INDIANAPOLIS – The 2020 season is now a contract year for Malik Hooker.
On Monday, the Colts decided not to pick up the 5th year rookie option on Hooker, thus putting his future with the team very much up in the air.
During draft week we saw Hooker’s name floated around as a possible trade candidate.
Well, the draft came and went with Hooker still on the Colts.
Even though Hooker’s first three seasons have not brought the return of his pick value (No. 15 overall in 2017), there still appeared to be some evidence pointing to picking up that affordable 5th year option.
For one, the Colts do not have a ton of proven safety depth on their roster.
The team is extremely high on Khari Willis heading into his second year. The full expectation is Willis will start next to Hooker in 2020, with Clayton Geathers no longer on the roster.
Behind a starting duo of Hooker and Willis are former undrafted free agents in George Odum and Rolan Milligan, who have combined for 3 career starts, mostly playing in sub package roles. Willis, Odum and Milligan have combined to play just 4 total seasons in the NFL.
The Colts did draft one safety in 2020, however Julian Blackmon (3rd round pick, 85th overall) doesn’t appear to have the direct same skillset as Hooker. And Blackmon could be headed for a redshirt start to the 2020 season after tearing his ACL last December. Blackmon’s ideal role in the NFL appears to be more of a versatile defensive back moving all over the defense, and not as the centerfield type that Hooker brings as a strength.
Although Ballard mentioned during the draft process that he thinks Blackmon is a ‘legitimate free safety’ in the NFL. Monday’s decision puts more pressure on Blackmon to be a starting-ready safety by 2021, when Hooker hits free agency.
Injuries, questions about scheme fit and concerns over consistent impact have led to indecision on Hooker’s future with the Colts. Yet, he still is a newly turned 24-year-old rangy safety who has shown playmaking, with improved health.
Hooker ranks in the top 5 of all safeties in interceptions per game (7 picks in 34 games) since entering the league in 2017.
After tearing his ACL as a rookie, Hooker has played in 13 and 14 games each of the last two seasons.
The Colts used Hooker more around the line of scrimmage in 2019, but the staff was disappointed by how he ended last year.
“Malik was solid,” Ballard said at the end of the 2019 season. “Wouldn’t say he was great.
“He had some moments of being really good. And I thought he tailed off a little bit there at the end.”
When Ballard was asked before the draft about exercising Hooker’s upcoming 5th year option, he said the following:
“We have a little bit of time. When we get through the draft, we’ll sit down and talk about the direction we will go there.”
Along with Hooker, the Colts now have the following players in a contract year for 2021: Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett, Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton, Ryan Kelly, Justin Houston, Anthony Walker, Xavier Rhodes.
On Monday, before the final decision on Hooker was announced, Frank Reich shared this about the former first-round pick:
“In ’18 Malik was coming off the (torn ACL) and got better as the year went on. Last year, I really felt like Malik had a really good year. I thought physically, you could feel Malik’s presence on the field. Malik is not the most outgoing, bubbly personality. He’s got lot of juice and intensity (though) in him and I think you really saw that come out last year, when he was healthy, when he started playing real physical and making plays on the ball.
“So really excited and expecting big things from him this year.”
Hooker is due a base salary of $2.1 million here in 2020. A rise in contract value for 2021 would have still likely put Hooker in the middle of the pack of starting safety money, around $6.8 million That 5th year option would not have been guaranteed until next spring, too, which still wasn’t enticing enough for the Colts to pick it up.
For a guy who spent a majority of his first two NFL seasons tearing his ACL/trying to play on a recovered knee in less than 12 months, Hooker’s evaluation time in Indy now has just one more season left.
Now, Hooker’s time in Indianapolis has one more season to prove himself to the Colts, and to the rest of the NFL, before free agency arrives for him next March.