The Indianapolis Colts ran out of Luck in 2019 and have not found it since.
After 13 seasons with Peyton Manning and one tanking season, Indy selected Stanford phenom Andrew Luck with the No. 1 overall pick in 2012. From the start, it was evident the team had its next star quarterback. Luck was named to four Pro Bowls and helped lead the Colts to four playoff appearances in his first six seasons, becoming the face of the franchise in the process.
In a surprise announcement just before the start of the 2019 campaign, it all came to an end when Luck announced his retirement from football just weeks before his 30th birthday. Head coach Frank Reich, who had just arrived in 2018, and the organization have been seeking a stable answer at quarterback ever since. Between veteran Pro Bowlers making one-year stops and career backups taking snaps, Indianapolis has been shuffling players at the position for four straight years.
The team’s hopes at the position took another nosedive less than midway through the 2022 season. Reich announced that Sam Ehlinger would make his first NFL start against the Washington Commanders in Week 8, making him the sixth Colts QB to get a start since Luck’s retirement.
As the Colts’ QB saga enters another frustrating chapter, here’s a glance back at every starter the team has used under center since Luck’s sudden retirement:
Jacoby Brissett was in a familiar position when he stepped in for Luck following the latter’s retirement.
New England Patriots
After spending his rookie season with the New England Patriots, Brissett was traded to the Colts and went on to start 15 games in 2017. Luck had undergone shoulder surgery in the offseason and was expected to return to the field midway through, but a setback wound up sidelining him for the full year.
Brissett improved upon his 4-11 record from 2017 when he was given the starting job in 2019. He tallied 18 touchdown passes and four interceptions, but the team went 7-8 in his starts and missed the playoffs.
Brissett spent one more season in Indy as a backup to another player coming up on this list. He became the Miami Dolphins’ second-stringer in 2021 and has started all seven games for the Cleveland Browns this year in place of the suspended Deshaun Watson.
Indianapolis trotted out another former Patriots backup as a starter during the 2019 season.
Brian Hoyer had to relieve an injured Brissett during a Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and wound up throwing three touchdowns and one interception in a close loss. Hoyer was then given the starting nod in Week 9 against the Dolphins, and it didn’t go as well. He completed less than half of his passes and tossed one touchdown and three picks in another narrow defeat.
Hoyer has played for seven NFL teams and is back with the Patriots. He got a chance to start for New England’s Week 4 game in Green Bay, but he was quickly removed from that game due to a concussion that has since landed him on injured reserve.
The Colts’ recent trend of bringing in veterans for one-year stints began in 2020 with the signing of Philip Rivers.
The 38-year-old had earned eight Pro Bowl selections during his 16-year tenure with the Chargers, but a disappointing 2019 season led the team and quarterback to go in different directions. Rivers signed a one-year, $25 million deal for the 2020 season, while the Chargers went on to draft Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick in that year’s draft.
Rivers proceeded to lead the Colts to their best season in the post-Luck era. He compiled 24 passing touchdowns and 11 interceptions while steering the team to an 11-5 record. Indy’s short-lived playoff run came to an end with a wild card loss to the Buffalo Bills, which also turned out to be Rivers’ final NFL game before becoming a high school head coach.
Next up on the QB carousel was Carson Wentz. The Colts were apparently eager about the acquisition, shipping a 2022 conditional first-rounder and 2021 third-rounder to the Philadelphia Eagles to reel him in.
His 2021 stats appear fine: 62.4% completion, 27 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions. However, there were deeper warning signs and head-scratching plays that indicated Wentz’s time in Indy wasn’t going to last.
Wentz’s final game with the Colts was even less ceremonious than Rivers’. The Colts traveled to Jacksonville with a chance to punch their ticket to the playoffs. Instead of taking care of business against the NFL’s worst team, it missed the postseason entirely as Wentz turned the ball over twice and was sacked six times in a demoralizing 26-11 loss to the Jaguars.
Reich, GM Chris Ballard and the Colts’ front office had seen enough. The team traded Wentz, a 2022 second-rounder and a 2022 second-rounder to Washington in March for a 2022 second-rounder, 2022 third-rounder and 2023 conditional third-rounder.
After two one-year trials with experienced quarterbacks, the Colts went back to the well once again just days after shipping Wentz to Washington.
Indy dealt a 2022 third-rounder to the Atlanta Falcons for Matt Ryan. The 2016 NFL MVP was far from his peak, but he offered a safer approach to the position than his predecessor.
Within one game, it was apparent that would not be true. He threw an interception and fumbled the ball four times in a season-opening tie to the Houston Texans. Ryan followed that up with three interceptions in a shutout loss to the Jaguars the following week.
Ryan and the Colts went on to win three of their next four games, bringing their record to 3-2-1 and putting them in position to take control of the AFC South against the Tennessee Titans. The offense struggled once again on the road with Ryan tossing two more picks in a 19-10 Titans win on Sunday.
Reich came out the following day and announced that Ryan would not practice the following week or face the Commanders in Week 8. It’s not a short-term decision, either, with the next player getting a chance to show what he’s got over the second half of the season.
With Ryan heading to the bench, Ehlinger is getting the keys to the Indianapolis offense.
The Colts drafted the former Texas Longhorn in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. He has yet to attempt an NFL pass after sitting behind Wentz in 2021 and Ryan through the first seven games of 2022. He played well in the 2022 preseason, though, tossing four touchdowns to zero interceptions.