Yes, you read that right, after missing out on the two elite quarterbacks that were supposedly “on the market”, as Aaron Rodgers re-signed with the Packers on a massive deal and Russell Wilson was traded to the Broncos for a king’s ransom. The Colts are now left with a mediocre quarterback, a solid roster, and not nearly enough star power to make a deep run in the playoffs. So, not bad enough to tank for a top 5 pick, and not nearly good enough to go out and contend for the title.
Does that ring a bell Indiana sports fans? Well of course it does! I just described exactly what the Pacers did for the past decade or so. This is a dangerous zone the Colts are entering, as staying put in mediocrity will bring nothing good for the team, and the primes of some Hall of Fame caliber players are surely going to be wasted if Indy continues down this path. The AFC now has Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, Joe Burrow, Derek Carr, Trevor Lawrence, Lamar Jackson... all above-average quarterbacks that are going to be very tough to beat at the very least over the next 5-7 years.
The Colts severely mistimed their title window, as with the AFC now stacked with franchise quarterbacks winning the conference is going to be near impossible. The cause of this title window now completely shut goes from Luck suddenly retiring, to trading for Carson Wentz. As a result, Indy has several All-Pro caliber players entering their prime, but no quarterback to lead them, so what do you do now?
Option 1: Run it back with Carson Wentz.
Before his late season meltdown, quarterback Carson Wentz had already been showing plenty of signs for concern, for example some very ill advised throws against the Titans, Raiders, and Cardinals, but because the Colts were winning games and he made three amazing throws against the Cardinals, most of them were swept under the rug. Then the Colts had to play at Duval, and it all collapsed. Wentz had his worst game of the season, and Indy lost a game where opposing fans were dressing as clowns as a sign of protest against their own team, and were forced to watch the playoffs from home.
That loss was the most embarrasing one I have seen as a Colts’ fan, and the memory still hurts, so the prospect of Carson Wentz being the starting quarterback once again is not particularly enticing to me. The numbers are nowhere close to showing the true story as to how bad Wentz was last year, as 27 touchdowns to 7 interceptions seems like a really solid season, but his EPA/Dropback was average at best and we can’t ignore how he collapsed in the clutch in several games. There is also some concern for his work ethic and leadership, as there are plenty of rumours floating around that the locker room is not very happy with him, and his relationship with Reich might be broken beyond repair, but those are just rumours at this point.
The argument can also be made that with a proper offseason, back to full health, and with better weapons (hopefully), he will look much better. But will that be enough to contend? What if it is not and the Colts are once again out of the playoffs after doubling down on Carson?
Option 2: Roll with a bridge quarterback (Tyrod Taylor/Mariota/Heinicke/Bridgewater for example), draft a rookie (Ridder/Pickett).
Perhaps the Colts feel like Wentz is just not the guy, and they trade/release him, and go with a new approach at the position: getting a guy to start for a year while developing a young quarterback they drafted (possibly traded up to do so. Say something along the lines of signing Tyrod Taylor to a short term deal while trading up into the back of the first round to grab either Desmond Ridder or Kenny Pickett. In an ideal world, the Colts are still competitive while the rookie quarterback develops, and we get a situation similar to that of what the Chiefs had when they won their Super Bowl, with a great quarterback on a rookie deal, and a very talented roster around him. I really like Ridder because of his athleticism and work ethic, and think Reich could work wonders with a guy like that. Pickett is a very talented quarterback with impressive film, but he might slide down because of his tiny hands, which will not matter for the Colts as they play in a dome.
Of course, things could also go terribly wrong, and the rookie quarterback fails to develop, leaving the Colts without a successor to the bridge quarterback and also with even less draft capital, in an even worse situation than they started. Rookie quarterbacks are always a crapshoot, so this option has plenty of risks.
The thing I love the most about this possible scenario is Frank Reich developing a young athletic quarterback from scratch. We will get a chance to see if he truly is the quarterback whisperer some fans are claiming he is.
Option 3: Blow everything up, rebuild.
This is, in my opinion, the most sensible option, and the one I am 100% sure there is no chance the Colts are even planning to do. The Colts have several All-Pro caliber players like Nelson, Leonard, and Buckner that are entering their prime, and their value is probably the highest it will ever be. Now deep into quarterback purgatory and with no end in sight, while the rest of the AFC is absurdly loaded, why not blow everything up, acquire an absurd amount of draft capital, and let Ballard build a roster from scratch?
Trades in the NFL are not like videogames, and it is not like the NBA where rebuilding teams usually ship out all their talents when rebuilding, but just think about the possible returns the Colts could get for those 3 guys, and also keep in mind that without a viable quarterback, Indy is not going to be in a position to fight for the title anytime soon.
Tank for Archie Manning Jr. and Marvin Harrison Jr. perhaps?
In conclusion, the Colts are not in a good position to be right now. Jim Irsay is not the same type of owner as Herb Simon is, and I don’t think he is willing to tolerate a long mediocrity period, but from the looks of it, the Indianapolis Colts are heading straight into the Pacers Zone.