INDIANAPOLIS – This wasn’t the spring Jacoby Brissett envisioned.
After receiving votes of confidence from owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich, the 27-year-old quarterback still was replaced as the Indianapolis Colts’ starter. Eight-time Pro Bowler Philip Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million contract in March to reunite with Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and potentially inject some life into the NFL’s 30th-ranked passing offense.
When Indianapolis also drafted big-armed Washington quarterback Jacob Eason in the fourth round, it led to questions about Brissett’s immediate future with the franchise.
If 2020 has proven nothing else, it’s that plans can always change. But the Colts appear more than comfortable carrying Brissett on the final year of his contract with a $21.4 million cap hit, and that fact alone suggests he remains at least an option in the team’s long-term plans.
Reich hinted early in the offseason there could be a specific package built into the offense for Brissett, and Sirianni believes Rivers’ arrival could add another chapter to the quarterback’s elite professional apprenticeship.
“Where Jacoby is really going to benefit from this in my mind is, if you look at Jacoby, look at who he’s been around,” the offensive coordinator said. “He’s been around Tom Brady. He started his career with Tom Brady, then went to Andrew Luck and now he’s with Philip Rivers. I mean, goodness gracious, that is some good company to have and guys he can learn from.”
Not that Brissett welcomed the news with open arms.
He was thrust into the starting job last August after Luck’s sudden retirement. After a 5-2 start, Brissett suffered a knee injury during the first half of a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Neither he or the team was the same again.
Indianapolis lost that game when veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a late field goal attempt, and backup Brian Hoyer threw three interceptions the following week in a home loss against the lowly Miami Dolphins.
Brissett returned on Nov. 17 for a blowout victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but he threw just three touchdown passes over the final six weeks as the Colts went 1-5 and fell out of the postseason chase.
There were highlights, to be sure.
Brissett threw for 310 yards in a September victory against the Atlanta Falcons and 326 a few weeks later in a win against the rival Houston Texans. He also escaped Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller with a nimble scramble in the end zone and completed a huge pass to help set up the game-winning field goal in an October showdown at Lucas Oil Stadium.
But those moments were too sparse.
Brissett averaged just 6.6 yards per attempt and failed to complement a top-10 running game with a consistent big-play threat through the air.
Indianapolis loves his leadership, toughness and warrior mentality, but it went into the offseason with open eyes looking for an upgrade.
Rivers’ availability presented a unique opportunity to add the NFL’s sixth all-time leading passer with a built-in knowledge of the offensive scheme. Rivers spent three seasons with Reich on the San Diego Chargers and two more with Sirianni after the franchise moved to Los Angeles.
The Colts repeatedly have referenced that unique situation in explaining the decision to move on from Brissett, and it appears as though the former starter has begun to make peace with it.
Quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady had some “side conversations” with Brissett early in the spring, helping him work through the frustration and disappointment. And Brady has gradually seen Brissett adjust to his new role.
“Over time, as we held virtual meetings, he probably was a little less talkative at first,” Brady said. “But then, as he got going and he began to develop a relationship with Philip and everybody in the room, it’s back to just (the) business of a quarterback room.
“I know talking to Jacoby (earlier this month), he said him and Philip text all the time. So they’ve already begun developing a good relationship. I would say the quarterback room’s pretty good right now.”
It’s anybody’s guess what the future holds.
Both Rivers and the Colts say they’re open to a relationship that extends beyond his one-year deal, but the 38-year-old already is the head-coach-in-waiting at an Alabama high school and could choose to retire and pursue that path full time as early as 2021. Would Eason be ready to take over the offense that early, especially following a rookie offseason in which he received no snaps with the full roster because of the coronavirus pandemic? And would there again be a viable option in free agency to fill the void?
It doesn’t take a giant leap of logic to conjure a scenario where Brissett is re-signed next year and at least given an opportunity to again compete for the starting job. Even if Rivers is wildly successful in Indianapolis and returns for another season, it’s possible the team could also look to bring Brissett back at the right price.
He’s highly respected in the locker room and valued by the front office and coaching staff. And Reich knows how it feels to be in Brissett’s place. He spent the majority of his 14-year NFL career as a backup quarterback, getting ready for whatever opportunity might come his way at a moment’s notice.
“I’ve been in his position to some degree,” Reich said. “So do I try to lend an encouraging voice every now and then? Yeah, but he’s doing it the right way. We need him to be who he is this year for us to get where we want to go.
“Whether that means he ends up playing some games or playing a number of plays or even if he’s just there to support Philip and this team, Jacoby will be a big part of our success.”