INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The first step has been taken, but leading where? That’s what the next few months will determine.
Before Frank Reich addresses the latest edition of his Indianapolis Colts in April, Chris Ballard and his personnel staff must make the necessary additions and adjustments to a franchise that reached the playoffs following a three-year absence. That means utilizing every option at their disposal: re-signing their own pending free agents, procuring talent on the free agent market, the NFL draft and the post-draft signing frenzy.
Before we get to that, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts. More to the point, we’ll take a look at how they got to where they are – coming off a 10-6 record and a first-round playoff win – and what needs to be done to take them further in 2019.
Starter: Andrew Luck
Backup: Jacoby Brissett
Let’s make one thing perfectly clear. Of the numerous developments in 2018, all paled in comparison to Andrew Luck returning to form following a two-phase rehabilitation that kept him off the field for nearly 20 months. We understand Ballard’s approach that sustained success can’t be a one-player proposition, but when that one player is an elite quarterback, his availability and productivity overrides everything else.
An elite QB gives his team every opportunity for a 10-win season, minimum. Don’t believe us? Remember the Peyton Manning years? And in the four seasons Luck hasn’t had issues with his right shoulder, the Colts are 11-5, 11-5, 11-5 and 10-6, and reached the playoffs each season.
Luck’s comeback season began modestly and with obvious restraints. In his first three games, he averaged 5.3 yards per attempt and 7.8 yards per completion as Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni focused on shorter drops and quicker throws.
Gradually, the reins were eased and Luck settled into his old form. At some point, questions regarding his arm strength ceased.
Over the course of the season, Luck re-established himself as one of the NFL’s premier QBs. His 39 touchdown passes were second to the 50 of KansaRemove term: Indianapolis Colts Indianapolis ColtsRemove term: Andrew Luck Andrew LuckRemove term: Jacoby Brissett Jacoby BrissettRemove term: Frank Reich Frank ReichRemove term: Chris Ballard Chris BallardRemove term: Nick Sirianni s City’s Patrick Mahomes. He passed for 4,593 yards and had career bests with 430 completions, 639 attempts, a 67.3 completion percentage and 98.7 passer rating. He had at least three TD passes in eight straight games, tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history, and extended his streak of games with a TD pass to 34, the league’s eighth-longest streak.
Not only was Luck productive, but his decision-making was better. There were fewer “bonehead’’ plays, and he was more conscious of when to extend a play and keep himself in harm’s way and when to avoid unnecessary contact.
Yep, Luck was back. That was confirmed earlier this month when he was named the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year.
“The football season really re-energized me and re-invigorated me,’’ Luck said. “Even before the season started there some questions in my mind . . . What I could do? What I could handle? Would I be available every game? Would I be available every practice? Could I be there for my teammates? Could I be there for myself? Could I live up to the standard I wanted to set?
“And I had fun and answered a lot of those questions.’’
Luck should actually be better next season. He’ll be coming off a “normal’’ offseason, one that allowed him to enjoy some personal time and concentrate on getting better in Reich’s offense, not rehabbing his right shoulder. He’s been dealing with some level of offseason rehab since 2016.
The wild card is whether there’s change coming in the quarterback’s room. Ballard is in no hurry to trade backup Jacoby Brissett, but neither will he hang onto his insurance policy just so he can “sleep at night’’ knowing he’s got a viable option if Luck goes down.
“It would take somebody doing something that would blow me away, and it has to be the right thing for the kid, too,’’ Ballard said. “I’m not just sending him anywhere.’’
The motivation to trade Brissett now is the fact he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract – he’s a got a base salary of $890,000 in 2019 – and will be an unrestricted free agent after next season. Trade him now and get something, or watch him walk away in 12 months for nothing.
TBD. Even if Brissett sticks around, we’re not convinced it makes much sense to invest in his eventual successor as Luck’s backup and groom him on the practice squad. When Brissett’s gone, the objective probably is finding a relatively young veteran – or any veteran – who can adequately handle backup responsibilities.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.