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With Andrew Luck Healthy, Jacoby Brissett Should Be NFL's Hottest QB Target

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJanuary 28, 2019

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) jokes with Jacoby Brissett before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)
John Minchillo/Associated Press

Jacoby Brissett is a franchise quarterback-in-waiting, and organizations with issues at the game's most important position should place Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard's number on speed dial in an attempt to acquire the offseason's most tantalizing option.

"I want to be a starter in this league," Brissett said, per Fox 59's Mike Chappell. "If that's what you're asking me, yeah, I want to be a starter in this league."

Every backup wants to be a starter. The difference with Brissett lies in a combination of age, upside, previous experience and potential availability.

The NFL draft and free agency aren't the only ways to acquire a quality starter. The trade market provided two squadsthe San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskinswith their signal-callers, even though both dealt with serious injuries.

Currently, six teamsthe Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Washington (depending on Alex Smith's recovery)have question marks behind center. It may be time to move on, but the scarcity of quality options makes potential investments a worrisome proposition.

The incoming quarterback class lacks the same depth seen last year. Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins is QB1 with three months before the event, while Missouri's Drew Lock and Duke's Daniel Jones didn't quell concerns during their recent Senior Bowl performances. Oklahoma's Kyler Murray remains the wild card based on how each organization views his slight stature and possible MLB future.

A draft pick's value is derived from the ambiguous realm of endless possibilities.

For example, a first-round quarterback has the potential to be a future All-Pro. In most cases, the reality is far different. Four quarterbacksthe Atlanta Falcons' Matt Ryan, Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton, Kansas City Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes and Philadelphia Eagles' Carson Wentzreached All-Pro status (first or second team) among the 37 quarterbacks selected in the opening frame over the last 12 years.

Based on recent history, franchises have an 11 percent chance to draft an All-Pro quarterback after investing a first-round pick. Those aren't good odds considering the often exorbitant price the position demands.

The search to upgrade the quarterback position never stops, because there are never enough quality options to stock all 32 teams. It's rare when an organization has two legit QBs.

The Colts have two starting-caliber options after Andrew Luck's throwing shoulder healed and the 2012 first overall pick rebounded with his best season to date. Concerns over his health faded as he finished second overall with 39 touchdown passes.

Luck said the following during an interview on ESPN's NFL Live:

"At this point last season, I still did not know if I was going to be able to play football. There were still some big questions in my mind about myself that I needed to answer. Part of the last calendar year was answering those questions for myself. I'm thankful to have enjoyed it, been pain-free, experienced so much success making it to the playoffs and also excited for what the future holds."

Those questions weren't just personal; they permeated the Colts organization. Now, Indianapolis knows it is set at quarterback and has a valuable trade chip on the bench.

Darron Cummings/Associated Press

"This is what I told Jacoby. I said, 'I am not giving you away. Won't do it,'" Ballard said, per Chappell. "I said, 'I had chances last year, and I didn't do it, and I won't do it again.'"

The Colts run the risk of losing Brissett for nothing, though. The 2016 third-round pick enters the final year of his rookie contract after being acquired in a trade from the New England Patriots. Brissett already expressed interest in starting and won't look to re-sign as a long-term backup. He can bide his time and eventually choose the best available destination unless the Colts are proactive.

What makes Brissett so appealing?

At 26 years old with a year of starting experience, the North Carolina State product presents an interesting combination of untapped potential and understanding of expectations. Brissett played in all 16 games during the 2017 campaign and completed 58.8 percent of his passes for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The athletic signal-caller also ran for 260 yards.

Two factors stunted Brissett's growth, which ironically portends a brighter future.

The first-time starter played behind a soft and unreliable offensive front. As a result, defenses sacked Brissett a league-high 52 times. His slow processing speed didn't help matters, but the porous front had been an issue for years until Ballard finally addressed it with the additions of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.

Any improvement up front will make Brissett a better quarterback. Tweaked footwork will as well. Assistant quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady, a former CFL signal-caller, noticed Brissett didn't take proper steps in his drops. The two then spent the summer matching his feet to each situation.

"[He's] done a phenomenal job at just getting [Jacoby's] feet in sync with the play," offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said of the assistant's influence, per the Indianapolis Star's Gregg Doyel. "They work so much at that and work so hard at that. I see improvement there with Jacoby."

Brissett barely saw the field during the regular season, but his accuracy jumped to 62.5 percent during preseason appearances.

Furthermore, his years learning from Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Frank Reich help. The physical tools were already present. His growth from a mental standpoint and ability to win over a locker room make Brissett a future quality starter.

GM Chris Ballard.
GM Chris Ballard.Darron Cummings/Associated Press/Associated Press

"He is a special, special teammate," Ballard said. "I think you all see that. You have been through that locker room. He is well-respected."

A Jimmy Garoppolo-like deal for a second-round selection is the logical asking price.

Free agency is the other avenue.

Nick Foles will be highly sought-after if he's available. However, some uncertainty exists whether he'll become a free agent, as the Eagles and Foles have an upcoming $20.6 million mutual option to discuss.

"We would love to keep Nick Foles," general manager Howie Roseman said during an interview on SportsRadio 94WIP. "You talk about a guy we've drafted here and grown incredibly close with. Certainly, as we go into the substance of those discussions, no question...we'd love to keep him."

Philadelphia doesn't have the financial flexibility to retain Foles at the aforementioned price with Carson Wentz still viewed as the starter. The backup may want to stay, though, since his previous experiences at other stops haven't gone well. This point shouldn't escape others who will believe they're chasing the reigning Super Bowl MVP.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 13: Nick Foles #9 of the Philadelphia Eagles warms up before the NFC Divisional Playoff against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 13, 2019 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachma
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

If Foles decides to test the market, his price tag should be somewhere between $15 million to $20 million based on current valuation.

Teddy Bridgewater, meanwhile, is the same age as Brissett with two years of starting experience. The Colts quarterback holds two advantages over Bridgewater. First, he's sturdier without a scary injury history. Second, Brissett is more mobile.

The final point also works to his advantage when teams consider Brissett or Joe Flacco, who the Baltimore Ravens are expected to release with Lamar Jackson's emergence. Flacco is 34 years old, immobile and hasn't been an above-average starter since the 2014 campaign. In fact, his quarterback rating has been 24th or worse in each of the subsequent seasons.

Tyrod Taylor fell flat this past year while working ahead of rookie standout Baker Mayfield. Taylor's conservative approach and mobility make him a viable, albeit limited, starter.

Professional journeymen such as Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown and Matt Schaub comprise the next tier of free agents. Andy Dalton, Blake Bortles, Nick Mullens and Ryan Tannehill remain under contract but could enter the quarterback carousel if/when their respective teams decide to go in another direction.

A forward-thinking franchise should see a tremendous opportunity in Brissett. The organization can invest in a young quarterback at a reduced price and pay him on the rookie wage scale for a season, with the opportunity to open long-term negotiations if he proves to be the answer. No other option offers the same number of positives.

Of course, the Colts won't trade within the division, which rules out the Jaguars. The Dolphins are arguably the best fit with Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores set to become the team's next head coach and New England's wide receivers coach Chad O'Shea as the front-runner for offensive coordinator.

"Just wait and see," Brissett said. "Obviously, whatever happens happens. You deal with what you have to."

              

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @brentsobleski.

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