball downfield and into tight windows throughout his playing days—but it also comes at the expense of committing more turnovers (to the generally risk adverse Brissett).
Rivers remains a fiery competitor—and sometimes, it’s indeed too much. He also struggled this past season despite having a lot of weapons in Los Angeles: Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Hunter Henry, Melvin Gordon, and Austin Ekeler.
If the Colts are looking to develop a rookie quarterback behind next season’s opening game starter, then Rivers is probably a better fit than Brissett—given that he has acquired more knowledge and realizes that he’s simply a veteran stopgap—not necessarily competition to a young project like Brissett might think.
That being said, from a playing standpoint on the field, I’m not sure he’d be a considerable upgrade. As noted, his greater big play passing potential comes with the risk of more turnovers.
For a Colts team that still wants to heavily run the ball and mitigate turnovers, signing the aging wily, veteran gunslinger Rivers may not be an ideal fit.
Tom Brady, New England Patriots
Trust me, I feel weird writing this and may have to take a shower right after, but is the Colts hated arch-nemesis Tom Brady joining them really that far-fetched?
It’s just my opinion, but I still think the New England Patriots franchise leaders “kiss and make up” before this offseason ends—especially since team owner Bob Kraft and general manager/head coach Bill Belichick no longer have a long-term answer like Jimmy Garoppolo waiting behind Brady—ready to take over the starting reins at any moment.
From that standpoint, they’re in a similar situation to the Colts.
Thus, it’s time for the Patriots to start thinking about grooming a long-term answer at quarterback, but they could still use a veteran stopgap or bridge in the mean time because they’re still capable of seriously competing for a Super Bowl trophy—if they play their other cards right this offseason.
However, from a playing standpoint, Brady makes more sense for Indianapolis than Rivers because even at age 42, he’s still the superior quarterback—and unlike Rivers, he’s actually won Super Bowls.
In his 20th NFL season, Brady just completed 373 of 613 passes (60.8%) for 4,057 passing yards, 24 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 4 fumbles (1 lost), and a passer rating of 88.0.
Has he lost a step? Yes, he’s no longer a Top 5 quarterback and one of the game’s truly elite passers anymore—and I imagine because of age, he’s lost some gas on his deep ball.
That being said, Brady still is capable of making all the throws with accuracy and most importantly, knows when to make the right decision—and understands what it takes to win.
If the Colts are going to select a quarterback early, then what better short-term mentor than arguably the greatest player to ever play the position—who understandably knows his time in this league is running short.
For Brady with the Colts, he would inherit a Top 10 wide receiver, T.Y. Hilton; one of the league’s best offensive lines; and gets to play half of his games under a roof—as well as play under a pretty good offensive minded head coach, Frank Reich.
It’s a Colts team that really could be one piece away—if it’s a significant upgrade at quarterback—if they can make some upgrades this offseason on the roster elsewhere.
If Brady to the Colts actually has legs, it would be time to put bitter feelings aside and welcome him to Indianapolis—because he would help the franchise seriously contend.
However, given the magnitude of the player and these two teams’ history, his signing still seems like a significant longshot of longshots.
Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders
The enigma that is Derek Carr’s career continues—although it’s unclear if that’ll continue to be with the Raiders under head coach Jon Gruden—who inherited Carr from the prior Oakland regime.
As a former 2014 2nd round pick of the Raiders, Carr had shown flashes of brilliance earlier in his career and of becoming a top NFL quarterback. However, he always seems to be more up-and-down these days—with no one really ever knowing what to truly expect.
Still only 28 years old, Carr isn’t merely a veteran stopgap like the other big names previously mentioned on this list.
He’s still very well much young enough to be a long-term answer.
Carr is fresh off a season for Oakland in which he completed 361 of his 513 passing attempts (70.4%) for 4,054 passing yards, 21 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 7 fumbles (3 lost), and a passer rating of 100.8 in 16 starts.
Would Oakland even consider trading Carr to the Colts?
It depends on if Gruden or general manager Mike Mayock—with the Raiders picking #12 in late April, get enamored enough with a top quarterback available and believe he’s NFL ready enough to play.
That could work to the Colts benefit, who could deal—and I’m only projecting here, but a 2nd or 3rd round pick to the Raiders for Carr?
Still, Carr is highly inconsistent, comes with around a $20M cap hit each of the next three seasons, and really hasn’t shown that he can take his team deep into the playoffs (although in his defense, his surrounding talent has been suspect more often than not in Oakland).
His addition to the Colts wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’s not one of those moves where I’m hoping and praying it happens either.
Maybe Carr could improve and grow under the Colts quarterback friendly head coach, Frank Reich, and even though he doesn’t push the needle all that far—it’s still further than Brissett does.
Nick Foles, Jacksonville Jaguars
Foles has had an interesting career to say the least, as the former 2012 3rd round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, bounced around to the St. Louis Rams then the Kansas City Chiefs—only to be the starting Super Bowl quarterback for the Eagles in 2017 during their magical (and improbable) title run.
Foles relayed that success into a lucrative 4-year, $88 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars a year ago, and while it looked like he was going to be viewed as the long-term starter at a destination for once, he sustained a shoulder injury in Week 1—which allowed rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew to impress and eventually win out the Jaguars starting job entirely (as Foles was benched late during the season in favor of the young quarterback).
Foles completed 77 of 117 passing attempts (65.8%) for 736 passing yards, 3 touchdowns, two interceptions, 2 fumbles (2 lost) and a passer rating of 84.6 in 4 starts for the Jaguars this past season.
At age 30, Foles is a little younger than some of “the oldies” on this list, but doesn’t have as much sustained success with more limited starting experience—as largely a top backup throughout his career.
What Foles has working in his favor though is that Colts head coach Frank Reich is very familiar with him, having previously served as his offensive coordinator during the Eagles Super Bowl winning season before joining the Colts.
Did Reich simply catch lightning in a bottle that season with Foles or is he actually a solid starting quarterback given the right coaching and offensive system?
Perhaps the biggest hurdle to the Colts acquiring Foles isn’t just that he plays for a divisional rival (after all, why would these two AFC South teams help one another?), but also because he has some serious cap hits in the coming years: $22.1M (2020), $26.9M (2021), and $27M (2022).
The perpetually salary capped strapped Jaguars would have to incentivize the Colts to take Foles off their hands with a first or second round pick, but 1) I can’t see them wanting to give that draft ammo to their competition in the AFC South—especially if they aren’t contending and 2) I’m not really sure Foles is a clear upgrade to Brissett regardless.
Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions
As the former #1 overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft, Stafford has had a pretty good (not great) career in Detroit—albeit with little to no postseason success, having made the playoffs in only 3 of his 11 career seasons and never advanced past the wild card round.
Now, not all of Detroit’s continuous systemic failures should be squarely shouldered by Stafford—who like Carr, hasn’t always been given a great supporting cast and really hasn’t had a ton of weapons to play around with since the great Calvin Johnson retired (although young Lions wideout Kenny Golladay is pretty good these days).
Stafford’s 2019 campaign saw him complete 187 of 291 throws (64.3%) for 2,499 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, 5 interceptions, 5 fumbles (3 lost), and a passer rating of 106.0—having missed the team’s last 8 games with a fractured back.
The former Georgia standout has always had a big arm, and no one can question his toughness (having played through a number of injuries throughout his career), but it’s hard to know how he actually is in the locker room and whether he’s capable of leading a team on a deep playoff run—because we simply haven’t seen it.
In fantasy football, Stafford’s always the quarterback in a deep league that you’re happy enough to land, but never thrilled with.
Still, while he’s probably the least likely of these quarterbacks to be dealt (given that there hasn’t been much smoke/speculation of it), he’s also probably the best option listed for the Colts when factoring in overall age, pedigree, production, and the potential to not just be a short-term bridge but also at age 31, the possibility of being a long-term answer.
That being said, head coach Matt Patricia and the Lions, picking at #3 would simply have to fall in love with a top rookie quarterback and think they’re NFL ready from the get-go to ship off a big named quarterback like Stafford to Indianapolis.
Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers
It doesn’t seem like that long ago that the Colts Andrew Luck and Carolina Panthers Cam Newton, as fellow former #1 overall picks, were expected to rule their respective conferences as perennial MVP’s for years to come—because in reality, it wasn’t actually that long ago.
However, after winning the NFL’s MVP award in 2015 and taking the Panthers to the Super Bowl, Newton’s career has been essentially hindered by injuries ever since.
He underwent surgery to repair a partially torn rotator cuff in 2017 and then a shoulder injury in 2018, which eventually required surgery in the 2019 offseason.
During the 2019 season, Newton started just two games before suffering a season-ending lisfranc injury. He completed 50 of 89 passes (56.2%) for 572 passing yards, 0 touchdowns, an interception, 2 fumbles (2 lost), and a passer rating of 71.0 in those 2 starts.
Now 30, and having seen his recent career riddled by injuries, the Panthers could cut or trade Newton this offseason and save $19 million of his owed $21.1 million cap hit—on the last year of his current Carolina contract.
The question for the Colts though is that even for a quarterback as talented as Newton has shown and been, would they really want to go down this road again for another former superstar quarterback whose body is seemingly breaking down—having just lived through such a re-occurring nightmare with Luck?
Set to enter his 10th NFL season, Newton understandably doesn’t run quite as well as he used to, and at this point, it’s fair to question whether he throws as well either—having undergone a significant surgery to his right throwing shoulder.
There just seems to be too many red flags on Newton for the Colts to seriously consider him—unless he came to Indianapolis on a short-term or “prove it”, incentive-laden contract.
Teddy Bridgewater, New Orleans Saints
Having been originally selected by the Vikings in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft out of Louisville, Bridgewater made 28 starts during his first two seasons (2014-15) in Minnesota.
However, he suffered a gruesome knee injury in training camp entering the 2016 regular season that forced him to miss largely the next two years of his career.
In 2018, the New York Jets signed Bridgewater, but he was later traded to the New Orleans Saints in-season—where he’d make one start that year.
Serving as a backup quarterback in New Orleans, Bridgewater was thrust into action earlier this past season because of a torn thumb ligament to veteran Drew Brees.
Bridgewater ended up starting in 5 games for the Saints (appearing in 9 games total), completing 133 of 196 passes (67.9%), 1,384 passing yards, 9 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 1 fumble (0 lost), and a passer rating of 99.1. The Saints went 5-0 under Bridgewater in relief of Brees.
Set to become a free agent in 2020, it’s unclear if Bridgewater intends to remain in New Orleans as the long-term successor to Brees—who after all is 40, and can’t seemingly play forever.
New Orleans is a very comfortable situation for Bridgewater in a quarterback tailored offensive system under head coach Sean Payton. However, there could be at least a few teams—including the Colts, interested in Bridgewater serving as their full-time starter next season.
Bridgewater is a relatively safe and accurate passer, and while he won’t be confused with some of the league’s best deep ball passers, he has a tendency to air it out with much more frequency down the field than Brissett.
Among this list, at age 27, he figures to be one of the better options given his age, seemingly sound production, and upside to serve as a potential long-term answer.
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals
It would be ironic that the quarterback former Colts general manager Bill Polian wishes he had drafted in 2011 to be Peyton Manning’s backup ultimately ended up in Indianapolis—only 9 years later.
Although I’m not sure it would be all that fun.
Selected by the Bengals instead in the 2nd round of 2011, Dalton would develop into a safe, serviceable starting quarterback for the majority of his career.
He’s become a 3x Pro Bowler in Cincinnati, but is coming off a disappointing season in which he completed 314 of 528 passes (59.5%) for 3,494 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 8 fumbles (4 lost), and a passer rating of 78.3 in 13 starts (having been inexplicably benched but then reinserted as the Bengals starting quarterback late in the year).
The Bengals finished just 2-14 in 2019, and Dalton wasn’t exactly surrounded by a strong supporting cast to work with—but there’s very little upside with the 9-year veteran these days.
He’s the type of quarterback who might be good enough to lead the Colts to a wild card round of the playoffs with a dominant ground game and a talented defense backing him up, but nothing more.
After all, he went to the wild card round in five straight postseasons with the Bengals (2011-15) but never advanced.
Now 32 years old, Dalton has a $17.7 million cap hit for 2020, but none of it is guaranteed meaning he could be traded or cut with no ramifications to the Bengals salary cap situation.
If the Colts completely cut ties with Brissett in favor of bringing in an established veteran to mentor a top rookie quarterback, Dalton wouldn’t be a bad option. He’s always been well regarded for his leadership and professionalism (even during a difficult season this past year).
Otherwise though, it would be best if the franchise just steered clear.
Of course, a lot of what the Colts do depends on whether they plan on keeping Brissett ($21.4M cap hit in 2020), and if they seriously plan on drafting a top rookie quarterback.
Adding a big named, high priced veteran quarterback to Brissett and a top rookie seems illogical (and a giant waste of resources), but having 2 of those 3 options in some combination very well might work.