INDIANAPOLIS -- The writing was on the wall. No matter how you looked at it, the Indianapolis Colts have spent the offseason giving every hint imaginable that they weren’t sold on Jacoby Brissett being their starting quarterback in 2020.
General manager Chris Ballard started it more than two months ago when he said the “jury” was still out on Brissett as the long-term answer to replace Andrew Luck. Ballard and owner Jim Irsay added to it by only committing to Brissett as the starter "right now." Irsay said "all options are open" at quarterback.
If the Colts found a player they felt was better than Brissett, they would try to acquire him. That happened Tuesday when former Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers agreed to a one-year, $25 million deal with the Colts.
Making a deal with the 38-year-old Rivers is not only a risky move by Ballard, but one that has gone against how he’s approached free agency since Irsay hired him in February 2017.
Ballard has repeated ad nauseam how much he wants to build the roster through the draft and be selective when it came to free agency. But then there’s the losing factor. The Colts have missed the playoffs four of the past five years after having made it in 12 of the 14 seasons prior to that.
Rivers isn’t the long-term answer in Indianapolis. He’s a bridge-gap starter for the time being. It won’t be surprising if the Colts select a quarterback in the draft and have that player sit and learn behind Rivers. Indianapolis traded its first-round pick to San Francisco for defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, who has 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons, on Monday.
What does Rivers have going for him in Indy? He knows Reich’s system like the “back of his hand,” according to a league source. That could make Rivers’ transition to the Colts even easier and allow them to be in the mix for a playoff spot next season. Reich was Rivers’ quarterbacks coach for a season, then his offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Chargers. Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni spent five seasons with the Chargers, including two as their quarterbacks coach.
Rivers, who threw for 4,615 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, has never been the most athletic quarterback, but he’ll be playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. He also have the benefit of a rushing attack that finished seventh in the league last season in Indianapolis. The Colts return the only offensive line that started all 16 games last season and one that gave up a league-low 18 sacks in 2018.
But it's difficult to project how effective Rivers will be next season after he threw 20 interceptions, the third-most in the NFL, in 2019.
The opportunity to win the AFC South is there for the Colts after some of the changes made within the division over the past week. Houston traded DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best receivers in the league, to Arizona. The Texans have won the division in six of the past nine years. Jacksonville continued to clean house during its rebuild by trading defensive lineman Calais Campbell to Baltimore and will go with Gardner Minshew at quarterback after trading Nick Foles. The Titans, who reached the AFC Championship Game, would be the considered the favorites if the season started today after they were able to retain quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry.
Without a doubt, the Colts are gambling by signing Rivers. It pays off if they’re in the thick of the playoff race late next season. But if they aren't, the Colts could be right back to square one this time next year, looking for a starting quarterback again.