Reimer: Colts' sudden trade for Jacoby Brissett signals their downward spiral since Deflategate

Alex Reimer
September 03, 2017 - 12:40 pm

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Andrew Luck-led Colts might have peaked when they tattled on the Patriots for playing with slightly underinflated footballs during the 2015 AFC championship. 

It’s been a trying couple of years for the Colts, who traded speedy wideout Phillip Dorsett to the Patriots Saturday in exchange for third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Though Dorsett’s NFL career has gotten off to a slow start –– the 2015 first-round pick has only caught 51 passes over his first two seasons –– it’s still a hefty price to pay for a backup QB. That is, unless the Colts have serious questions about Luck’s long-term health. 

Indianapolis elevated Luck to the active roster Saturday, but owner Jim Irsay has acknowledged it’s unlikely his franchise quarterback will play in the team’s season opener next week against the Rams. Luck, 27, underwent shoulder surgery in January, aiming to repair an issue that’s been lingering with him over the last two years. But with the acquisition of Brissett, it’s apparent the Colts think Luck’s shoulder pain could still plague him well into the season.

Luck was universally lauded when the Colts selected him with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he lived up to the hype during his first three professional campaigns. Indianapolis advanced one round further in the playoffs each year, reaching the AFC championship in 2014-15. That season, Luck led the league with 40 touchdown passes and threw for 4,761 yards. His development mirrored Peyton Manning, who also led the NFL in touchdowns in his third year. 

But then, the Patriots whooped the Colts 45-7 in the AFC championship. At the end of the first half, Indy alerted the league it thought the Patriots were playing with illegally deflated footballs. The accusation sparked an interminable 18-month saga, which culminated in Tom Brady serving a four-game suspension over an equipment violation. It seems as if the Colts have been paying for it ever since. 

The foundation for Indianapolis’ problems were laid well before 2015, when Luck missed seven games due to injury and the Colts limped to an 8-8 record. Ex-general manager Ryan Grigson was responsible for a particularly disastrous 2013 free agent class, spending more than $110 million on underwhelming veterans such as Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry, Ricky Jean Francois, Erik Walden and Donald Thomas. The team’s first-round selection that year, defensive end Bjoern Warner, is already out of the league.

The following year, the Colts didn’t even take a first-round pick, trading their selection to the Browns for woeful running back Trent Richardson. In 2015, they drafted Dorsett, despite pressing needs at offensive and defensive line.

Grigson was shown the door this offseason, after the organization called on a psychologist to mend his broken relationship with head coach Chuck Pagano. But the damage of Grigson’s tenure might live on for years, and was reflected in the trade Saturday. Luck has endured an incredible amount of punishment in his young career, largely thanks to the Colts’ porous O-line. He’s been sacked an astounding 56 times in his last 22 games, which probably explains some of his recent fragility. 

With an $140 million extension in hand, it’s clear the Colts are counting on Luck to serve as their standard-bearer for the foreseeable future. But in order to do that, he’ll need to be healthier. While he did play in 15 games last season –– and completed a career-high 63.5 percent of his passes –– he was dogged with shoulder problems throughout the way. Indianapolis also finished 8-8 for the second straight year, missing out on the playoffs once again.

Though the Patriots outscored the Colts 88-29 in their two postseason meetings in 2014 and 2015, it appeared as if Indy was on an upward trajectory. Luck wasn’t a formidable opponent for Brady yet, but he was on his way. Now, the Colts feel compelled to integrate a younger quarterback into the mix –– trading away a potential playmaker in the process. 

Looking back on it, maybe the Colts were right to hang up their 2015 AFC championship banner. Times may never be so good again.