<
>

Who will be the Colts' starting quarterback in 2021?

play
Kiper and Spears get heated over Wentz's future with the Eagles (2:12)

Mel Kiper Jr. is adamant that the Eagles should repair their relationship with Carson Wentz, but Marcus Spears argues it's irreparable. (2:12)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts, a proud franchise that didn’t have anything to worry about at quarterback for nearly 20 years, are asking the same question they did after their season ended a year ago.

Who will be their starting quarterback in Week 1 next season?

Veteran Philip Rivers was an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett this season. He had better passing numbers in all categories and even led the Colts back to the playoffs.

Rivers has talked like he wants to play an 18th season, but the Colts have to determine if they want to bring him back to make a run at a Super Bowl in 2021.

If not, will the Colts go the free-agency route or fill the need by making a trade for a veteran such as the Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentz or the Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford? Or is Jacob Eason, who spent his rookie season as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, ready to make that leap into the starting role?

Rivers and Brissett will both be free agents this offseason, so things are very much up in the air.

The foundation is there elsewhere on the roster, but the Colts need to figure out who is quarterbacking them next season if they expect to take another step and compete with the likes of the Buffalo Bills' Josh Allen and the Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes in the AFC.

“Whatever is God’s will for me and my family, if it’s here playing another year in Indy, then we’ll be here,” Rivers said. “And if it’s not, then I’ll be on the sideline with a ball cap, coaching the heck out of a high school football team down in south Alabama.”

Rivers, who signed a one-year, $25 million contract in March 2020, had the third-highest completion rate (68.0%) of his career, dropped his interception total from 20 to 11 and moved into the top five on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage and touchdown lists this season.

He did everything the Colts asked him to do with the exception of winning a Super Bowl, which can’t be put solely on his shoulders.

“I mean, Philip is a great player,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “I have a great relationship with him. He is a great leader on this team. Those things will have time to work themselves out. He’s got a one-year contract. Obviously, there is a lot of stuff that goes into that decision, but I'm very excited. He exceeded expectations in my mind about what he was bringing to the team this year on and off the field.”

Reich said Sunday that he wants Rivers to be his starting quarterback next season. The two had an emotional conversation after Saturday’s 27-24 playoff loss to Buffalo.

Running it back with the 39-year-old Rivers means the Colts are prolonging the most obvious issue: They still don’t have a long-term, franchise quarterback.

“It’s obviously a critical position,” Reich said. “I have a lot of confidence in our ability as an organization, the leadership that [general manager] Chris [Ballard] brings. I feel like we have an owner (Jim Irsay) who understands the landscape and will give us what we need and will be involved in the discussions on such a critical position. Yeah, we’re looking for an answer. We have to make the answer for next year, but because of Philip’s age, that certainly has to be a perspective in discussion.”

Something else the Colts have to worry about is whether Rivers is the right quarterback to try to help them move beyond the wild-card or divisional round of the playoffs.

For all the positives Rivers brought to the Colts this season, the reality is he’ll be 40 years old in December and how the quarterback position is played has changed some.

Rivers has never been the most mobile quarterback in the league, but that’s how the game is played more often than not now with the likes of Mahomes, Allen and the Baltimore Ravens' Lamar Jackson.

“Absolutely, the way that happens is everybody gets incrementally better,” Reich said about winning if Rivers returns. “Maybe at 39, going to be 40, maybe that’s going to be harder physically, but there are other ways to keep getting better. I sit here right now -- and please don’t read anything into this because any coach would say this -- this team is close. I think we had everybody in the locker room this year we needed to win a world championship. But I’m 59 years old, been in the NFL 27 years -- it doesn’t work that way.”

The quarterback buzz will be there in Indianapolis until the franchise says what it’s going to do at the position.

There will be plenty of it when it comes to Wentz because of his familiarity and relationship with Reich.

Reich was Wentz’s offensive coordinator with the Eagles when the quarterback was having an MVP-caliber season before suffering a season-ending knee injury in December 2017. Wentz passed for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 13 games that season.

But significant questions surround Wentz's health and where he is mentally. He has played in all 16 games just twice in his five seasons in the NFL and was benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts this season.

And you can’t forget about the financial implications of any team taking on Wentz, if the Eagles decide to move on from him.

Philadelphia signed the quarterback to a four-year, $128 million contract extension in 2019 that comes into play next season. The deal includes nearly $70 million guaranteed.

Stafford, who will turn 33 in February, is also a possibility.

He is older than Wentz (28) and younger than Rivers, while sporting a cheaper price tag.

Don’t be alarmed by Stafford’s $34.95 million cap hit in 2021. He’s due only $9 million in base salary. That’s a bargain for a player who has thrown for 45,109 career yards, 282 touchdowns and 144 interceptions while not always having the best talent around him in Detroit.

The thing about Reich is he believes he can fix any quarterback’s flaws and win with anyone.

He thought he could do it with Brissett after Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement in August 2019. He did it with Rivers when the Los Angeles Chargers decided to move in another direction a year ago. And Reich will try to do it again with whoever starts for him in 2021.

That’s just him.

Remember, Reich’s the same person who didn’t ask one question about Luck’s health during his interview with the team prior to becoming head coach in the winter of 2018.

“I remember last offseason, before the Colts signed Philip, I had a number of quarterbacks reach out to me and say they would love to play in Indianapolis because of Frank,” ESPN NFL analyst Matt Hasselbeck said. “That says a lot about Frank as a coach and as a person.”