INDIANAPOLIS – The man that should be atop the ‘must re-sign’ list for the Colts isn’t the Hall of Fame caliber quarterback or one of the greatest receivers in franchise history or the team’s top cornerback.
Nope, the guy the Colts must have back, among their notable list of unrestricted free agents, is a guy named Grover who played collegiately for the Division II Albany State Golden Rams.
The most important 2021 free agent for the Colts to re-sign is defensive tackle Grover Stewart.
“Man, Grover Stewart is special,” Frank Reich says of the 315-pound run stuffer.
Along with fellow defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, Stewart sets the tone for one of the NFL’s best run defenses.
With Stewart’s presence at 6-4 and 315 pounds (down from playing around 330 in previous seasons), the 2017 fourth-round pick is playing himself right into a lucrative second contract.
“He’s having a really good year,” Reich adds on Stewart. “He’s explosive. He came in in the best shape of his life. He kind of transformed his body – made him quicker and faster. He lost a lot of weight, put on lean mass.
“Then Grover in a different way is one of the true leaders of this team. This guy, he’s not always the loudest or the most vocal leader, but if you talk about in the locker room who gets the most respect, Grover is in that top tier of guys because of his humble heart. He’s got this humble heart, yet he is a fierce competitor. I love guys like that – guys that are fierce competitors. So, he’s having a monster year.”
Listening to Reich describe Stewart, and hearing Chris Ballard’s acknowledgement of his strong start to 2020, the 27-year-old defensive tackle should expect a multi-year extension coming his way, and it wouldn’t be a major surprise if it happened before the season ends.
Something hovering around the 3- or 4-year length, and earning north of $10 million a year, is a deal that would make sense for a player who is really unique. Would the Colts franchise tag Stewart, likely paying him around $13 million for the 2021 season?
The Colts don’t have this abundance of wider body—more nose tackle skillsets—guys who can also still offer the individual disruption that Stewart does, and play with terrific effort.
With 24 solo tackles this season, Stewart ranks 3rd in the NFL among defensive tackles. That’s an astonishing number for a player who isn’t supposed to be in as much of a playmaking role as a DeForest Buckner, or a more off the ball defensive tackle.
Stewart began the 2019 season as a rotational defensive lineman, but after some early run-game struggles the Colts moved him into the starting lineup in Week Four.
He hasn’t lost his starting spot since, more than seizing the opportunity given to him as he reaches the end of his rookie contract.
“My biggest thing was to put in more work than everybody else,” Stewart says of what has changed in his approach. “My mindset was to outwork everybody to get where I wanted to be. I think I still have a lot of work to get there even though I am starting, but I want to be ahead of the game with everything. Behind the scenes wise, I do extra workouts. I do extra conditioning. I study film harder. I’m just trying to do everything extra to be on top of everything.”
The Colts have taken notice.
“A lot of the time the nose tackle position, is underappreciated,” defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus says. “Not in our building, it’s much appreciated when you have a guy that is able to grind it out every single day and to practice the way he does.”
And their appreciation should come in monetary value for Stewart very soon.