Photo of new Rams QB Matthew Stafford via Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
The Rams struck a blockbuster deal Saturday night with the Lions centered around Star QB, Matthew Stafford. In return for Stafford, the Lions received QB Jared Goff, a 2022 first round draft pick, a 2023 first rounder, and a 2021 third round pick.
The Colts are in need of a quarterback, as Phillip Rivers recently retired, Jacoby Brissett is set to become a free agent at the start of the new league year (March 17th), leaving Jacob Eason and newly signed (reserve/future contract) Jalen Morton of Prairie View A&M as the only QBs on the roster. It is clear the Colts need to fill the void at QB if they want to be contenders in 2021. Unfortunately, the new Ram Stafford was the best option available. However, for that compensation, it’s safe to say Colts fans are glad the team didn’t pick Stafford up at that price knowing how much GM Chris Ballard values his draft picks. But now who will be the Colts QB in 2021? Here are some potential realistic contenders for the spot I would love to see:
Sam Darnold, New York Jets
Although this may be an unpopular candidate, Darnold could be a more viable contender for the job, considering the light amount of compensation the Jets are expected to ask in return for him. Overall, Darnold is a young quarterback whose potential and development was halted in New York by a combination of factors. Throughout Darnold’s first three years in NY, the two best receivers he’s played with were Robby Anderson and Jamison Crowder. In Indy, a significant improvement at WR would be extremely beneficial to Darnold, but that would include the Colts having to make a move at WR this offseason. Luckily, the Colts are second in the NFL in available cap space, and there are plenty of superstar WR’s in free agency: Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson, Chris Goodwin, and Juju Smith-Schuster.
With the Jets, Darnold has had a horrible offensive line throughout his 3 years, nearing the bottom of the league. In fact, the Jets have had over 15 different starting offensive linemen play over the course of Darnold’s time. It’s widely known across the league that the Colts have one of the best offensive lines in the league, not to mention how young it is. Historically, the linemen the Colts have assembled in past years have been durable, but in 2020 they faced many injuries, struggled with depth, and after the retirement of Anthony Castonzo, a void at left tackle. This will be another point of emphasis the Colts will look to fix this offseason.
Another thing Darnold lacked with NY was a run game, something the Colts excelled in late in the 2020 season with young backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines having breakout seasons. Taylor was third in the league in rushing as a rookie, only behind Derrick Henry and Dalvin Cook. That is some elite company for the rookie. He has great ability to catch out of the backfield, and fellow RB Nyheim Hines who has emerged as an elite receiver back in 2020, too. Darnold’s leading rusher in 2020 was Frank Gore, who tallied 653 rushing yards, which was a little over half of the amount of yards Taylor accumulated in his rookie year. In 2019, Le’veon Bell, who has since been traded to the Chiefs, totaled 789 rushing yards, and Isaiah Crowell led the Jets with just 685 rushing yards. Throughout Darnold’s entire career, he hasn’t had an effective run game, in fact, he hasn’t had a 1,000 yard rusher yet. Another thing to note is he had a new leading rusher every year. In Indy, Jonathan Taylor is the running back of the future, so Darnold will have more of a familiarity with his teammates for years to come. Darnold, who attended USC, also played with Colts WR Michael Pittman in his time there. The Colts have had an 1,000 yard rusher each of their last 2 seasons: Jonathan Taylor in 2020, and Marlon Mack who is set to become a UFA this offseason in 2019. The lack of a tight end presence is also a factor in Darnold’s failure to win with the Jets. The Colts currently have 2 tight ends signed to the roster through 2021: Jack Doyle and Noah Togiai. Trey Burton and Mo Allie-Cox are both set to become free agents in the new league year. The Colts have been rumored to be among a couple teams willing to target star TEs Hunter Henry and Zach Ertz via free agency/trade.
Another thing that would improve Darnold’s ability to win in Indy is an elite defense. The Jets defense hasn’t been completely awful throughout Darnold’s career, but it would certainly be an upgrade if he came to Indy. Lastly, Darnold has had horrendous coaches for his development and overall play. It’s common knowledge that Adam Gase is not worthy of an NFL head coaching job after some of the unsavory things leaked about him over the last 2 years. Frank Reich, who is known for handling QB’s very well, is a much better personality than Gase would go a long way in helping Darnold’s play and development in the event he was traded to Indy. It was evident with Ryan Tannehill, who left Miami for Tennessee ahead of the 2019 season, and immediately transformed into an above average QB under new Falcons Head Coach Arthur Smith, who was the OC in Tennessee for Tannehill, and Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel.
Over the course of the last 3 years, we’ve seen a series of young QB’s breakout into superstars. Patrick Mahomes (2018), Lamar Jackson (2019), and Josh Allen (2020). You can also make a case that Baker Mayfield broke out this year, just not enough to be considered in the realm of the aforementioned 3. Three of the four QB’s mentioned prior have been in Darnold’s class and are all on good overall teams around them. It would make sense for Sam Darnold to have a breakout season if he came to Indy. However, I’m not saying that if Darnold comes to Indy, he is definitely going to be amazing for us. Rather he has the potential too, more so than most other candidates.
Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
Carson Wentz wouldn’t be one of my first options, but Frank Reich values familiarity a lot. Wentz had MVP numbers and brought the Eagles to the superbowl, which was won by Nick Foles with Reich as the OC. Wentz has lacked durability throughout his career in Philly and declined a lot this year. Wentz led the NFL in Interceptions with 15 even though he didn’t even play in all 16 games. Throughout his career, Wentz has had a good o-line, but many injuries damaged the Eagles’ o-line this year, not to mention the ongoing problem Philly failed to solve in bringing in compatible WR’s to help out Wentz.
If the Colts do bring in Wentz, they’d hope to return him to his old self. Regarding that familiarity aspect of Reich’s coaching, in recent days, we’ve seen rumors linking the Colts to Eagles TE Zach Ertz and former Eagles WR, Nelson Agholor. Another thing the Colts and Ballard value is draft capital, and with the current state of the Eagles organization, their QB situation, Cap space situation (-$74 mil according to spotrac.com), and Wentz’s cap hit, one can hope that the compensation for Wentz wouldn’t be anything the Colts couldn’t handle. However, one thing on the Eagles side of the deal, is the amount of dead cap they’d take on for Wentz. Before going down with an injury, he threw for 33 Touchdowns under Reich, which was second in the league. Carson Wentz is still rather young, just 28, but has had a past of serious injuries.
Many people have worries surrounding Carson Wentz’s past season. He led the league in interceptions with 15. However, in Indy there is much more to offer. A much better defense, but more importantly a young, established, rather durable offensive line that had a little bit of a struggle this year in staying healthy. However, one of Ballard’s points of emphasis this offseason is to ensure there is better o-line depth, in the event some guys go down. The Eagles had a few injuries at offensive line and struggled this year in that department more than they have at any point in Wentz’s career. It’s a commonly known thing that many Philly sports fans are perpetually upset about the lack of urgency to assemble a competent wide receiving core for Wentz over the course of his career. Recently, news broke that the Colts are looking to target star WRs Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin in free agency. They’ve also reportedly called the Browns about the availability of Odell Beckham Jr.. Even if the Colts fail to bring in a star receiver, resigning TY Hilton and Zach Pascal would give us a lot of depth at WR. While Travis Fulgham led the Eagles this season with 539 receiving yards, the Colts three leading receivers under Phillip Rivers were TY Hilton (762 yards), Zach Pascal (629 yards), and Michael Pittman (509 yards). In Indy, Wentz will have many more weapons than he’s ever had in Philly. Another thing to account for is the Colts strong run game which can be very beneficial to Wentz.
As mentioned prior, one thing that stands out about Wentz’s 2020 season is he led the league in interceptions (15). When the Colts signed Phillip Rivers ahead of the 2020 season, he had thrown 20 interceptions in the previous year, which is why I don’t think Frank Reich is too worried about Wentz’s interceptions as a factor for evaluation. Phillip Rivers limited his interceptions to 12 throughout the 2020 season with the Colts and led us to 11-5. However, Carson Wentz has a lot more upside, is much younger, and potentially can turn around a poor season in Philly by coming back to his Super Bowl Offensive Coordinator from 2017, Frank Reich.
Eagles QB, Carson Wentz via Robert Deutsch/USA Today Sports
Justin Fields, Ohio State
Another QB the Colts have reportedly shown interest in is Ohio State’s QB, Justin Fields, who is a highly sought after QB in the draft. Fields is projected to go in the Top 10, and can be drafted as high as pick #2. Attempting to get Fields would require trading up into the top 7. Fields is a tough QB with a lot of accuracy, arm strength, but the main knocks on him are of his reads of the defense. Another thing Colts fans should remain skeptical of is the recent QB’s in the NFL that came out of Ohio State. The last 3 QB’s are Dwayne Haskins, JT Barrett, and Cardale Jones, all of whom didn’t pan out in the NFL.
Fields threw for 5,701 yards, 67 TD’s, and 9 INT’s in his 3 years between Ohio State and Georgia. He led Ohio State to a National Championship appearance in 2020 before getting blown out by Alabama. Some may consider Fields to be the third or even fourth best QB in the draft behind sensation Trevor Lawrence (Clemson), Zach Wilson (BYU), and Trey Lance (NDSU). Other QB’s in this draft include Mac Jones (Alabama), Kyle Trask (Florida), and Keelan Mond (Texas A&M), who the Colts have also expressed interest in, and Jamie Newman (Wake Forest). Nevertheless, Justin Fields is a solid option for the future at QB in the event the Colts trade up for him.
Other less realistic potential options at QB include Jimmy Garrapolo, Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston, Teddy Bridgewater, Dak Prescott, Mac Jones, Kyle Trask, Trey Lance, Zach Wilson, Derek Carr, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Jacoby Brissett, and Jacob Eason. However, some of the most favorable and realistic options were the 3 listed above.