With teams still not able to properly access their facilities due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is some question about exactly if and when training camp will begin as well as what that will look like if it does. Last year, the Colts started camp in the last week of July, so there is certainly time for things to begin like normal, although there is no certainty.
However, let’s assume that some of the early positive signs prove to hold up and we are able to resume some kind of normal. The Colts are primed to be an exciting team in 2020, and ahead of camp, we’re going to review every position group and see how they look on paper.
Today we are going to dig into the quarterback room. The surprise retirement of Andrew Luck ahead of 2019 took the Colts quarterback group from the best in the AFC South to the worst. It forced the signing of Brian Hoyer, and pushed Jacoby Brissett into a starting role for which he simply is not adequate. That task for him was made harder still by a wide receiver group that was decimated by injury.
2020 is a very different era for the Colts’ quarterback room. Joining the roster is a borderline Hall of Fame talent in Philip Rivers at age 38. Rivers had a down year in 2019. He threw for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The interception number is somewhat troubling, but the film doesn’t show a player who has lost a step.
Rivers was not helped out by his running game, which featured Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon, who ranked 35th and 33rd in DVOA respectively for the season and combined to rush for just 78 yards more than Marlon Mack did on his own despite missing two games with a broken hand.
Additionally, Rivers did not get the kind of protection in Los Angeles that he’ll have coming into 2020 in Indianapolis. The question is, can he deliver the kind of play he put on film in 2018, or was 2019 a portent of his decline in play?
Based on the film, this is a player who is more than capable of doing what the Colts need from him and more. He had to carry a poor and injured defense and an impotent running game in 2019 with the Chargers. That led to him playing hero ball and throwing up some inadvisable passes that led to a higher number of picks than you would like to see from him.
The biggest difference here is that the Colts have essentially got a balanced team. They have a young and talented defense that shouldn’t put him in a position to need to consistently carry them. With one of the best offensive lines in football, a great running back tandem, and what is hopefully a replenished receiver corps, Rivers should be able to fit into the framework of the offense and take them from a passing offense that ranked 24th in DVOA to at least the top half of the league, if not a top ten passing attack. The Chargers finished 9th in that category in 2019 and 2nd in 2018.
Rivers may not be the quarterback he was ten years ago, but he is arguably still a top 10 NFL QB whose addition fixes the Colts’ biggest weakness going into the 2020 season.
On a one-year $25M deal, Rivers is a low risk player who could be re-signed after this season. Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni have repeatedly talked about Rivers’ interest in playing more than just this season, and Rivers himself has alluded to the same. If this relationship works out, he could very well be back for more.
Getting to see Rivers in camp and get a look at how quickly he can develop chemistry with the receivers will be very exciting.
Brissett is in the last year of his deal with the Colts, and set to make $21.375M in 2020. After a disappointing 2019 in which he showed no significant progress as a passer, any idea that Brissett might have starter potential has been washed away. The Colts have repeatedly talked about how much they love Jacoby Brissett, but as they say, actions speak louder than words.
Their actions? They signed veteran QB Philip Rivers to be the starter, and drafted Jacob Eason to be their long-term backup. Those aren’t things you do if you believe in Jacoby Brissett. With almost no opportunity to prepare for Luck’s retirement, Brissett was the team’s solution. They didn’t do a long-term deal with him because they wanted to see what they had. Now they’ve seen it, and it is highly unlikely that Brissett is wearing the horseshoe in 2021.
Training camp and the preseason may be Brissett’s best chance to prove he deserves a shot with another team in 2021. He’ll need to really bring it if he wants to make that a reality.
In terms of the backup to Philip Rivers, the obvious answer is Jacoby Brissett. But the Colts made moves to secure their future QB room with the selection of Jacob Eason with the 122nd pick overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. The line from the Colts has been that Eason will compete with Chad Kelly for the 3rd string QB spot. As with Brissett, you cannot always take what the Colts say about the quarterback position at face value.
Eason is a very intriguing player. He had one of the best arms of the 2020 quarterback class, right up there with Jordan Love in terms of arm talent. There are questions about his accuracy, work ethic, and ability to work through progressions quickly that will need to be answered before the Colts know what they have in him, but Eason was low risk for the Colts and provides them with a QB on the roster beyond 2020.
The real question is, can he challenge Jacoby Brissett for the top backup spot? There is little doubt that the Colts would love him to step into that role. If they get great progress from him as a player and see him grow through the course of the season, that is a huge source of encouragement for them. With Brissett on the hook for a big chunk of his salary, it is unlikely that they’re parting ways with him, but it’ll be worth keeping an eye on the two at camp to see how they stack up.
Personally, I’m not as high on Eason as some. He seems to have many of the same flaws that troubled Brissett, and issues working through progressions rarely evaporate at the next level. Regardless, he’ll be a player to watch at camp.
There is a dedicated segment of the fan base that really wants to see Chad Kelly get his shot. I’m really sorry to say this, but there’s no indication of any kind that this is something that is in the cards. As much as the Colts have been glowing about Brissett while moving his replacement pieces into position, they haven’t even bothered with the lip service for Chad Kelly. With a draft pick spent on Jacob Eason and money invested into Jacoby Brissett, I just don’t see any way short of a massive injury or total flame-out for Eason that would keep him on the roster at cut-downs.
What are your thoughts on this QB room and how it stacks up in the division?