INDIANAPOLIS – Moving a future Hall of Famer to a different position might seem a little preposterous, but the Colts are in a situation where such an idea has to be explored.
With the major loss of Anthony Castonzo retiring, despite 1-year remaining on his contract, the Colts are searching for a short, and long, term answer at left tackle.
And moving three-time All-Pro Quenton Nelson—to a position he’s played 10 snaps at since high school—is an option.
“Chris (Ballard) and I have already had that conversation, obviously when AC got hurt,” Frank Reich explained after the 2020 season ended. “It was like, ‘Hey, well let’s take a look at Quenton, maybe that’s a real option.’
“That would certainly be an option, but like every other decision, you have to look at all options and consider all factors.”
The major pro of moving Nelson permanently to left tackle would come from a financial/resource standpoint.
No matter where Nelson lines up for the next 5-10 years, he’s going to sign the highest offensive line contract in NFL history, whenever the Colts give him a second deal (Nelson has a 5th year rookie option through the 2022 season). So if Nelson could move to left tackle, a position that annually gets the most money on the offensive line, it would help from a cap standpoint. In house, the Colts could then bump second-year lineman Danny Pinter into the starting lineup at guard. That would keep the Colts from having to go outside the building for their answer, and allow them to maintain all their valuable resources, knowing that Nelson will be getting paid no matter what.
The con comes from projecting Nelson to left tackle.
Nelson looked adequate in his 10 snaps filling in for Castonzo against the Raiders this year, but it’s one thing to be serviceable, it’s another to give the Colts the level of what No. 56 has accomplished at guard. Blocking guys in space on a routine basis is still different than the responsibilities as an interior linemen. Plus, Nelson is such a weapon for the Colts in their run game that moving him to tackle would have to alter those plans. Let’s say Nelson is an above average tackle and Pinter becomes a serviceable starting guard. That would still be a step back from the Castonzo/Nelson combination. How would that impact the important unit of the Colts offensive line and the rest of the offense? Also, the days of an offensive tackle carrying much more importance than an offensive guard have shrunk. Mitigating interior pressure is also a massive key.
Former Colts great Jeff Saturday expressed his thoughts on this situation earlier in the week.
“From Q’s perspective, could he do it? I don’t have any doubt he could do it (and) make that transition over,” Saturday said on 1075 The Fan. “As many snaps as he’s carried, he understands the flow of the game, the speed of the game, what has to happen out there, so he could definitely train it. I think the concern you would have is by moving him over there, what kind of physicality do you lose? With Frank, the way that he runs his offense, and the way they design plays, so much of that comes behind the pull of the guard and the kick outs and the wrap ups, and a lot of play-action off of those. So is it really worth to it move your best guy, who has been as dominant as he has inside, over to there?
“Basically, tackles block ends. I’m not trying to dimmish the position because those dudes make the most money on the line because of the guys they have too block. But, internally, most quarterbacks are bothered by guys coming through the middle. What Q has provided inside and the nastiness and attitude, it will take a lot of time. There’s going to be good (tackles) coming out, good guys hitting the market and I’m sure Ballard has started to look at all those guys.”
With Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith all under contract, Ballard says the Colts have “4 damn good offensive linemen.” Behind them, the Colts are intrigued by Pinter (interior positions) and 27-year-old Will Holden (tackle).
But the need for better offensive line depth, particularly on the outside, is something Ballard regrets from the 2020 season and an item to be addressed this offseason.
First though, it’s about what you decide to do at left tackle, with the guy who has played three seasons in the NFL and been an All-Pro left guard every year.
“It’s your opportunity cost,” Saturday, the former Colts great, explains about Nelson.
“If you move him over there, what are you losing there in the inside? Especially if it’s (Philip) Rivers again next year, it is vital to keep him protected in the middle of the pocket.”