As general manager Chris Ballard pieces together the 2024 roster, he'll need to keep building around the rookie quarterback who showed so much promise in what turned out to be a cameo appearance in his NFL debut.
Despite making just four starts, Richardson won over the front office and the coaching staff with his work ethic and intelligence off the field and his explosive potential between the lines.
"He's a good young man who has a lot to learn," Ballard said. "But here's what's good about him — (he's) very humble, and he has empathy for other people. He cares deeply. He cares deeply about being the best player he can be and cares deeply about his teammates, and he will work. He's very gifted. ... Now he just needs to play."
The 21-year-old completed 59.5% of his passes for 577 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and rushed 25 times for 136 yards and four additional scores while playing just 173 snaps in 2023.
He left a Week 1 loss against the Jacksonville Jaguars late in the fourth quarter with a bruised knee and was knocked out of a Week 2 win at the Houston Texans with a concussion early in the second quarter.
After missing a Week 3 win at the Baltimore Ravens, Richardson returned to lead a comeback from a 23-0 deficit and force overtime in a home loss against the Los Angeles Rams, and his season ended Oct. 8 when he suffered a separated AC joint in his shoulder during the second quarter of a win against the Tennessee Titans.
The injuries will remain a major concern until Richardson proves he can stay on the field consistently. But, even in his brief time on the field, there was ample evidence of the ways in which his dual-threat ability can impact the game.
"I just think, when he plays, people defend you a little differently," Ballard said. "I think we saw it already. It kind of naturally happens when he's in there. (He can change a game) either with his feet or with his arm because of what he's able to do.
"Look, he's got work to do, and there will be some moments next year where he'll still look like a rookie. It's going to happen. I think his ability to push the ball down the field and create allows for those explosive plays to happen."
Ballard has the luxury of entering the offseason without the need to search for a starting quarterback for the first time since 2019. But the position won't be completely off the radar.
Gardner Minshew II was an essential insurance policy as the backup in 2023. He went 7-6 as a starter to keep the Colts in the playoff race all season long and completed 62.2% of his throws for 3,305 yards with 15 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Minshew's efforts earned him a spot in last weekend's Pro Bowl games as a replacement for Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who will start in the Super Bowl on Sunday.
The veteran passer also turned heads around the NFL, which could lead to a more lucrative offer and a better shot at being the full-time starter somewhere else in 2024.
As much as Indianapolis would like to bring Minshew back into the fold, the market could force the team in a different direction.
Sam Ehlinger remains under contract for one more season and could compete for the backup role with either a new veteran free agent addition or late-round draft pick if Minshew does not return.
"The backup quarterback is going to be very important," Ballard said. "I think we saw that. I can't underestimate the value of what Gardner brought to this team. He gave us a chance to win each and every game, gave us hope, a chance to win, fun guy to be around. I'm sure (he was) a fun guy for you all to get a unique perspective on life, and guys believe in him.
"... Likeability and belief are two things that are — when they believe and think that (with) the quarterback you have a chance to win, that's important. (I'm) grateful for Gardner and what he was able to do. I don't want to underestimate the value of the (No.) 2 (quarterback), either."