INDIANAPOLIS — That Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett agreed to do a Zoom video conference call on Friday spoke volumes.
He wanted to make a statement or two after being demoted to a backup role when the Colts signed Philip Rivers in March.
Brissett made his point once or twice, but dodged more questions than he answered, in terms of specifics. So in a sense, another unspoken point was made, that he’s understandably disappointed about the offseason change.
The most pointed question of the call — what did he think went wrong in 2019 to put the Colts in position to get Rivers — produced the most pointed answer.
“I think that is a question for (head coach) Frank (Reich) and (general manager) Chris (Ballard),” Brissett said. “I still believe in myself. I know I am a starter in this league. I know I can play at a very high level, I did it last year. But that is a question for Frank and Chris to answer for you.”
Thrust into a starting role after Andrew Luck’s August retirement, Brissett led the Colts to a 5-2 start. He played well for the most part, although statistics were more efficient than gaudy.
His inability to throw the ball consistently down the field eventually became an obvious shortcoming as the Colts lost seven of the last nine games. He ranked 29th at 196.1 passing yards per game.
Colts fans were spoiled by Peyton Manning and Luck, who made the toughest throws look easy and never shied away from taking a shot. At times, either Brissett didn’t see a wide-open Jack Doyle running 25 yards down the middle at Houston, or he just didn’t trust making a tough throw for fear of an interception, so he would tuck the ball and run.
It wasn’t all Brissett’s fault — most of his key pass-catchers were injured and he didn’t seem the same after suffering a knee injury at Pittsburgh in November.
But every time the touchy subject of being demoted was broached in the call, Brissett kept most of his answers rather brief, which was telling.
When Reich phoned to advise the Colts were signing Rivers, was he surprised and what was his reaction?
“Of course I was surprised, but it’s the NFL,” he said. “There are really no surprises, so yeah.”
Uh no, there are surprises.
That’s how he got the starting job, when Luck unexpectedly retired, and then he lost it because, to be blunt, the Colts thought a 38-year-old Rivers entering his 17th season was a better option. There’s no other way to look at it. Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni helped Rivers thrive when they were together with the Chargers, and are convinced the quarterback will have a bounce-back season in a run-heavy offense that will loosen up passing lanes.
That Ballard was adamant about keeping Brissett, who will be a well-paid backup at $21.4 million, suggests the GM’s insistence that he believes in Brissett aren’t just words.
But honestly, Ballard is covering his bets on Rivers. And that’s smart. Should the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback play like last season, when he had 20 interceptions with the Chargers, Brissett would be prepared to step in and prove he’s as good as he says he is. Also, if Rivers gets hurt, the Colts have a backup passer who knows the system well and can lead this team.
Question is, did Brissett show enough last season — or more to the point, not show enough — for the Colts to be convinced he’s not a long-term solution? Ballard and Reich say he can be, but that conflicts with going out and paying Rivers $25 million to see if he can still play. If you’re sold on one guy, you don’t go out and kick the tires on another.
When asked about his future, Brissett simply reiterated, “I know I’ll be a starter in this league one day again, so wherever that may be.”
He turns 28 in December and is entering his fifth NFL season. He has plenty of time left to be the NFL starter he envisions and prove doubters wrong.
He was asked twice about what he needs to improve upon, but didn’t really answer either question.
“That’s just such a broad question,” he said. “Each and every day, you find something new. Every day, I’m going out to find something new to get better at – learn more. I have a guy that has been in the NFL for 17 years that’s seen pretty much everything, so find ways to get better as far as understanding what he’s understanding and what he’s seeing. That’s a new experience for me.”
He could have admitted he needs to improve his field vision and capability to make those longer throws so defenses aren’t crowding the box. But that would be admitting weakness, which in the NFL culture, is typically the kind of vulnerability that insecure players don’t talk about. Confident guys admit the specific areas in need of improvement.
Brissett was acquired from New England, where he backed up Tom Brady. Then he backed up Luck. Now it’s Rivers.
He and Rivers are both N.C. State guys, so it sounds like they’re getting along. Brissett said he’s looking forward to learning from Rivers. But when asked what he learned from Brady and Luck, and what he could glean from Rivers, Brissett again side-stepped the question. No specifics, which was telling.
“It’s never in the first month that you really realize what you’ve learned from that person,” he said. “It’s more so over time that that knowledge soaks in – that you get to pick up, sit back, and reflect on a lot of the conversations and interactions that you’ve had. That’s when you pick up and go, ‘Wow, I learned this from this person. I learned this from that person.’ So hopefully when I look back on this time, I will be able to say I learned this, this and that.”
Hopefully in time, Brissett will realize the hard NFL questions are an opportunity to be a stand-up guy. OK, his feelings are hurt. For 2020, he has 21.4 million reasons to get over it.
All he really wanted to say is that he should be an NFL starter.
When reminded of how he’s played with some great quarterbacks, Brissett inexplicably implied he sees himself as Brady and Luck.
“Yep, they have, too,” he said.
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)