Sports fans are a fickle, myopic, amnesic bunch: “Whether I like you depends more on what you’re going to do for me in the next five minutes that what you’ve done for me in the last five years.” With that in mind, the case of the 2017-18 Indianapolis Colts is a tough egg to crack.
Chris Ballard brought a rush of early optimism by signing key defensive free agents and drafting positions of need. That optimism was tempered after the realization that Andrew Luck would not be back from shoulder surgery in time to start the season. That optimism took the last train out of town when alleged NFL quarterback Scott Tolzien played against the Los Angeles Rams. Maybe optimism is fickle too, because it returned when Jacoby Brissett took over the “starting” quarterback role the following week.
Brissett won two of his first four starts and was clearly superior to Tolzien, even with a limited grasp of the offense due to his only joining the team on September 2nd. Soon the talk became “What can the Colts get by trading Brissett?” with the assumption that Luck would return sooner than later. Some folks seriously believed that Brissett would garner the team a first round pick in the 2018 draft. Some still do. In fact, Indianapolis is much, much better off keeping him around than trading him away.
Scenario A) Luck returns to health in 2018; Brissett is his backup
In most ways, this would be the ideal situation. If Luck never regains his form as an elite gunslinger, then all kinds of wacky hypotheticals come into play (more on that later). If he does, then this team with so many warts rediscovers Compound W and becomes a contender for AFC South titles again. In that case, Brissett needs to stick around to learn from Luck, to continue his development as a professional quarterback, and to serve as an insurance policy in case Luck becomes injured again. Very few quarterbacks have the longevity of a Manning (Peyton or Eli), Tom Brady, or Phillip Rivers. Aaron Rodgers misses games, Ben Roethlisberger misses games, and Cam Newton misses games. Without a competent backup, teams look like…well, the 2017 Colts.
Scenario B) Luck returns to health; Brissett is traded
This is the optimist’s dream, but optimism is not reality. Could Brissett have been worth a first round pick in late September if Luck came back to play? Sure, as his sample size was smaller then. “But Jimmy Garoppolo just got traded for an early second! Brissett is worth the same or better!” That remains to be seen. Actually, one could argue that so much of Garappolo’s appeal was his limited playing time. He started and played in two and a half of the four games that Tom Brady was suspended at the beginning of 2016. Brissett started and played the other one and a half. Since then, Garoppolo has gone back to being Brady’s understudy, while Brissett has started eight games (and counting) on a terribly flawed team. Familiarity breeds contempt, and Brissett is becoming more familiar with each passing week. Should he play the duration of the season like he did on Sunday against Houston, that’s not such a bad thing. If his play regresses to the same level as the second halves against Seattle and Tennessee (or the entire Jacksonville game), then his value plummets. Garoppolo exists in a fantasy world where he can still be anything, whereas Brissett’s true identity comes to fruition with each snap he takes.
In all likelihood, Brissett would generate a mid-round pick (fourth?) if he were to be traded at some point between January and April.
Scenario C) Luck is not the same/retires; chaos ensues
This is the dilemma facing Ballard and the rest of the organization right now. What if Andrew Luck never recovers from his injury and decides to hang up the cleats? Or what if he does come back to the team, but he is exponentially less effective than he used to be? Well, the next step in that plan will depend almost entirely on where the team ends up in the final draft order. Brissett and Co. continue to struggle, and the team picks in the top five? Hello, Lamar Jackson! The Houston game is a springboard for better play (relatively speaking) for the rest of the season, and the team picks around 15th? Oh, who the hell knows?
Without a franchise quarterback, NFL teams are stuck in neutral, peaking out around 9-7 if the rest of the team is spectacular (or 11-5 if your head coach is Bill Belichick. Right, Matt Cassel?). The point is: if Luck never returns to his 2014 and 2015 form, then the Indianapolis Colts need to move on from him. Moving on may be saddling up with Jacoby Brissett, signing a free agent quarterback whose name rhymes with “Kolin Caepernick,” or drafting one in the early rounds and putting your eggs in his basket. Neither option is as good as Luck simply returning to form, but a contingency plan has to be explored in its entirety. What that looks like, we shall all find out in the coming months. For now, though, Brissett needs to be part of it.
Thanks for reading, and, as always, Go Colts!
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