We’re not sure if you heard, but Andrew Luck retired over the weekend.
News of the Indianapolis Colts quarterback’s abrupt, yet understandable, departure continues to cause ripples in the NFL waters. Downright devastation is in the forecast for Indianapolis football, evidenced by the suddenly inflated betting odds and calls from Colts fans to cancel their season ticket orders.
It’s fair to say that the Colts’ goal of reaching the Super Bowl is further out of reach, but it was a lofty goal with or without Luck. We tend to forget, after all, Indianapolis is in the same conference as New England, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers, etc.
But…rumors of the Colts total demise have been greatly exaggerated for several reasons. Let’s break down why the Colts could come out the other side of this news intact.
If you’re looking for a guilty party in ending Luck’s career early, Ryan Grigson might be a good place to start. The departed Grigson, now a consultant in Seattle, served as the Colts’ general manager from 2012 through 2016. During his tenure, the Colts added Luck, but failed to build in front of him. The Colts drafted just four offensive linemen in the first three rounds during Grigson’s tenure. Lone first-rounder Ryan Kelly (2016) turned out to be a solid pick, but the others are either out of football (Jack Mewhort, Hugh Thornton) or struggling to crack the starting lineup (Le’Raven Clark).
Since Grigson left, the Colts have begun to bolster that weakness. 2018 saw the Colts use high picks on interior help, taking the highly-regarded Quenton Nelson in the top 10 and Braden Smith later on. Nelson would reach the Pro Bowl, and Smith earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers Association. Kelly returns after he was ranked the seventh-best center by Pro Football Focus. Line staple Anthony Costanzo emerges for a ninth year of service as one of the very few holdovers from the pre-Grigson era.
The offensive line is a spot where the more anonymous you are, the better you’re doing your job. But, when there’s no line, there’s no offensive success. Nothing’s going to make a new quarterback feel more comfortable than a strong security group in front of him. Speaking of which…
Luck Reigns at QB
Is Jacoby Brissett a franchise quarterback? Probably not. But the Colts’ quarterback situation is certainly not as dire as it’s made out to be.
In the short term, Indianapolis can do far worse than having Brissett under center. The veteran fills several boxes on the ideal backup quarterback checklist. He has the experience, having started games in both Indianapolis and New England. The luckless, literally and figuratively, year of 2017 wasn’t perfect, but Brissett displayed an ability to hold on to the ball and make smart decisions. With a mere seven interceptions on 469 attempts, his 1.5 percent interception rate was good for fourth amongst qualifying passers. Brissett also displayed a helpful ability to take off and run, tallying 260 yards and four touchdowns in that 2017 campaign.
Brissett is probably keeping the spot warm for the next generational passer the Colts luck into. But as a temporary solution, one that knows the offense and has vital experience. He’s one of the best options Indianapolis can ask for.
(Less of a) Rough Draft
It isn’t just the offensive line that has enjoyed a resurgence in the wake of Grigson’s firing. His replacement Chris Ballard has led a balanced attack in his spring process, and it’s helped Indianapolis become one of the AFC’s more consistent contenders.
It isn’t even just the top picks (like first-rounders Nelson and Malik Hooker) that are contributing. The success has been highlighted by 2018 second-rounder Darius Leonard, who emerged as one of the league’s top linebackers in his debut. Mid-round diamonds in the rough have also come up big, including running back Marlon Mack, who went off the board during the fourth round in 2017. If Ballard keeps this up, the question mark at quarterback won’t matter nearly as much as we believe.
The AFC South Is Wide Open
Looking across the NFL’s eight divisions, the AFC South is likely the only one where all four teams have a realistic shot to come in first place.
On paper, the Houston Texans are the easy favorites. After all, they have everything you need to succeed in today’s NFL: A deadly, young offensive connection (Deshaun Watson/DeAndre Hopkins) and a dominant defensive talent that can change the course of the game (J.J. Watt).
However, not all is well in Houston. The team lost top rusher Lamar Miller to a torn ACL on Saturday in Dallas, and Jadeveon Clowneystill hasn’t appeared in uniform. The Texans also won the division last year, but lost to the Colts in the AFC’s opening round. Luck was held to relatively pedestrian numbers (19-of-32, 222 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) in a 21-7 victory.
The other duo is likewise loaded with questions. AFC finalists less than two years ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars have put their future in the hands of Nick Foles. Their quarterback clarity, however, is crystal clear compared to that of the Tennessee Titans. A strong defense leads the way in Nashville (even if it has trouble generating turnovers), but this well could be a make-or-break year for Marcus Mariota.
“Fine” is a tough term to define to today’s football world. The Colts faced a daunting task in terms of the Super Bowl with or without their franchise quarterback. But should this quartet of hopeful pillars stand strong, the Indianapolis foundation should withstand this unlucky, unexpected storm.