INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts’ powerbrokers traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, for the NFL owners meetings, and a familiar topic followed them.
What’s up at quarterback?
It wasn’t the only issue owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and coach Shane Steichen addressed Monday, but still possessed lightning-rod qualities.
After acknowledging the reality of the situation – the Colts’ quarterbacks room includes Gardner Minshew II, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles – and offering one of those we’ll-see-what-happens-moving-forward comments, Ballard was more direct with a pair of options.
- pursuing Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
- selecting the franchise’s quarterback of the future in the April 27 draft with a top-4 selection.
“We all know the importance of the position,’’ Ballard said in a meeting with Indy media covering the owners’ event. “People are willing to do about whatever it takes to get their hands on one. There’s no guarantee you’re going to be right. You want to be right.’’
Might Jackson be the right guy? He’s available after the Ravens applied the non-exclusive franchise tag on the former MVP. Jackson is allowed to sign an offer sheet with another team, and if the Ravens opt not to match, he relocates and his new team sends Baltimore two first-round draft picks.
Jackson actually stirred the speculation regarding his future in Baltimore Monday when he announced on Twitter he had asked the Ravens for a trade earlier this month.
Give the Colts credit for honesty. Yes, they’ve discussed Jackson.
Irsay conceded a team is “always looking for great dynamic players’’ when he met with Indy media.
“Look, anytime a special player is available – which he is – you do the work,’’ he said. “I’m not going to get into deep discussions on where he’s fit or what we’re doing or what we might do.
“But this is a really good player, a really special player. You never know how any of this will work out.’’
The Colts’ quarterback situation has been in constant flux since Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement prior to the 2019 season: Jacoby Brissett, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz, Matt Ryan.
Jackson, 26, would inject sudden impact into the franchise. But it clearly would come at a steep price. It’s believed Jackson is seeking a full-guaranteed contract that might average $45-50 million per season.
While admitting he’s always looking for a rare talent at QB – remember Bert Jones, Peyton Manning, Luck? – Irsay added it’s important not to acquire him and threaten the franchise’s future because of the cost.
On one hand, Irsay told reporters the magnitude of a possible Jackson contract won’t be a deterrent.
“It really has nothing to do with actual dollars,’’ he said. “I mean, paying a contract like that is not a problem. It’s not a problem for me.
“The issue is what’s the right thing to do for the franchise in terms of what helps us win the long run.’’
Even during the failed Rivers/Wentz/Ryan experiences, Irsay has been adamant it’s his preference to draft and develop his own.
Irsay said the guaranteed-contract issue with Jackson would be a problem.
“As an owner I do not believe in fully-guaranteed contracts,’’ he said. “I think that a percentage is one thing, but from what I’ve seen from the NBA and baseball, I don’t see it as a positive competitively.’’
It’s anyone’s guess whether Irsay will determine making a serious push for Jackson is in the best interest of the Colts. After extensive discussions, they might decide the cost is too steep.
A more likely option is the draft. The Colts hold the No. 4 overall pick and could be in position to select the third-best quarterback on most analysts’ rankings. QB-needy Carolina and Houston hold the first two picks, which probably means Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud will be the first two players off the board.
That leaves Kentucky’s Will Levis, Florida’s Anthony Richardson and perhaps Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker for the Colts. They could stay at No. 4, or attempt to pry the No. 3 spot from the Arizona Cardinals.
Ballard had an interest in acquiring the No. 1 overall pick in a trade with the Chicago Bears, but the Panthers beat him to it with a huge package.
The Colts simply weren’t ready.
“Didn’t want to make a blind decision without all the information,’’ Ballard said. “And I know for people, they might not understand that, but history just kind of tells you that when you do that, you better know what you’re getting.
“We weren’t quite ready to do that at that time.’’
So, now what might the draft offer? Ballard, Steichen and their personnel staff are still in evaluation mode, and they realize the significance of the decision.
“If you don’t feel like you have one that can absolutely change the franchise in terms of leading you every year, I think you’re always going to feel some pressure to get that player,’’ Ballard said. “Now, whether we need to take one at 4, if the right one’s there for us that we feel good about, then we’ll do it.
“At the end of the day, we feel good at 4. I’m not saying we won’t move up and I’m not saying we won’t move back. I’m saying we’re still doing our work.
“When that moment comes, then we’ll make a decision. Everybody talks about the top four, but there’s some more guys out there, and they’re pretty good players. I think history’s shown, especially the last few years, with Jalen (Hurts) being one, Brock Purdy coming in and playing really well.
“They come at every level.’’
Kelly, Moore coming back
Despite getting trade interest for center Ryan Kelly and cornerback Kenny Moore II, both Pro Bowlers will be part of the 2023 Colts.
“We had some calls on them,’’ Ballard said, “but at the end of the day, they’re good football players for us. . . . when you’ve got a good football player that’s a great person and a good fit, it makes it hard to move away from those guys.’’