INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Due diligence was done, probably to the extreme.
Frank Reich wore out the video equipment. He watched and analyzed every game, every pass, every nuance over the past two seasons. There were 36 games, 1,345 attempts, 55 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.
Did the quarterback who was about to be free to determine his own destiny – and that of another franchise – after doing so much at his long-time NFL home check the necessary boxes?
Did he still have it? Was he a good fit for the Indianapolis Colts?
“We did look at all the guys,’’ Reich said during a video conference call Tuesday. “This guy is incredible. I watched all of his tape from the last two years. I think he’s still playing at a super, super high level.
“We know he’s one of the best of all time for a reason . . . there’s a handful of guys like him and Peyton and the group I have the utmost respect for.’’
Every game and every pass was evaluated. Every stone was turned over. Ad nauseam.
Throughout the process, Reich was amazed.
“I don’t understand how he’s doing it,’’ he said. “He threw a couple of balls in games and I’m saying, ‘How’s this guy throwing this ball this far?’ He’s incredible. I have the utmost respect for him as a player and competitor.’’
Yet Tom Brady wasn’t the answer.
Instead, and after adhering to the same meticulous evaluation of another QB1, Reich and Chris Ballard determined Philip Rivers was the right man at the right time for the QB-rebooting Colts.
Reich refused to concede Brady wouldn’t have “fit’’ in Indy.
“There’s always a fit when you have a great player, when you have maybe the best player of all time,’’ he said. “There’s a lot of factors that go into these things.’’
One might have been Brady’s interest being focused on Tampa Bay, which signed him to a two-year, $50 million contract that’s fully guaranteed, once he determined it was time to move on from the New England Patriots.
It would be disingenuous to assert the Colts “settled’’ for Rivers when they signed him to a one-year, $25 million deal March 21. The relationship could extend beyond 2020 if Rivers’ on-field performance reinforces Reich’s extensive appraisal of Rivers’ last two seasons.
You know, the 34 games, 1,182 passes, 58 touchdowns and 33 interceptions, including the 20 picks last season Reich admitted were “unacceptable.’’
“Twenty is never good under any circumstance,’’ he said.
At the end of the process and when it came time to pull the trigger, Reich and Ballard didn’t flinch.
“We felt good about the way it went,’’ Reich said.
The video revealed absolutely no decline in Rivers’ ability to play the position at a high level at this point of his career. He’s 38.
“Went back and looked at all of his film the last two years and didn’t see any physical drop-off in his play,’’ Reich said.
It’s been clear since early January the team’s decision-makers were intent on upgrading the quarterback position. Jacoby Brissett was thrust into a difficult situation in late August when Andrew Luck shocked the Colts and the NFL by retiring. After leading the team to a 5-2 start, a knee injury and injuries to a good portion of Brissett’s supporting cast in the passing game contributed to his own declining efficiency and a 2-7 finish.
“I personally believe in Jacoby,’’ Reich said. “As an organization we think highly of him. He did a lot of great things last year . . . for crying out loud, we got off to a 5-2 start, which was crazy, and beat a lot of good teams doing that.’’
But the opportunity to bring in Rivers was too alluring.
“This was a crazy, unique opportunity,’’ Reich said, adding “Philip . . . is a future Hall of Fame quarterback.’’
There’s no question previous relationships helped ease any concerns regarding Rivers’ ability to make this late-career transition.
Reich was with Rivers for three years in San Diego, the final two as his offensive coordinator. Nick Sirianni, the Colts’ offensive coordinator, was a Chargers assistant for five seasons, including Rivers’ position coach in 2014-15. Tight ends coach Jason Michael held a similar position with the Chargers in 2011-13.
That trio, according to Reich, “had a really good up-close look and personal at this player and competitor and teammate.
“This was a unique opportunity. It wasn’t so much about what Jacoby wasn’t doing. It was about an opportunity to get someone who we feel is an elite quarterback who can help our team.’’
One of Brissett’s issues was a reluctance to take chances and be overly-cautious. He’s averaged a subpar 6.6 yards per attempt.
Ballard has described it was “checkdown versus the touchdown mentality.’’
That won’t be an issue with Rivers. He’s averaged 7.8 yards on 7,591 career passes.
Reich’s knowledge of Rivers is intimate. He describes him as “elite intellectually,’’ which should enable him to quickly reacquaint himself with the tweaks that have been made to the basic offense Rivers first dealt with in San Diego.
“He’ll pick it up quickly,’’ Reich said.
That shouldn’t be casually dismissed. The NFL, like much of the world, is in shutdown mode in terms of player activity due to the coronavirus pandemic. It might be June or July until players are allowed to gather and begin the growth process.
Reich also said his new QB1 is “incredibly unselfish and very team-oriented.’’
“What I love about Philip is he is a great teammate,’’ he said. “I’m excited to have a guy who I think is an elite quarterback, but I also know it’s not about any one guy.
“I don’t care how good you are, whether you’re Philip Rivers or whoever you are. He’ll have no ego. He’ll be unselfish. He won’t have any problem handing the ball off because we’re going to want to emphasize the run and we still plan on having one of the best rushing games in the NFL.
“I think he’ll complement that.’’
Brissett ‘wasn’t happy’
Not surprisingly, Brissett wasn’t excited when Reich informed him the team was sniffing around a possible replacement.
“When the time was right, I called Jacoby, told him, ‘Hey, it looks like this may happen,’’’ Reich said. “We talked it through. Obviously Jacoby wasn’t happy about it. But he’s a great teammate, he’s a great leader. We all know that. I’m sure he’ll be good.’’
It marks the second time in three seasons Brissett, 27, must accept a demotion after starting the previous season. That was the case in 2017 when he started 15 games while Luck dealt with his shoulder issues, but reverted to the backup role when Luck returned for 2018.
Reich insisted “the arrow is up’’ for Brissett. He’s under contract through 2020.
“I think Jacoby’s still learning, growing,’’ Reich said. “He’s a young quarterback. He played a lot of good football last year.’’
And if something were to happen with Rivers, Brissett would be required to play good football in 2020.
“Everybody knows what our goal is. Everybody knows we want to win a championship,’’ Reich said. “The message is every person on the roster counts.
“Certainly when you look at a lot of championship teams, to me you’d better have a winning backup quarterback . . . who can step in there and win two or three or however many games it takes if the starter gets dinged up.
“And we have that in Jacoby.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.