Before you dig through your shed to find that pitchfork and torch you know you saved to come after articles with titles like this one, please realize I don’t want the Colts to start Jacoby Brissett in 2021 or ever again. This isn’t a pro-Jacoby article, but it’s important to acknowledge that the options for the Colts' starting quarterback could be worse than Jacoby Brissett.
Deep down I think most Colts fans realize this statement is true on some level. Jacoby Brissett isn’t the worst quarterback to have been on an NFL roster in 2020. Not by a longshot. Most Colts fans savvy enough to be reading articles about the team at this point in the year wouldn’t claim that Brissett is that bad, but they would probably mention him being just good enough to guide the Colts to enough wins to take them out of the running for a top draft pick but nowhere near good enough to seriously contend for a championship.
There’s a simple term to describe the state that quarterbacks like Brissett provide their teams: Quarterback Purgatory
Too good to lose enough, too bad to win enough. That’s who Jacoby Brissett is and it’s not good.
But of the options Colts are facing in 2021... what if it could be worse?
Taking on a Reclamation Project
The offseason hasn’t even technically begun and two starting quarterbacks have already been traded. There are rumors that three other quarterbacks are currently on the trading block; Derek Carr, Sam Darnold, and Carson Wentz. Beyond those three, there could be many others on the move in what looks to be an unprecedented offseason of quarterback movement.
Each of the quarterbacks currently rumored to be available is available for a reason- as Chris Ballard said. None of them appear to be that good. But wait, you might say, we have Frank Reich! It’s true, Reich and his offensive system have consistently elevated the play of the quarterbacks he’s coached. Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, and even Andrew Luck, all played better while being coached by Reich than they had before or since. So surely he can elevate the play of Carr, Darnold, or Wentz once again- right?
Or maybe Carr, Darnold, and Wentz are broken beyond repair. It could be that no matter what Reich does, he would be unable to fix them completely. And if that were the case, what does that look like?
Any of the three will need to be traded for, which means that draft picks will need to be exchanged to secure their services. We could speculate on the compensation it would take to move any of the three but that’s not the point of this article and you can find speculative articles (some featuring very good guesses) elsewhere. The point is, you’re investing draft capital in all three of them. If you invest draft capital, the kind that is being speculated, it means that the team will be tied to that player for a minimum of two to three years. Either by a cap hit that makes it impossible to move on from the player or by simply lacking the draft capital to make a move to replace the player you tried and failed, to fix.
In the best case the reclamation project works perfectly, Frank Reich et. al. fix the talented passer and the Colts have found a good starting quarterback for the next decade. It’s possible but it’s not something that we see very often.
Second best case, the reclamation project goes incredibly poorly, the team wins four to five games next season and is in a position to draft whatever quarterback rises up draft boards during the next college football season. This is possible but the highly talented Colts roster makes it less likely, even with poor quarterback play it seems that the team could win six or seven games, and in most years that would take the team out of the hunt for the top pick in the draft.
The worst and possibly most likely scenario is that Frank Reich and his system are just good enough to turn one of those quarterbacks into the kind of player that will be able to lead a talented roster, like the Colts currently have, to seven to nine wins year in and year out.
Also known as: Quarterback Purgatory.
So the worst-case scenario is that the Colts end up right back where they would have found themselves with Jacoby Brissett. Only now, because of the draft capital they had to expend and the money they are contractually on the hook for, it means that the team will be committed to a state of quarterback purgatory for years longer than if Jacoby Brissett were to be brought back for 2021.
Chris Ballard keeps mentioning how swinging and missing on a first-round quarterback will get him “run out of town”. It seems that it’s no coincidence that Jim Irsay has been quoted as saying he wants to extend Ballard’s contract before the summer of 2021. Chris Ballard, like all of us, wants to feel secure in his position, and signing him to an extension, would give him long-term financial stability in the event he gets “run out of town”. So a trade up in this year's draft might finally be something that Ballard would consider after passing on the 2020 class.
The best case for this scenario is nearly identical to the one above it, but instead of 10 years, you hope to have a franchise quarterback for the next 15 years if you draft a guy at 22 or 23 years old.
The major difference between this scenario and the one above it is that the first round quarterback scenario has been tried over and over again. There’s a pretty solid historical record. Let’s see how that’s worked out since 2009.
- Matt Stafford- Very good player finishing his career in another city. Objectively did not work out for the Lions
- Mark Sanchez- Mostly remembered for the “butt-fumble”.
- Josh Freeman- He started a game for the Colts in 2015 and then he never played again.
- Sam Bradford- Made an amazing amount of money despite having a career record of 34-48-1.
- Tim Tebow- Now plays baseball.
- Cam Newton- Went well in the beginning, 10 years later and he will not be a starting NFL QB in 2021.
- Jake Locker- LOL
- Blane Gabbart- LOL
- Christian Ponder- LOL
- Andrew Luck- Oh what should have been.
- Robert Griffin III- Had one good year.
- Ryan Tannehill- Is a good quarterback, but not for the team that drafted him.
- Brandon Weedon- LOL
- EJ Manuel- How did this even happen?
- Blake Bortles- No longer plays professional football
- Johnny Manziel- I don’t think I need to say anything, do I?
- Teddy Bridgewater- Had a career year in 2020 for his 3rd team, throwing for 3,733 yards, 15 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. His current team is working hard to replace him. Despite popular opinion, wasn’t “better before the injury”.
- Jameis Winston- Replaced by a 43-year-old quarterback who then wins a Super Bowl with essentially the same teammates Winston led to seven wins a season ago.
- Marcus Mariota- Has never been good, despite being very popular.
- Jared Goff- Went to a Super Bowl before his team gave up an extra first-round draft pick (two total) just to get rid of him for the first guy on this list.
- Carson Wentz- will likely be traded this offseason after being benched and replaced by a second-round pick.
- Paxton Lynch- LOL
- Mitchell Trubisky- His team has been trying to replace him for two years.
- Patrick Mahomes- The best quarterback in the NFL.
- Deshaun Watson- Great player whose team is amazingly inept and might trade him.
2018-2020 the jury is still out but Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, and Kyler Murray might make up for Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, and Dwayne Haskins.
Save for the past four drafts, the NFL hasn’t drafted a first-round quarterback who has had sustained success with their current team since the Falcons drafted Matt Ryan in 2008. Even Ryan has failed to deliver the kind of success the Falcons thought they would have when they took him first overall.
You can point to most of the names on that list and provide a handful of valid reasons each of them didn’t work out. Maybe some of them would have been great quarterbacks on a different team, in a different system, with different coaches, with different teammates. The fact of the matter is, not one of them between 2009 and 2016 had the long term positive impact everyone envisioned they would have for the teams that drafted them.
What’s worse; every team on that list from 2009 to 2016 fired either a head coach or general manager, some have fired both. No matter how you feel about Frank Reich and his playcalling, hiring a new head coach and or general manager means the team, once again, finds itself needing to rebuild its roster to fit the new regime’s vision for the future. A process that will take a minimum of three to five years to complete, if things go well.
In the past four years, teams have seemingly found more success selecting quarterbacks. That might be true, but it’s still too early to tell. In Jared Goff’s third season he started in a Super Bowl and everyone assumed the Rams had a long-term starter at the position. I’m not suggesting that Patrick Mahomes isn’t who we think he is, I am suggesting we don’t know who Baker Mayfield, Kyler Murray, Sam Darnold, Daniel Jones, Tua Tagovailoa, Joe Burrow, Jordan Love and yes, even though he looked great, we still don’t know if Justin Herbert will be a long term starter for the Chargers. Despite it seeming like a sure thing, it’s still just too early to know. A lot of guys on that list looked like superstars in their rookie year, too. Herbert seems great, I’m not doubting him, but I’m not ready to crown him either.
This isn’t an argument against drafting a first-round quarterback- no you have to take a chance, you have to be willing at some point to swing and possibly miss. “No risk it, no biscuit.” - Bruce Arians
But recent history has shown us that if you miss, the outcome is most likely far worse than what Jacoby Brissett would give you in 2021. If you miss on a first-round quarterback, especially if you traded up to select that quarterback, there’s a real chance that for the next seven to ten years you’ll be watching your favorite team try, desperately, to regain its footing to compete in its own division.
Bring Back Jacoby
We all know what the best possible scenario is with Jacoby Brissett as the starting quarterback. The best case, seven to nine wins, is oddly enough, also the worst case.
Should the Colts, really bring back Jacoby Brissett? Should they just kick the can down the road and hope the ball bounces their way in a couple close games just so they can win 10 games and go one and done in the playoffs again next season?
But we all need to realize that it could be far worse than Brissett. The decision that Chris Ballard makes this offseason has the potential to change the Indianapolis Colts franchise forever. Ballard and his staff have gone a long way to earning the trust of Colts fans, he has been excellent, but he’s never had to make this kind of decision before.
What Should They Do
If it’s a reclamation project, moving up in the draft, starting Jacob Eason, or bringing back Brissett, there are four realistic options the team currently has. None of them should provide you with any warm and fuzzy feelings about the Colts future. This is actually a really scary time as a Colts fan.
I don’t know what Chris Ballard should do but I believe whatever he decides, we should all hope he has an escape plan. The last guy he signed was on the wrong side of 37 the escape plan was already built in. It’s easy to admit you’re wrong when you sign or draft a guard or linebacker that busts. It’s easy to move on from a bad safety or a loser of a tight end. It’s easy to move on because missing on one of those guys doesn’t lose you many games, upgrading those positions is easy and ultimately missing on any other position doesn’t get anyone fired. Missing on a quarterback, without an escape plan, will get someone fired, almost without exception.
In three years we’ll have some of the answers to the questions we’re all asking right now. In today's world three years seems like an eternity but even then we won’t have all of the answers. What should be clear by then, is if we should have brought Jacoby Brissett back and kicked the can down the road for another season.
Hopefully that question can be answered with a deafening “no”. If not, hopefully the team has positioned itself to pick early in the 2026 NFL Draft, after all Arch Manning will be eligible.