Indianapolis Colts March Scouting Report
Hey there Colts’ fans! Here are my thoughts on the first few weeks of free agency and how it impacts the Colts’ Corral.
OVERALL:As the 2021 NFL year opened, the Colts were sitting pretty with over $60 million available under the projected cap – the 2nd most untethered money in the NFL. The Carson Wentz trade ate up a chunk of that as the year opened, but the remaining money (including a restructuring of Wentz’s contract) left the team with around $47 million still to spend -- and some huge holes to fill. Nonetheless, as the days and weeks ticked by, the cash-heavy Colts were among the least active free agent spenders in the entire league! Hey Chris Ballard - all that cap room ain’t worth squat if you don’t spend it!! Even after re-signing a few veterans (more on that just ahead…), the Colts still are sitting about $20 million under the cap with the NFL’s youngest roster.
SIGNED: The biggest name and fantasy impact so far is the re-signing of veteran WR TY Hilton to a 1-year $10 million deal with $8 million guaranteed. While I thought that the team might go after one of the young cornerstone type WRs on the market with a splash deal (and would not rule it out yet either), this reduces the pressure to force a deal or a high draft pick with all of the top receiving options returning in 2021. They also resigned WR Zach Pascal early in free agency, and this core group is dependable, although unspectacular. Hilton was offered more money by the Ravens, but chose to stay here in Indy when owner Jim Irsay upped the initial offer made by Ballard. They also signed a key veteran on the other side of the ball as well, inking CB Xavier Rhodes to a 1-year and solidifying that unit with a single lead dog in the secondary. I believe that both of these guys (and the Colts’ front office) are banking on the salary cap jumping back up next year - and the new television money in 2 years - by signing only 1-year deals now and making both sides a winner. Another unsurprising signing was the fact that the team is bringing back RB Marlon Mack on a 1-year deal for $2 million as an insurance policy for RB Jonathan Taylor and serve as a proven veteran presence while proving he has recovered from his Achilles tear. It’s a better deal than he would get elsewhere coming off the injury, and a nice one for the Colts to get some depth in the backfield. The team also signed two former Chargers, guys familiar to those on the staff with ties to that organization I am sure. They signed OT Sam Tevi to a 1-year $3.5 million deal that feels like a "prove it" kind of thing for a guy this young with that much starting experience. Tevi has started for three years at left tackle for the Chargers, so presumably this is at least the stop-gap solution for the retiring OT Anthony Castanzo, if not a longer-term solution to be considered after this season or a placeholder for a high draft choice to step in later. And while they need some replacements for the many free agents along the defensive line, they only signing thus far has been young backup-caliber payer DE Isaac Rochell who has started only 9 games in 4 seasons and has not recorded many sacks or tackles.
LOST: As of this writing, the Colts have lost two starters to free agency, and one was not surprising. LB Anthony Walker was one of the locker-room leaders on defense, but his snaps had dwindled over the course of the season due to the young linebacker depth on the roster. But his productivity and relatively young age meant that he was given a solid deal to play for the Browns. The more disappointing and detrimental loss was veteran DE Denico Autry signing with the rival Titans, losing one of our leading sack men from a unit already looking to get more playmakers and heavily hit with expiring contracts. While not technically a starter, losing QB Jacoby Brissett to the Dolphins means that the team does not have a proven backup for QB Carson We3ntz, and his tremendous presence in the locker room and on the sidelines will be missed. The secondary needed some upgrades in the depth anyway, and a few of the backups have signed elsewhere with S Tavon Wilson (49ers) and CB Tremon Smith (Texans) both gone but likely to have been replaced on the roster anyway.
IN LIMBO: With the loss of Autry and the needs on the defensive line and on the edge, the still-unsigned DE Justin Houston and DE Al-Quadin Muhammad probably take a slight uptick in urgency and consideration from the team’s perspective. Houston was still productive at 31 and likely should be brought back on a 1-year deal similar to the other vets that have resigned. S Malik Hooker is coming off a season that was mostly lost to an Achilles injury, so if he can be healthy then bringing him back on a cost-effective 1-year deal probably makes sense for both sides. Veteran slot CB TJ Carrie was a solid presence last season and likely also makes sense to be brought back on a short-term deal to preserve continuity – especially if the pressure up front doesn’t get much better in the offseason. On the other side of the ball, the lack of depth at tight end is glaring for a new passer that has thrived when using the position, so the pending status of TE Trey Burton and TE Mo Alie-Cox is curious; Alie-Cox was tendered a qualifying offer that he is likely to sign, but Burton never really provided the upside that the Colts had hoped for. I think that he will be brought back cheaply if needed, but they are looking to upgrade, perhaps in the draft. ProBowl special teamer S George Odum was given a qualifying tender offer based on his scrimmage contributions, but he was offended by it since he received high honors for his special team play; it remains to be seen if Odum will take it and return to Indy in 2021
NEEDS: Even though the Colts have not done much in free agency, they have addressed most of their biggest needs, or at least reduced the urgency to do something splashy at several positions. The need for some pass rush and defensive line help is probably the biggest hole right now, and there are still some a few guys available in free agency whose price may be dropping with each unsigned day. In addition to their own guys who probably should be a priority, guys like Jadeveon Clowneyor maybe even Melvin Ingram or Aldon Smith might draw interest at the right price. After that, the need for a real threat at tight end is likely the next biggest need. But with the top explosive guys off the market, I don’t know if that can really come in free agency at all unless they get Zach Ertz at a bargain basement price so he can reunite with Wentz and Reich. They need another corner, but Carrie could and should be that guy. They might still be in the market for a receiver, but resigning their two vets, plus a return to health for the explosive WR Parris Campbell and the late season development of WR Michael Pittman make this a lower priority now. There are a lot of veteran Pro-Bowl caliber tackle options out there, but after signing Tevi I doubt they would go after one of them and instead will look to get versatile (and cheaper) veteran depth for along the line in case of injuries. So aside from signing some pass rush or D-line help, or maybe a veteran backup quarterback, the most likely use of the Colts’ still-large cap space is probably signing some of their young O-linemen or LB Darius Leonard to lucrative extensions and a smaller chance at a trade for an explosive playmaking options at receiver, tight end or defensive end.
That is all for this month from the Crossroads of America. I will be back in just a few weeks to preview the upcoming NFL rookie draft from the Colts’ perspective. Hopefully there will be more clarity on the path forward because some of the remaining holes will have been filled by spending some of this cap room money! Until then friend….stay safe and GO COLTS!
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