No more quick fixes: Colts must secure long-term successor to Philip Rivers

INDIANAPOLIS -- The initial reaction by some to Philip Rivers' decision to retire after 17 NFL seasons has been, "Here we go again," when it comes to the Colts having to find another starting quarterback.

Yes, Rivers retired Wednesday just like Andrew Luck did 17 months ago, but things are different this time around.

The Colts don't have a regular-season game in two weeks like they did following Luck's shocking retirement in August 2019. They don't even have a game next month or even six months from now. General manager Chris Ballard has the entire offseason to figure out who will hopefully be the franchise's longtime starter at that position.

But Ballard can't mess this one up, not with the franchise having a solid roster, with the exception of quarterback, to take another step in the AFC next season. A misstep by Ballard could set the franchise back several more years.

The Colts knew there was a possibility that Rivers would retire. They knew it when they signed the then-38-year-old to a one-year contract in the spring of 2020. They knew it when the two sides met after their playoff loss to Buffalo, and they said they would take some time to figure out what paths they would take next.

"I promise you, we get the importance of the quarterback position," Ballard said last week. "But the difference between [drafting] one and taking the right one is the key in our minds. We'll explore it. We'll examine it. We'll go A to Z on it, I promise you. That position never leaves my mind. And it's something we want to get fixed. But there's also got to be a little bit of timing and luck come into play."

It's hard to believe that the once-quarterback-rich Colts could be have their fourth different starting quarterback in as many seasons in 2021.

But now they have a blank slate in front of them where every possibility will be looked at. It won't be done quickly, either. Ballard and his staff will take a methodical approach in trying to figure this out after Jacoby Brissett wasn't the long-term answer in 2019 and with Rivers now off to coach high school football in Alabama.

But it has to be noted that a Band-Aid approach at quarterback can be used only so often. The Colts really can't do that again like they did with Rivers, because at some point they have to get some stability at that position.

Ballard, since the day he was hired in the winter of 2017, has said it's not simply about the quarterback. It's about the entire roster. The Colts have a talented roster, but now they have to find their quarterback.

Think about it this way: The four AFC teams who played in the divisional round of the playoffs last weekend -- Buffalo, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland -- all have starting quarterbacks who are 25 or younger and played a big part in their teams reaching the playoffs, which means those players aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

Then you can't forget about Cincinnati's Joe Burrow (24), the Chargers' Justin Herbert (22), Miami's Tua Tagovailoa (22) and likely Trevor Lawrence (21) going to Jacksonville with the No. 1 overall pick in late April.

"It is not an exact [science]," Ballard said. "Everybody thinks you just take one and you're gonna fix the problem. Look, taking one will get y'all off my ass for a little bit, but the second that guy doesn't play well, I'm going to be the first one run out of the building."

In-house candidates: Rookie Jacob Eason is the only quarterback under contract for next season for the Colts. He remains a mystery because he spent the entire season as the No. 3 quarterback. The canceled preseason didn't help Eason's development either.

Brissett is a free agent and has three seasons of experience in coach Frank Reich's system. But remember, the reason Rivers was brought to Indianapolis was because Brissett struggled during the 2019 season. Brissett could end up being the safe option if Ballard doesn't see anything viable out there on the free-agent or trade market.

Draft: Barring a trade to move up, selecting a surefire starter with the No. 21 pick in the spring draft doesn't appear to be an option at this point for the Colts. Ballard believes all the top quarterbacks will be off the board early in the draft.

"Think about two of the greatest quarterbacks in this franchise's history, Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck," Ballard said. "And it took the first pick in the draft. Well, I can promise you this: If we have the first pick in the draft, we're not gonna be having this press conference with me. It's going to be somebody else."

Trades: Let's get a couple of things quickly out of the way: It takes two teams in order for a trade to happen. And of course, everybody would love for the Colts to trade for Houston's unhappy quarterback Deshaun Watson. Who wouldn't want one of the NFL's best players at the position?

Hate to burst your bubble, but that's not likely to happen.

The two names that will continue to be talked about in trade circles with the Colts are Philadelphia's Carson Wentz and Detroit's Matthew Stafford. Stafford's and Wentz's futures with their current teams are up in the air because the Lions and Eagles have hired or are currently in the process of hiring a new head coach.

Reich and Wentz have history. The Colts coach was Wentz's offensive coordinator with the Eagles when the quarterback was in the running to be MVP before a season-ending knee injury in December 2017. Wentz passed for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 13 games that season.

But Wentz's production has since gone downhill while carrying a hefty contract. He was benched in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts this season. Wentz's four-year, $128 million contract extension that he signed in 2019 kicks in next season. The deal includes nearly $70 million guaranteed.

Stafford is older than Wentz -- Stafford will be 33 in February, Wentz turned 28 in December -- but he would come with a considerably cheaper price tag. Stafford is due only $9 million in base salary. That's a bargain for a player who has thrown for 45,109 career yards, 282 touchdowns and 144 interceptions while not always having the best talent around him in Detroit.

Free agents: This isn't the type of market that will have Colts owner Jim Irsay rushing to crack open his checkbook. That shouldn't be surprising, since teams don't often let their star quarterbacks get away.

Dallas' Dak Prescott is the headliner of the group, but owner Jerry Jones isn't likely to let him go anywhere, not after the Cowboys struggled after he went down with a season-ending injury.

The best of the rest of the free-agent quarterbacks include Jameis Winston, Mitchell Trubisky and Cam Newton.

At this point, you would have to think free agency, unless it's Brissett, is the least likely avenue the Colts will take to find their new starting quarterback.