To Lamar Or Not To Lamar A Riddle For Indianapolis Colts With No Solution (Yet)

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It’s been a week since the Indianapolis Colts became the first and only NFL team not named the Baltimore Ravens to publicly show interest in quarterback Lamar Jackson. But most of what has happened in the last week seems to be part of an internal conversation on the matter with no definitive direction so far.

This all started when Jackson announced he asked to be traded from the Ravens. Hours later, Colts general manager Chris Ballard opened the door on the Colts’ interest when asked specifically about Jackson.

“Any time a special player is available, which he is, you’ve got to do the work,” Ballard said at the NFL meetings. “I’m not going to get into deep discussions on where it’s at or what we’re doing or what we might do. All I can tell you is he’s a really good player, really special player. But you never know how any of this will work out.”

Colts GM Chris Ballard needs a QB and Lamar Jackson is available.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is seen during the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Colts, Ballard Face Tough QB Options

Later the same evening, Colts owner Jim Irsay deftly straddled the fence between showing interest in the Jackson idea and turning away from it.

He told reporters the money it would require to get Jackson, who is on a non-exclusive franchise tag by the Ravens, wasn’t an issue.

“It really has nothing to do with actual dollars,” Irsay said. “I mean, paying a contract like that is not a problem. I mean, it’s not a problem for me. The issue is what’s the right thing to do for the franchise in terms of what helps us win in the long run.”

And that’s where the conversations have centered for some time now. But it’s been complicated.

Irsay, you see, prefers to succeed in the traditional way of drafting a young quarterback, developing him while he’s on his rookie contract, and building a winner as the team enjoys the fruits of that construction under the quarterback’s team-friendly contract.

“When you have a young quarterback, a rookie quarterback, it gives you the opportunity to build the franchise for the first three to four years while you have that lower (salary cap) number,” Irsay said. 

Jim Irsay prefers to draft a QB even with Lamar Jackson available.
Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay on the field before the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Irsay’s Draft Solution Not Always Possible

Except that’s not always a realistic approach.

Two of the last three Super Bowl winners — Tampa Bay in February 2021, and Los Angeles in February 2022 — won it all with quarterbacks they did not draft nor develop.

And the Colts don’t have the first pick of this month’s draft. So they might not get the rookie quarterback they like most. They also don’t have the second pick so they also might not get the rookie QB they like second-best.

The team is doing homework on both C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Bryce Young of Alabama, meeting with both this week in California for private workouts.

But that work might all be in vain if the Panthers, holding the top pick, and the Texans, holding the second pick, scoop up the best two top QB prospects before Indianapolis drafts at No. 4 overall or even trades up to No. 3.

Ballard knows this. And he has painted the picture for Irsay of having to pick a second or third choice as the franchise quarterback and hoping that fallback choice develops well enough and fast enough.

This is not an easy assignment for Ballard because the reality is he’s been the team’s general manager since 2017 and here it is 2023 and he’s still searching for his tenure’s forever quarterback.

The Colts are starting next season with the third head coach under Ballard. And the next starting quarterback under Ballard will be the eighth of his tenure since Andrew Luck retired.

So a lot of people have come and gone while Ballard tried to solve Indy’s quarterback riddle.

Is Chris Ballard On Hot Seat?

If he doesn’t solve the riddle soon, he might be the next one out. So waiting three or four years while a rookie develops might not exactly work for Ballard personally.

Ballard is not under a win-now mandate but he must show some success for his work in 2023.

That is a tough assignment. The general manager has to put the team on the right footing soon. But he might have to do it by committing to a quarterback who, short of being a prodigy, needs years to develop.

And that quarterback might not have been Ballard’s first or second choice in the first place.

Colts trying to solve QB riddle.
Dan Orlovsky #6 of the Indianapolis Colts signals from the line of scrimmage against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium on December 11, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Colts Working To Solve QB Riddle

Ballard and Irsay have spoken about how Jackson, ready to succeed immediately, would fit within what the Colts can do on a much more advanced timetable.

So the Colts continue to weigh all their options with the situation seeming more complex than meets the eye.

From Irsay’s standpoint, he’s not in love with paying Jackson a fully guaranteed contract — which is what Jackson has reportedly been asking for from the Ravens.

“As an owner, I do not believe in fully-guaranteed contracts,” he said. “I think that a percentage is one thing, but from what I’ve seen from the NBA and baseball, I don’t see it as a positive competitively.”

But Irsay also expects to win. Soon.

And so the possibility to trying to trade for Jackson has not yet been completely ruled out, per a league source. (The idea of signing him to an offer sheet is not attractive, per the source.)

All this leaves the probability of the Colts trying to get comfortable with a quarterback in the draft as the owner’s preferred option and thus the team’s preferred option.

But failing to find that youngster and that comfort before the draft, the Lamar Jackson trade option remains.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

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