Philip Rivers drops back to pass

Will The Rivers Of Indianapolis Run Dry?

  • AFC
  • carson wentz
  • Colts
  • Frank Reich
  • Indianapolis Colts
  • Jacob Eason
  • Jacoby Brissett
  • Matthew Stafford
  • NFL
  • Phillip Rivers
  • Sam Darnold
By Harrison Woods January 4, 2021 0 Comment
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Philip Rivers performed quite well in his first season as the starter for the Indianapolis Colts. But his contract expires at the end of the season, leaving the Colts’ quarterback situation in limbo for 2021. If Rivers retires, what should Indianapolis do?

Why did Philip Rivers roll into town?

On August 24th, 2019, as the Colts wrapped up their third preseason game, fans checking their Twitter feeds were greeted with shocking news.


After seven successful seasons with Andrew Luck at the helm, the Colts were up the creek without a paddle. Luck’s unexpected departure left Indianapolis with Jacoby Brissett as their starting quarterback. Brissett, acquired from the New England Patriots in 2017, started for the Colts in the past when Luck was injured. But with only two weeks until the start of the regular season, Brissett and the Colts faced a difficult challenge.

Post-Andrew Luck era 

Surprisingly, the Colts started the 2019 season with a 5-2 record. It looked like the Colts were simply fine without their generational quarterback. Even in the two defeats, Brissett performed above expectations. In Week 7, Brissett even earned AFC Offensive Player of the Week, after defeating the Houston Texans 30-23, throwing for 326 yards and four touchdowns. Then the Colts faced the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9. Early in the game, Brissett injured his left knee and did not return to the game. The Colts fought hard throughout the game, but ultimately lose on an Adam Vinatieri missed field goal.

The season went downhill from there and came to a dismal end with a record of 7-9 (3rd place in the AFC South). Fans, and apparently coaches and management, agreed Brissett was not the long-term answer at quarterback. In response, Chris Ballard and Frank Reich went out and signed long-time San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Reich worked with Rivers in the past, serving as his QB coach and offensive coordinator from 2013-2015.

Philip Rivers in 2021

In his first season in Indianapolis, Philip Rivers made a strong debut. The Colts made the playoffs as the seventh seed with an 11-5 record. As a reward, they face the second-seeded Buffalo Bills, arguably the hottest team in the NFL. Regardless, Rivers played quite well throughout the season. He averaged 260.6 yards per game, his lowest since 2012, but he committed the fewest turnovers in a single season of his career (13, 11 interceptions, 2 fumbles).

Although he was a controversial choice due to his weak arm, age, and questionable decision-making, he has proved himself through experience and understanding of the tactical play. Nevertheless, Rivers recently turned 39, and, depending on how the Colts finish in the playoffs, this could be Rivers’ last ride. With his one-year contract expiring in March, the question remains: re-sign or remove?

Philip Rivers’ Replacements

There is always the possibility that Philip Rivers decides to return for another year. Naturally, the Colts would also have to resign him, ostensibly to another one year deal. This is the safest option, and the most likely.

But, for the sake of this exercise, let’s assume Rivers retires. This possibility is doubly dubious because Jacoby Brissett’s contract is expiring as well. Therefore, the only QB left on the roster would be fourth-round rookie Jacob Eason. Eason did not play a single snap this season, so the Colts would be looking for another option.

Luckily for Indianapolis, there are many veteran quarterbacks available this offseason. Most of them are available via trade. The Colts could also draft another quarterback. We’ll dive into the possible options at quarterback for the Colts in 2020.

Draft a Quarterback

With only one quarterback projected to be on the roster in 2021, the Colts could look to the draft to replenish the position. However, this strategy seems unlikely for a few reasons. First, the earliest selection the Colts could make in the first round is 22nd overall. Without trading up, it seems very unlikely that the Colts would be able to select one of the best quarterbacks in this year’s class (barring an Aaron Rodgers-esque fall). Second, drafting a quarterback in the later rounds is a much more dubious proposition. And finally, replacing a backup player with no NFL game experience with another player with no NFL experience seems illogical.

Carson Wentz

The quarterback situation for the Philadelphia Eagles has devolved into madness, even before #NateGate. Carson Wentz’s time in Philadelphia is clearly drawing to a close. There have been reports throughout the season that Wentz is unhappy, his relationship with head coach Doug Pederson is fractured, and he wants to be traded.

Like Rivers, Frank Reich worked with Wentz before. Reich was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator from 2016-2017, during Wentz’s MVP-caliber season. Granted, Wentz also hurt his knee that season and hasn’t been the same since. Furthermore, Reich also helped elevate Nick Foles to Super Bowl MVP status. There have been reports that Wentz wants to reunite with Reich, and many pundits believe Wentz played so well in 2017 because of Reich.

There is, of course, the matter of Carson Wentz’s contract. Wentz still has four years on his deal, which is worth over $100 million. This makes it difficult for the Eagles to move on from him. But, the Colts are one of the few times that theoretically could take on Wentz’s albatross of a contract. In 2021, the Colts have over $64 million in cap space. This is because the Colts do not have any quarterback signed to a long-term contract. Therefore, if Rivers retires, the Colts could be in a position to acquire Carson Wentz, and possibly resurrect his career.

Matthew Stafford

Matthew Stafford could be another veteran option for the Indianapolis Colts in 2021. Now, I believe this is the most left-field answer to the Colts’ starting QB role. This does not mean that it is completely out of the question. The Colts would be getting an amazing talent who could start for Indianapolis for multiple seasons. Stafford’s contract is quite large, but not to the level of Wentz’s. Reich does not have the same connection to Stafford that he does with Wentz, but if Wentz’s contract proves too troublesome, Stafford could be another valid option for the Colts’ future at QB.

Sam Darnold

Acquiring Sam Darnold looked much more likely about a month ago for the Colts. The New York Jets appeared to be actively tanking, and held the pole position for the number one overall pick, along with the right to draft Trevor Lawrence. But, the Jets won two of their last three games and now hold the number two overall selection. Justin Fields is still a high-quality prospect and is coming off arguably his best game in college. Additionally, Zach Wilson from BYU has experienced a meteoric rise in his draft stock in the latter part of the season.

Regardless, there is the possibility that the Jets stick with Darnold and use their draft selection to build around him. Whether they use the pick to select an offensive lineman like Penei Sewell or trade down to acquire more picks, the Jets could give Darnold one more shot with a new coaching staff. However, perhaps the new regime wants to start with a clean slate and move on from Darnold. He’s still on his cheap rookie contract and could be dealt with fairly easily.

If the Jets decide to trade Darnold, Indianapolis could be a safe haven for him. With one of the best offensive lines in front of him, I think we could see the best of Darnold. Fans often forget his age; Darnold is still younger than Joe Burrow, but with three years of NFL experience under his belt. Even if Rivers returns, the Colts could still explore acquiring Darnold to learn behind Rivers, and possibly compete with our next subject in the future.

Jacob Eason

Ultimately, this option seems very unlikely. But everyone loves an underdog story and for the Colts, Jacob Eason represents just that. All reports coming out of training camp last year provide positive indications for Eason’s future. Obviously, the rookie Eason has a long way to go before being the starter for Indianapolis.

Eason would be the cheapest option for the Colts out of what we have discussed. The benefit of a year learning from Phillip Rivers without the pressure of having to play the season would be a big help to any rookie, nevermind one with such potential.

Unfortunately, the fact remains that Eason has not played a single snap in the NFL, even in preseason. So even if Eason is lighting up in camp, fans and coaches alike have no idea how he will perform in live game action. For this reason, going into the 2021 season with Eason as the starter seems like a questionable if not dangerous strategy.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the most likely thing to happen is for the Colts to keep Philip Rivers for one more year. Fans may not be happy with this but at this moment Frank Reich likes his guy.

However, I do believe that it is going to be a roller coaster of an offseason for all teams. This will be no exception for the Colts and whoever Indianapolis put in to lead the team next season. They will have one hell of a job to top what has been a better-than-expected season for the Colts.

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