On paper, a trade involving a third-string quarterback during cut-down weekend might seem to be a minor transaction. But this one—New England sending QB Jacoby Brissett to Indianapolis for WR Philip Dorsett, which has been confirmed by both teams—has significant ripple effects in the landscape of the 2017 NFL season.
For the Colts, it casts doubts about QB Andrew Luck’s health and when he might be ready to return to the field. And for the Patriots, it gives QB Tom Brady another weapon in his receiving corps to potentially help offset the loss of WR Julian Edelman to a season-ending ACL injury.
Indianapolis has been playing it coy when it comes to Luck, who had surgery in January on his throwing shoulder and was finally activated from the physically unable to perform list. It was only after the fourth preseason game, 10 days before the season opener, that Colts owner Jim Irsay admitted to Indianapolis beat reporters that Luck “most likely” would not be ready for the Sept. 10 season opener against the Rams.
How many more weeks Luck will be out beyond that remains a big question mark, though. While it was encouraging that the Colts activated Luck off PUP and to the active roster Saturday, that doesn’t indicate when he’ll be ready for game action. It just allows him to be able to return to the practice field, rather than being shelved for the first six weeks.
The Brissett move indicates the Colts’ needs for additional resources at the QB position beyond simply Scott Tolzien, the 29-year-old backup who is 0-2-1 as a starter in the NFL. After all, they went so far as to trade with the AFC rival Patriots, and send New England another talented offensive player.
The specifics behind Luck’s shoulder labrum injury have been shrouded in mystery. Just this past week, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told reporters he hadn’t actually seen Luck throw the football (even though Luck has been throwing, according to the team). There have been speculations that perhaps he’s had a setback, but the other way to look at it is that the team is going to great lengths to take the long view with the health of its franchise quarterback, and let him take his time rather than rush him back for the sake of a few games and risk the injury lingering.
Could Brissett really start Week 1? That might seem like a longshot, but others have done so on similarly short prep. The 2016 third-round pick saw action in three games, completing 34 of 55 passes for 400 yards in those games, and finishing 1–1 in his two starts for New England last year during Brady’s suspension after backup QB Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt.
Just as interesting is the impact of the trade in New England. Dorsett, a 2015 first-round pick by former Colts GM Ryan Grigson, adds another burner to New England’s offense, along with receiver Brandin Cooks. In his two seasons in Indianapolis, Dorsett had 51 receptions for 753 yards and three touchdowns for the Colts. And the Patriots’ willingness to give up Brissett, a relatively high draft pick who already has meaningful experience in their system, seems to indicate that they will make an effort to keep Garoppolo, who’s a free agent after 2017, in New England after this season.
Garoppolo was targeted by numerous teams this offseason, but New England proved unwilling to part with him via trade. His rookie contract is up after this season, but all signs point to the Patriots believing in him as the successor to Brady. The Patriots’ options to keep him would be an extension or even the unorthodox move of franchise tagging their backup—but if they believe that he’s the unusual guy who could maintain success post-Brady, they’ll find a way to make it work.
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