Colts GM Chris Ballard Sets Timetable on Decision About Quarterback Philip Rivers

The plan for Indianapolis Colts roster moves starts with quarterback, and general manager Chris Ballard summed up his conversation with Philip Rivers succinctly in saying both sides will take a month to consider the future.
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INDIANAPOLIS — If anything is clear about what the Indianapolis Colts will do at quarterback for 2021, anticipate clarity in one month.

That’s the timeline established by Colts general manager Chris Ballard in his conversation with 17-year veteran Philip Rivers. Both sides will take one month to decide if the marriage will continue.

Ballard said he’s spoken to Rivers and head coach Frank Reich and will share the team’s plan with owner Jim Irsay later Thursday.

“Do I think Philip can still play? Absolutely, I do,” Ballard said in a 72-minute video call on Thursday. “Philip and I had an hour talk (Wednesday). He’s going to take time and we’re going to take some time, and we’re going to meet here in about a month and figure out which way we’re going to go forward.

“Philip has got to make a decision if for sure he wants to play. So we need to go through that process. Do I think Philip Rivers is a winning quarterback that we can go to the Super Bowl with? Absolutely, I do.”

The quarterback decision is key, not just because it’s the most important position but it also impacts priorities for how the Colts move forward. If they retain Rivers, how much will it cost? How does that affect re-signing other players, giving extensions to such worthy standouts as offensive left guard Quenton Nelson and linebacker Darius Leonard, and how much money remains to spend in free agency?

Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard interacts during the 2020 preseason at the team complex.

GM Chris Ballard is projected to have about $69 million in salary-cap space.

If the Colts don’t go with Rivers, what’s plan B? Ballard said rookie Jacob Eason isn’t ready yet. Do the Colts draft a quarterback — the GM suggested the right one won’t be there when the Colts are on the clock at 21st overall — or look to acquire a veteran in a trade or via free agency?

Rivers, who turned 39 in December, led the 11-6 team to a four-win improvement and a playoff berth. He completed 67.9% of his passes for 4,169 yards and 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.

When the Colts paid Rivers $25 million to play in 2020, both sides expressed optimism that the marriage would extend beyond one year. After the Colts lost to the Buffalo Bills 27-24 in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game, Rivers said he would take time to ascertain God’s plan for him.

Ballard said that Rivers’ turf toe injury, which the quarterback is reportedly meeting with a doctor this week to discuss surgery, isn’t expected to be a long-term factor in whether he can return.

“I didn’t commit either way,” Ballard said. “What I told Philip was, ‘We both need to take a month and decide on what direction we want to go.’

“This is after he told me, ‘Chris, look, I’m not 100% sure.’ Well, you need somebody to be 100% sure. And so we’ll go that way. Do we want Philip back? Yes. I’ll tell you that. Yes. But I told Philip, we’ve got to go through the process. I’ve got to do my job.”

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers calls a player in motion during a December game at Las Vegas.

Philip Rivers motions a teammate during a road game at Las Vegas.

Ballard conceded Rivers’ age is a factor.

“Look, if this was a 30-year-old Philip Rivers or a 35-year-old Philip Rivers, we’re not having this talk,” Ballard said. “But this is a 39-year-old Philip Rivers who might have one or maybe two years left.”

Rivers’ end game for the NFL is to coach two sons at an Alabama high school. That’s been announced. He has that job waiting when he retires from playing.

Ballard said it’s unfortunate that 2020’s pandemic prevented fans from getting to know Rivers from close contact at camp and at games. The GM was effusive in his praise of Rivers as a leader and competitor.

“The city of Indianapolis didn’t get to know Philip Rivers,” Ballard said, “because he is a really neat guy. He’s a special leader. He’s a special teammate. He’s passionate. He loves to play. He freaking loves to play and compete.

“But I think we need to both go through the process here over the next month to figure out the final answer.”