INDIANAPOLIS: The Colts entered the 2020 offseason with a tremendous amount of resources in both cap space, and draft capital.
They have not sat on those resources, being one of the more active teams, shifting their philosophy from prior offseasons.
Before we get into some free agency takeaways, here’s a rundown of the Colts offseason now four weeks into the new league year:
No. 13 overall pick
OL-Joe Haeg (Buccaneers)
CB-Pierre Desir (Jets)
TE-Eric Ebron (Steelers)
OL-Josh Andrews (Jets)
QB-Brian Hoyer (Patriots)
WR-Devin Funchess (Packers)
Now, onto 10 takeaways from the Colts offseason (so far):
1. Short-Term Upgrade At Quarterback
We knew the Colts would have to show their hands in March or April of their real feelings regarding Jacoby Brissett.
The days of the Colts believing Brissett is a top-20 QB in this league are gone.
They have made the decision to give Philip Rivers a one-year deal as they look to upgrade their woeful passing game from last season.
Rivers is a stop-gap, but one the Colts think can help get this team back into the playoffs, and that’s something this franchise desperately wants (needs?) after missing the postseason in four out of the last five years.
2. Shift In Philosophy
We said it all throughout the early parts of this year—there was a willingness from the Colts to be more active this offseason.
The expectation was the Colts would (and should) alter their approach to free agency.
They did that in more than a couple of ways.
Heading into Year 4 of Chris Ballard’s rebuild, and Year 3 of Frank Reich at the helm, some tweaks were necessary to try and get the Colts back into being a routine postseason participant.
That came from a much more aggressive month of March, with the Colts’ actions clearing indicating a ‘win now’ approach, while still needing to solve the long-term dilemma under center (see more below).
3. Finding That Three-Technique
It’s a position we’ve seen garner more and more importance in recent years.
How much does that spot (and the player now starting there) mean to Chris Ballard?
Well, Ballard was willing to give up precious draft capital, plus around $100 million, to get 6-7, 300-pound DeForest Buckner.
It was a move we haven’t seen in quite some time by any NFL team
But the Colts view Buckner as a transformational type of defender, necessary at a critical spot. It’s a steep price tag to pay, but Ballard felt such a move was needed to try and stymie the defensive struggles that have continued to rise up in Indianapolis.
4. Castonzo Domino Falls The Right Way
It was the first news item of the offseason, and it was such a massive domino to fall in the way of the Colts.
Anthony Castonzo has decided to keep playing football, and did so by signing a 2-year deal with the Colts. This was huge, on many levels.
Having Castonzo return had to have calmed any potential worry of giving up the No. 13 overall pick, along with making a significant change at quarterback to a guy with little mobility.
The Colts continue to be one of the few teams in the league who have not had to worry much about their left tackle position lately, without needing to give gobs and gobs of help over to that spot.
5. What About Long-Term At Quarterback?
To some, this was the most important aspect of the 2020 offseason for the Colts.
Well, without the No. 13 overall pick, the Colts are unlikely to have that ‘unquestioned future QB of the Colts’ on their roster this season.
Sure, the Colts still can draft a QB pretty early in a few weeks (perhaps in Round 2 or Round 3), but that guy will inevitably come with skepticism about handing him the starting QB keys in Week One of 2021.
Maybe the Colts do something drastic in the 2020 Draft to seriously address the future at QB?
For now though, the Colts have three quarterbacks on their roster, all with expiring contracts this year: Philip Rivers (Age: 38), Jacoby Brissett (Age: 27), Chad Kelly (Age: 26).
6. Wide Receiver Help Still Needed
You won’t find a position group on the Colts roster where there’s more of a need in the present, and the future, than wide receiver.
It’s not that the Colts have lost a ton at the position from last year, but this group’s recent trend of underperforming, plus the age of T.Y. Hilton (30), has only stressed the draft resources that need to go to wideout.
A storyline at wideout that needs to receive more attention involves the type of receivers that Philip Rivers has found his most success with. Those are bigger body receivers, something that is also missing in Indianapolis.
Chris Ballard is skeptical about college wideouts immediately impacting an NFL team, but the Colts really need to find that this month, while also thinking about Hilton’s years in the league winding down.
7. New Approach At Cornerback
The biggest surprise this offseason from the Colts was releasing Pierre Desir.
Last offseason Desir had signed a new 3-year extension and easily checked the high character box, while serving a need at a difficult position to carry quality depth.
But with the Colts deciding to say goodbye to Desir, they opted for a higher ceiling (although perhaps lower floor) outside corner in Xavier Rhodes. The thought with Rhodes is kicking the tires on a former first-round pick, who was an All-Pro back in 2017 and is now reunited with assistant Jonathan Gannon (who was in Minnesota from 2014-17).
A busy March in making moves surrounding cornerbacks hovering around the age of 30 continued with the one-year deal for T.J. Carrie. This move will get overlooked, but Carrie brings a resume that in years past would have screamed ‘starter,’ however the need looks to be more of a depth role, especially at a nickel position that was exposed once Kenny Moore injured his ankle last December.
8. New Deepest Position Group On The Team
It’s fair to say the position group that Chris Ballard was most frustrated with in 2019 had to be defensive tackle.
That means even more to a guy like Ballard, who is a firm believer in roster building beginning with the trenches.
The possibilities of playing time, defensive line rotations and the mixing/matching come passing downs are very intriguing.
If this group can elevate itself to being a premier unit, and not just one filled with nice depth, that could turn this season into one where the Colts are firmly in the playoff picture.
9. Where’s The Offensive Line Depth?
It’s the dream of all dreams that the starting offensive line for the Colts is not a worry for a second straight year.
But the top O-line reserves for 2020 are a mystery.
Currently, the Colts don’t have a single offensive lineman on their roster who played an offensive snap last season.
Last year’s offensive line health was an aberration. If the Colts have just ‘normal’ offensive line injuries in 2020, the No. 6 and No. 7 offensive linemen will have critical playing/starting roles, particularly with the slower-moving Philip Rivers under center.
10. What About The Losses?
While the Colts definitely appear to be a better team than they were at the start of March, there’s still some voids that need to be filled, with around $24 million left in cap space.
As free agency reaches deeper into April, six unrestricted free agents of the Colts are still on the open market: S-Clayton Geathers, WR-Dontrelle Inman, WR-Chester Rogers, DE-Jabaal Sheard, K-Adam Vinatieri, RB-Jonathan Williams.
In years past, Chris Ballard has rarely brought back a free agent of his own this deep into the offseason.
Those guys combined for 27 starts last season and have filled a variety of necessary roles over their time with the Colts, along with the ‘losses’ that have already signed elsewhere.
Publicly, the Colts continue to state they are going to let the rehab process play out with Vinatieri before stating a final decision.
It’s not top of mind by any means, but the Colts still just need to solidify depth at running back, wideout, safety and figure out the pecking order out at defensive end. That goes with the more pressing items at wide receiver, long-term quarterback, tight end and offensive line depth.