INDIANAPOLIS – The free-agent signing in mid-March made too much sense not to happen.
And everyone was on board.
The Indianapolis Colts held the No. 4 overall pick in the April draft which would deliver the quarterback of the future to their roster. And it was understood: Whomever that turned out to be would undoubtedly start from day one.
But Chris Ballard wasn’t going to leave his rookie quarterback without a veteran backup.
Options were considered, but discussions kept flowing back to the same guy: Gardner Minshew II.
Ballard asked feedback from his first-year head coach. Shane Steichen had worked with Minshew the previous two seasons in Philadelphia.
“Chris asked me about him and I said, ‘Heck yeah. He’s a heckuva football player. He would be great to have on the roster,’’’ Steichen said Wednesday. “That’s how that went.’’
Once the Colts were in agreement, they had to lure Minshew to Indy. He had been Jalen Hurts’ backup with the Eagles for two seasons, but still possessed a starter’s mentality. Minshew’s four-year resume consisted of 32 games and 24 starts with Jacksonville and Philly.
He wouldn’t be coming to Indy as the projected starter.
“They were straightforward with me from the jump,’’ Minshew said. “They said if they pick somebody at (No. 4), they were going to be out there playing. I’m glad they thought of me and I’m glad we’re here.’’
Minshew signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract in March, and here we are.
Heading into Sunday’s Week 6 road trip to Jacksonville, the 3-2 Colts share the AFC South lead with the Jaguars and Steichen’s offense is in Minshew’s hands for the foreseeable future.
That No. 4 overall pick – Anthony Richardson – has been placed on the injured reserve list with a sprained right shoulder. He’ll miss at least four weeks, but his absence could be considerably longer.
Steichen didn’t provide a timetable for Richardson’s return. The options range from him returning at some point – the best-case scenario perhaps being the Nov. 26 game with Tampa Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium – to shoulder surgery to missing the remainder of the season.
“We’re still evaluating,’’ Steichen said. “We’ll see what the doctors say.’’
Until Richardson returns, we’ll see how the Colts respond to Minshew being their leader.
There’s no question teammates have quickly warmed to his presence.
“The team has confidence in him, coaches have confidence in him to go out and perform at a high level,’’ Steichen said.
The Colts are 3-0 when Minshew has replaced an injured Richardson for an extended time (at Houston in week 2, last Sunday against the Titans) or started when Richardson was out with a concussion (week 3 at Baltimore).
Linebacker Zaire Franklin remembers his first experience with Minshew. It was in the final game of 2019, Minshew’s rookie season with Jacksonville.
The Jaguars were building their home dominance of the Colts – they’ve won the past seven meetings in Florida and eight straight as the home team, including the ’16 meeting in London – and Minshew directed the 38-20 whipping by passing for 295 yards and three touchdowns.
“That Minshew Mania, we were just on the other side of it,’’ Franklin said with a grin. Obviously knew him as a guy that had long hair and wore Jorts a lot. Thankfully he’s on our team.’’
Minshew downplayed returning to Jacksonville and starting against the team that selected him in the sixth round of the 2019 draft. He started 20 games in his first two seasons before the Jaguars drafted Trevor Lawrence No. 1 overall in ’21 and traded Minshew to the Eagles in August.
“Not really, man,’’ he said of any lingering emotions. “Just excited to get out there and play football. Wherever, whenever, it’s always a good time.’’
It didn’t sound as if Franklin was buying into Minshew’s lowkey demeanor.
“Man, it’s invaluable for Gardner to be in this position,’’ he said. “To be able to go back against the team that moved on from him. I know him and I know how competitive he is. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does on Sunday.’’
Whatever the outcome, Minshew will have done everything in his power to put the Colts in a position to succeed.
He came off the bench against the Texans and Titans after having zero repetitions with the No. 1 offense in practice and finished what Richardson started with “save’’ performances. His bottom line in roughly five total quarters: 30-of-37 (81%) for 326 yards with one touchdown and a 112.4 rating.
Minshew directed 10 drives against Houston and Tennessee. Six generated points: three touchdowns, three field goals. Seven covered at least 56 yards and included at least three first downs.
Things were much less efficient in the 22-19 overtime win over the Ravens – 3.8 yards per drop-back, 8.4 yards per completion, five sacks – but Minshew nonetheless did enough to get Matt Gay into position for five field goals, including an NFL-record four 50-plus yarders. Gay’s 53-yarder in overtime completed the upset in Minshew’s 25th career start.
Steichen and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter spent the offseason building a diverse offense with the flexibility to maximize Richardson’s unique skills, but also capable of adapting to Minshew’s. It required everyone to learn the playbook from front to back . . . just in case.
“What you don’t want to be doing is just absolutely scrambling right now trying to create a whole new thing,’’ Cooter said.
There’s no question Richardson and Minshew bring different skill sets to the offense.
“I think with anything, especially the quarterback position, you’ve got to build your offense around what that guy does well,’’ Steichen said. “With (Minshew) being the guy obviously this week, we’re going to build the offense around . . . what he does well.’’
Richardson is a dynamic dual-threat: strong arm to push the football down the field, and lively legs and speed in the run game.
Minshew relies more on a timing passing game and understanding whatever the defense is attempting to do.
“An elite processor,’’ Steichen said, adding Minshew is “like a coach on the field.’’
Minshew is aggressive when it comes to suggesting a certain play should be added to the game plan.
“He sees stuff,’’ Steichen said. “When he has ideas, he shows us the look. Like, ‘Hey, I think we got a chance here on this one.’ We like it, he likes it, shoot, it’s usually in.’’
Steichen recognized what made Minshew tick the first time they met after the Eagles acquired him in the Aug. 28, 2021 trade with Jacksonville.
“Just a guy that’s passionate about football,’’ Steichen said. “Shoot, when we first met him in Philly when we signed him, he came in and attacked, learned the offense. He had this Surface (laptop) and he was constantly taking notes. Everything we said, taking notes. He learned the system very quickly. He’s a football junkie, loves ball, wants to be great.’’
When the Colts hired Steichen, he stressed the importance of his quarterback – rookie or veteran – to be obsessed with the position.
“Understanding the scheme, understanding defensive football, where to go with the football, when to go with the football is a huge factor in his success,’’ he said.
Apparently, there’s only one drawback to being the Colts’ starting quarterback until Richardson returns.
“When you’re starting, more people bother you during the week, that’s for sure,’’ said Minshew, who was surrounded by a horde of media. “That’s No. 1. That’s No. 1. When you’re backing up, everybody kind of lets you go your thing and then it’s just time to go, which is fun.’’
Minshew vs. Colts
The Jaguars’ dominance of the Colts in Jacksonville is no secret. The Colts’ last win in Jacksonville: Sept. 21, 2014. Andrew Luck was their quarterback and Reggie Wayne, in his second season as receivers coach, had four catches for 62 yards in a 44-17 victory.
Four different Jaguars quarterbacks have combined to humble the Colts during their eight-game road losing streak: Trevor Lawrence (twice), Blake Bortles (three times), Cody Kessler (once) and . . . Minshew (twice).
In 2019, Minshew passed for 295 yards, three TDs and one interception in a 38-20 win in the season finale. In the 2020 season opener, he was nearly perfect in a 27-20 win: 19-of-20, 173 yards, three TDs.
His two-game passer rating versus the Colts: 126.6.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.