INDIANAPOLIS – It’s the most notable list of free agents in the Chris Ballard era.
Even after handing out contract extensions to three free agents who were supposed to hit the open market in 2021 (TE-Jack Doyle, C- Ryan Kelly and DT-Grover Stewart), Ballard still has about 8 or 9 starters not under contract for next season. Currently, the Colts are scheduled to have around $60 million in cap space (3rd most in the NFL).
Here are the 2021 unrestricted free agents for the Colts (next year’s age listed):
- QB-Philip Rivers (Age: 39): Again, the Colts made the very wise decision to keep the contract for Philip Rivers to just 1-year last March. Further evaluating Rivers after this season was a must to decide the next move at quarterback, both in the short-term, and long-term. Rivers has said he will either play for the Colts in 2021 (if they want him back), or go coach high school football in Alabama. With the salary cap not locked in yet for ’21, Rivers should probably not expect another $25 million from the Colts.
- QB-Jacoby Brissett (Age: 28): After playing just 1 meaningful snap in the first six games of the 2020 season, the Jacoby Brissett package was installed and used much more after the bye week. Brissett now is poised to hit free agency for the first time in his NFL career, looking to have a legit chance at being a starter again. The Colts like a lot about Brissett, but it’s hard to see him wanting to come back here (unless he thinks there’s a realistic chance at starting) or the Colts paying him big-time money to be a backup again.
- RB-Marlon Mack (Age: 25): This was supposed to be Mack’s big pay day time in the NFL. Instead, he’s rehabbing an Achilles injury without a clear picture of his future. Mack returning to the Colts actually makes some sense, even with the emergence/full-on arrival of Jonathan Taylor. Mack is still young for a second contract guy and would offer quality/necessary depth at a spot filled with attrition. Is Mack looking at a short-term deal no matter where he finds his next contract?
- WR-T.Y. Hilton (Age: 31): The most heralded Colts’ resume on this list is Hilton. At the age of 31, Hilton stated before the start of this past season that he would like one more contract from the Colts. While Hilton stayed healthy in his 9th NFL season (played 15 of 16 games), he didn’t sniff a 1,000-yard season (762 yards) and averaged just 3.7 catches per game. Hilton handles himself in a way that this staff appreciates, but is that enough for one final contract in Indy? There are some accomplished, and younger, wideouts hitting the open market this year, adding to the difficulty in gauging this.
- TE-Trey Burton (Age: 29): It was an up and down season for Burton in Indianapolis. After injuring his calf in camp, Burton played the final 13 games of the season. At his best, he was a weapon in the red zone, lining up and impacting the game in multiple ways. At his worst, Burton had the highest drop rate of his career and lacked the bigger play ability we saw in Philadelphia. With Jack Doyle (turns 31 in May) under contract and Mo Alie-Cox (turns 28 in September) a restricted free agent, the Colts could use a young tight end to take over one day.
- OT-Le’Raven Clark (Age: 28): Clark hits free agency for a second straight year, but he’s coming off a torn Achilles from December. This management clearly thought something of Clark to have him return in 2020. But more depth at tackle is an absolute must.
- OT-Chaz Green (Age: 27): Needing to turn to their tackle depth in 2020, Green actually was needed a couple of times in 2020. He also got benched twice. Green has started 8 games in his career.
- C-Joey Hunt (Age: 27): The Colts promoted Hunt from their practice squad on a couple of occasions in 2020, before signing him for good to the 53-man roster. Hunt filled in at left guard for a handful of snaps against the Raiders when Quenton Nelson was needed to play left tackle. Hunt has started 11 games in his career.
- DE-Justin Houston (Age: 32): After coming to the Colts having missed 21 games in the previous four seasons, Houston did not miss a game in two seasons in Indianapolis. He put up 19 total sacks (8.0 this year), but was not a consistent enough rusher in 2020 to be considering a strong No. 1 edge presence. Houston had a career-low QB hits per game, and the lowest sacks per game number since his rookie season. Having said that, the Colts love what Houston stands for and the team got hardly anything from young rushers Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu.
- DE-Al-Quadin Muhammad (Age: 26): Ever since joining the Colts as a waiver claim in 2018, Muhammad has been a solid sub rusher. The staff loves the effort of Muhammad, with his strength being more so as a run defender. Muhammad was a 2017 6th round pick of the Saints.
- DL-Denico Autry (Age: 30): In becoming a full-time starter with the Colts, Autry has been one of Chris Ballard’s best free agent signings. Autry had 7.5 sacks in 14 games this past season (has had 20.0 sacks in 40 games in Indy), bringing versatility and toughness to the defensive line. With young draft picks along the defensive front yet to entrench themselves, will the Colts feel the need to give short-term deals to Houston and/or Autry?
- LB-Anthony Walker (Age: 25): As expected, the playing time for Walker decreased a decent amount in 2020. Still, Walker brings a key cerebral nature to the Indy defense, even if he is a bit exposed in space. Walker has said he wants to be a starter and play consistently. If that’s true, returning to Indianapolis doesn’t make a ton of sense.
- CB-T.J. Carrie (Age: 30): Carrie was an important reserve option for the Colts in 2020. With Marvell Tell opting out and Rock Ya-Sin regressing a bit, the Colts needed Carrie to play a good amount. Carrie bounced back with from his 2019 season (57.5 completion percentage allowed compared to 68.3 percent last year; 78.0 passer rating allowed compared to 105.1).
- CB-Xavier Rhodes (Age: 31): Arguably, Rhodes is the most important free agent on this list. And it wouldn’t shock anyone to see Rhodes seek out a big pay day in his final true chance to cash in at a high level. Rhodes gave the Colts a true outside presence that this team hasn’t really had since Vontae Davis in 2014. This has the potential to be a bidding war at a premium position. Will the Colts engage in such?
- S-Malik Hooker (Age: 25): It’s weird to have a former first-round pick on this list and consider him almost a forgotten man. But that’s Hooker. He tore his Achilles in Week Two last season, adding to the injury issues he’s faced in his young career. Hooker’s specific fit in this defense has been something to debate, and that only grew when seeing how Julian Blackmon had immediate success next to Khari Willis. Unlike Mack, this doesn’t seem to have as great of a chance to see a second contract.
- S-Tavon Wilson (Age: 31): The Colts brought Wilson in during camp to be a veteran depth presence in the secondary. He was that, while also playing on special teams.
These are the Colts unrestricted free agents, per Spotrac. The Colts also have restricted free agents in S-George Odum, WR-Zach Pascal, TE-Mo Alie-Cox and CB-Tremon Smith.