INDIANAPOLIS — The quarterback plan for 2020 became clear when the Indianapolis Colts signed 17th-year pro Philip Rivers in March.
In addition, general manager Chris Ballard was adamant that 2019 starter Jacoby Brissett would be retained as a backup, although he’s an expensive insurance policy at $21.4 million.
What remains to be seen beyond this season is whether the 38-year-old Rivers can return to his 2018 Pro Bowl form and earn another contract for a year or two. The Colts invested $25 million in Rivers because they're confident he can be the guy. The presumption is that Brissett will find what he can in free agency after this year.
So the roster decision at this position really centers on whether the Colts will keep a third quarterback, rookie fourth-round pick Jacob Eason or third-year pro Chad Kelly, who spent half of last season on the team’s practice squad and didn’t take a snap after being promoted to the active roster in November.
First things first, if Kelly outperforms Eason in training camp, then Eason gets cut and the Colts can say they took a chance on a strong-armed passer who entered the NFL with questions about his work ethic and character. Then Kelly gets cut, and signed to the practice squad because the Colts don’t need to carry three quarterbacks and could use that roster spot elsewhere.
So regardless of what happens in the competition for No. 3 quarterback, the hunch is that Kelly ends up on practice squad.
But if Eason proves to be a promising prospect with the kind of NFL-ready skills which can’t be ignored, then the Colts must keep him on the active roster because he would get picked up elsewhere if put on the practice squad.
It’s one decision, but like everything else with determining a 53-man roster, this impacts other positions. Keeping Eason could mean the Colts have to part with another player at running back, wide receiver, defensive line, or the secondary.
Because neither Rivers nor Brissett is signed after this season, it makes sense to keep Eason if the Colts see enough potential for the future. That’s not a definitive statement that Eason will be the guy in 2021, but what if Rivers has interception issues like last year, when he had 20?
Brissett is probably bristling about how the Colts gave Rivers $25 million for this season, so unless the backup took over this year and played well, the team probably doesn’t re-sign him or he might want to test the free-agent market anyway. Lest anyone forget, even when the Colts got off to a 5-2 start with Brissett last year, he still had issues throwing the ball down the field.
The best guess at this early juncture is the Colts keep Eason and add Kelly to the practice squad.
(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 email@example.com.)