With former Detroit Lions franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford now a new Los Angeles Ram, the Indianapolis Colts have lost out on the only veteran upgrade at the starting quarterback position this offseason—that was clearly and readily available.
Scanning over the potential starting quarterback market, both the Houston Texans’ Deshaun Watson and Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott appear to be purely pipe dreams—and unrealistic to ever actually be traded to Indianapolis (especially in Watson’s case, with the Texans trading him within their own division).
There are a few potential starting quarterback options with some upside, but not without risk and/or injury histories—and there’s no guarantee that any of them will actually be available either. This group includes the Philadelphia Eagles Carson Wentz, the New York Jets Sam Darnold, and the San Francisco 49ers Jimmy Garoppolo.
Another veteran trade option could be the Las Vegas Raiders Derek Carr, who has butted heads with his head coach Jon Gruden in the past—and with backup Marcus Mariota having played well in limited action last season, there’s a chance the franchise could move on from Carr in a different direction entirely.
However, none of these options are givens that they’ll even be available (and at what actual cost)—and each still comes with his fair share of question marks, past production issues, and concerns—meaning there’s still risk there.
As such, should there be an elite rookie quarterback prospect Indianapolis really likes, the best option for the Colts right now is to trade up into the Top 10 of the NFL Draft to select that elite ‘non-Trevor Lawrence’ quarterback prospect: BYU’s Zach Wilson, Ohio State’s Justin Fields, or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance.
Moving up from pick #21 (the Colts current first round spot) won’t be cheap, roughly this year’s first, a future first round pick, and a second or third round pick; however, it presents a long-term franchise quarterback possibility for Indianapolis—in otherwise murky waters:
“That being said, we’ll just have to see where opportunity pushes us because we really would love to be able to get a great young quarterback and obviously, there’s some out there that have been talked about that’s coming out in this draft,” said team owner Jim Irsay last week in his end-of-season press conference.
“. . . Again, if we could find a young guy, that’s always going to be our focus in the draft, get the guy you can build around for the next 15 years so to speak, that’s ideal. But if not, there’s a lot of ways to get it done.”
At some point, the Colts are going to have to make the ‘seismic splash’ at their starting quarterback position—and bite the bullet in significant draft capital cost to get there.
The Colts’ ‘built to win’ now roster can seriously contend in 2021—with a more dynamic starting quarterback upgrade, but the team isn’t bad enough to get a top quarterback prospect without making a move up and elite veteran options rarely—if ever, hit free agency.
The franchise needs continuity again, having started three different quarterbacks over the past three seasons.
The team also needs a long-term answer for the next 15 years.
The team can ‘buy time’ at the starting quarterback position for a consecutive season again—as seen by last offseason’s signing of veteran starter Philip Rivers, but it can’t buy it forever.
It’s only delaying the inevitable of making a big-time move.
The franchise also needs to take another step forward in 2021, having made the playoffs with Rivers behind center—who’s now recently retired, but hungry for much more.
That means that pursuing available retreads such as Nick Foles, Andy Dalton, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jameis Winston, and Mitchell Trubisky are all presumably downgrades from Rivers and make the team worse at the quarterback position than the Colts were in 2020.
Primary Colts backup (and free agent) quarterback Jacoby Brissett is also not realistically an option for this same reason, and soon-to-be 2nd year quarterback Jacob Eason appears to be raw developmentally and remains a lottery ticket—as a 2020 fourth round pick with little to none training camp experience, team practice reps, and a non-existent preseason last year. The Colts still like Eason, but realistically not enough this offseason to hand him over the starting reins on a contending roster for 2021.
He’s not considered in the same class as a top rookie prospect right now.
Yes, there will assuredly be some initial growing pains with a top rookie quarterback such as Wilson, Fields, or Lance—just like with any young NFL passer. [Peyton Manning once led the league in interceptions as a rookie (28) in 1998 which is an all-time NFL record].
Even in the chance that none of those prospects turns out to be ‘Justin Herbert’ as an instant impact rookie quarterback, the Colts would at least be ‘wasting a season’ on the development of a potential franchise cornerstone at their starting quarterback position—which hopefully advances the franchise forward bigger picture regardless.
Wasting a year on a retread quarterback advances essentially nothing. It maybe keeps the Colts more competitive next season, but an 8-8, 9-7 Colts team isn’t making much serious noise anyways come January—if they’re even playing playoff football at all.
It’s time to aim higher in Indianapolis in the hopes of a deeper AFC playoff push for the Colts, who even if not now, would be better setting themselves up for the foreseeable future to seriously contend for a Super Bowl championship again.
If the Colts are going to undergo a ‘lost season’ in 2021, why not aid in the development of a franchise quarterback? There’s a chance that a top rookie quarterback could always impress like a Herbert from the get-go, but even if they don’t, the Colts would be better off for the future as a franchise—with a year of development already under that rookie’s belt to accelerate his growth and learning curve going forward.
Now, the caveat here is that the Colts shouldn’t force trading up and selecting a top quarterback prospect purely for the sake of selecting one—which general manager Chris Ballard has already made clear this early offseason:
“The one position that you cannot, just all of you go back and look at first round quarterbacks drafted over the last 10 years,” Ballard said in his end-of-season press conference a few weeks ago. “It is not an exact (science), everyone just thinks you take one and you’re going to fix the problem.”
“Look, taking one will get you all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn’t play well, I’m going to be the first one run out of the building.”
“I promise you we get the importance of the quarterback position, but the difference between just taking one, and taking the right one, is the key in our minds.”
The starting quarterback position is a lot like a starting point guard on a basketball team, you need the right player, who’s a fit from a playing style, personality, and leadership standpoint. A team can’t just plug anyone there and expect it to work wonders.
The Colts cannot force the issue, but if there’s an elite rookie quarterback prospect who really piques their interest in the Top 10 and fits their culture and what they’re truly about, Indianapolis should absolutely trade up and go get ‘em.
In such a scenario, it’s simply time to make the seismic splash and high draft cost commitment for the betterment of the Colts franchise bigger picture.