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Indianapolis Colts February Scouting Report
Hey there Coltsâ€™ fans! Without any pitchers and catchers reporting to Florida and Arizona as expected, I am sure that all sports fans are maybe looking ahead to talking about blockers and tacklers instead. With the start of free agency and the league year just a few weeks away, here are my thoughts on the offseason goals and needs of the Indianapolis Colts:
Letâ€™s just start with the gorilla on the table, and that is the status of QB Carson Wentz for 2022. There were already rumblings that the team would or should move on from Wentz after one season, but those embers were sparked into a full-fledged fiery furnace with Chris Mortenson reporting that he believed that Wentz was going to be shown the door. Now nearly everyone is a reporting their best guesses as to who will quarterback the Colts in 2022â€¦.and no one is saying Wentz. I respect the hell out of Mort and many of the other pundits out there, but I will strike out as the lone voice of opposition and say that (barring injury), Wentz will be the week one starter in Indy. Even if you think Wentz was to blame for the failure to make the playoffs, or that he underperformed in 2021â€¦you simply cannot overlook the fact that there is not a better option out there for the Colts. The few potentially difference-making passers that might be available (Rodgers, Wilson, Watson) will cost the sort of draft capital that the Colts do not have (and would not part with anyway). Even if Irsay and the Coltsâ€™ brass were willing to part with a kingâ€™s ransom for one of those guys, they would still be eating at least $15 million in dead money to move or release him; while they would have no problem eating that money for the right player, they need it because it will keep them from fixing the myriad more significant holes on the team (more on this later). And the draft does not seem to have any immediate impact passers available at any part of the draft, especially starting in round 2. It is not just "is Wentz good enough?" â€“ an obvious necessary part of the answer to that question is the question "What other choice to do we have?" The only way I can see them going another direction is if they bring in a guy with upside for cheap money â€“ much like Jameis Winston did on a "prove it" deal with the Saints. But Winston is likely going to be the most sought-after free agent passer in the NFL in 2022 (and the only real starting caliber guy out there), so odds-are someone will offer him big money that the Colts canâ€™t afford to spend.
And the reality is that Wentz was absolutely not as bad as the common perception has seemed to be. 27 TDs and only 7 INTS â€“ the full list of other passers that exceeded those in 2021 is MVP Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins. 10th in the NFL in TDs despite playing on a run-0heavy team, and with a running back that led the league in TDs, and everyone in the top 9 above him has at least one if not THREE former Pro Bowl receivers. And he had the 9th overall QBR in 2021 â€“ better than Dak, Russ and Burrow, among others. Frankly, I think the dude did miracles with what little he had to work with. And I havenâ€™t even got to the toughest schedule in the NFL â€“ already loaded with tough games, they got the defending SuperBowl champs as their bonus add-on 17th game! He was even blamed for the DEFENSE caving in at the end of several games, costing them a few close losses. Really - did he give up any points in the 30-point surrender to the Ravens in the 4th quarter? Finally, he most recently has been heavily criticized for not having the same gravitas in the locker room or on the field as Manning or Bradyâ€¦.butfor Peteâ€™s sake, who does? It is insane how much he unfairly has been made the whipping boy for the teamâ€™s performances in 2021.
The team does have over half of its roster (28 players) eligible for free agency this offseason, including a ton of starters and key contributors. There are four offensive linemen that are not under contract, with only the three studs signed and locked in. I believe they will bring back OT Eric Fisher who had a terrible year in a quick return from a torn Achilles; they will probably try to bring him back on a little friendlier number than his $10 million 2021 salary, and hopefully get a more explosive season at left tackle from the 3-time Pro-Bowler. Starting RG Mark Glowinski may get an offer elsewhere that the Colts simply cannot afford to match, with what is already the most expensive O-line in NFL history. I think they will instead focus on resigning the two key depth guys (OL Chris Reed and swing OT Mark Pryor), with Reed or possible OL Danny Pinter taking over for Glowinski at right guard. Although if they can get Glowinski on the cheap, they would probably bring him back though to keep the depth where it is. The defensive line also has a bunch of key contributors unsigned, led by DE Al-Quadin Muhammad and DE Kemoko Turay; both of these guys have flashed at times, Muhammad moreso. Former high pick DE Tyquan Lewis has been good when active but he cannot seem to stay on the field -- plus he would be returning from a ruptured patellar tendon. DT Antuan Woods is a solid veteran presence, but he is behind two studs so he is worth resigning at his veteran minimum if they can. Even signing two of these four guys for depth probably means that there is still a need for a front-end talent to make them rotational guys and not every-down players.
The skill positions have a lot of guys that are free agents, but frankly none of them are must-sign guys. RB Marlon Mack is an expensive #3 back and the team has a lot tied up in RB Jonathan Taylor and RB Nyheim Hines; they will replace him with a cheap young guy that can have a special teams contribution as well. Long-time Colts veterans WR TY Hilton and TE Jack Doyle are each long in the tooth and a step too slow, and both should retire. Depth WR Zach Pascal is a great blocker and solid special teams contributor, but shouldnâ€™t be worth more than a minimum contract and could lose a roster spot to a younger project with more physical skills like WR Mick Strachan. TE Mo Alie-Cox is intriguingâ€¦.but will likely be elsewhere and is not a crucial piece of the puzzle. WR Ashton Dulin is a depth receiver only, but he and the other special teams ace S George Odum definitely need to be signed to keep that stellar unit at the top of the league rankings. And in the defensive backfield, two of the top four corners are unsigned (CB Xavier Rhodes and CB TJ Carrie), and they may need to sacrifice one of them unless Carrie comes back on a low-ball deal and Rhodes agrees to a pay cut commensurate with his low-impact, injury-plagued 2021.
Letâ€™s look at where the team has needs heading into 2022. The unfortunate thing is that the question marks they had heading into 2021 were basically the same, if you assume that quarterback is still a position of need. The team still lacks any playmakingin the receiving corps (including tight end) , and is bereft of any sort of impactful pass rush. The secondary is okay, but lacks depth and could use a little more talent. So assuming that the many free agents do not leave some other glaring holes in the team as currently assembled, I will assume that these are the major areas that will get attention in free agency and the draft. As of the moment, the Colts are sitting at around $35 million in cap space heading into 2022, which is the 8th most in the NFL. IN theory they could be in play for one or maybe two big-time free agents. And while Chris Ballard has never really gone that way, it might be imperative that he makes a splash at some high-need positions before the many young stars on the roster come up for their next contract and the team starts losing those strong points.
The receiving game is where Wentz or any new passer will need some huge upgrades to present a respectable passing threat. It is virtually certain that WR TY Hilton and TE Jack Doyle will either be retired or unsigned, which means that their combined $14 million could be spent on replacements with more juice. Even TE Mo Alie-Cox is likely to get a decent deal somewhere based on his athleticism, but he simply has not produced worthy of his $3.5 million. So with all this money available at the position plus some cap space, I would love to see them sign a true #1 receiver and a viable tight end threat to make the passing game a real option. Many sites have linked Allen Robinson to the Colts; they wanted him when he signed with Chicago, and he will be available again this spring. I love A-Robâ€™s game, but he is just a more experienced version of WR Michael Pittman. My preference would be for one of the more explosive guys coming off ACL tears â€“ Odell Beckham, Chris Godwin or Michael Gallup. Heck, a second tier guy I like would also be Juju Smith-Schuster, who is coming off of injury as well. For all of these five potential studs, the poor 2021 season and/or the injury might keep their prices down and make them more palatable to be on the radar for even the most frugal of GMs. There are a bunch of free agent tight ends that could also make a difference, although a few of the younger ones (Dalton Schultz and Mike Gesicki) are likely to break the bank, there are some second-tier guys with big upside (David Njoku, OJ Howard, Evan Engram) that might be great bargains due to the glut of available free agents. In any case, another obvious choice is to reunite the veteran Zach Ertz with Wentz on a shorter deal. I believe the Colts can and should spend on two of these guys, with my preference being to spend a ton on locking up a second younger guy like Godwin or Gallup, and then taking a chance on an upside guy at tight end.
The pass rush is another place that you can sign a known commodity and get an instant impact on the defense. There may be some that will argue the Colts have spent an awful lot of draft capital on pass rushers in recent years to get no return on investment, so maybe they should spend wildly for a big name in free agency. The team does believe that they found something in rookie DE KwityPaye last year and that 2nd rounder DE Dayo Odeyingbo will also bound higher after another year to recover from injury. But unless those guys each take a big leap forward, it would not be a bad idea to get a veteran â€“ like the one DE DeNico Autry they let walk to a division rival in 2021 where he garnered 9 sacks. There are some big names available and some future HOFers, but those guys (Von Miller, Chandler Jones, Justin Houston) might be looking for a more guaranteed shot at a Superbowl. Maybe a riskier move like Jadeveon Clowney or Randy Gregory could be something of interest, although I think a steadier guy like Emmanuel Ogbah to put next to the two interior studs might be more likely.
Finally, another corner might be in order unless they roll it back by resigning CB Xavier Rhodes who stepped back after a big 2020 season. There are a few guys out there that will command big paydays, but maybe Eli Apple will come at a lower price after being named the scapegoat for the late-game SuperBowl heroics by Kupp and Stafford. This is an area of need that will be defined by how the rest of free agency goes. It will also be defined by new DC Gus Bradley who should amp up the pass rush as well. As such, his philosophy more likely might be to focus on spending on the pressure guys up front, and simply holding down the fort in the secondary.
All in all, the team, needs to spend their money on getting some impact players at receiver, tight end and pass rush plus a little more talent at corner. If they could get a longer term answer at left tackle, I think they would invest in that also, but I donâ€™t know if there is such a player on the market. But in any caseâ€¦.there are simply too many holes in this roster for it to be a championship team even if Tom Brady walked in that door tomorrow and said "Sign me up coach!" (and Tampa owns his rights for 2022 anyway). If you look at all the teams that have had impact moves at quarterback, or that have had impact seasons by quarterbacksâ€¦.none of them had a receiving corps that was as paltry as that of the Colts, and all of them walked into a loaded roster. If the Colts really want to do that, they better load up the roster first and stick with Wentz for at least another season. Then if they want to go after one of those studs to put them over the top with a star-studded lineup, they could consider it in 2023 with Wentz off the books and the rest of the roster locked and loaded. We will see how the brain trust chooses to go forwardâ€¦.but I think that an expensive move for a new quarterback will be a colossal mistake with the other glaring deficiencies in the passing game. And having five different starting quarterbacks in the last five seasons is a big part of the lack of continued maturation by this potentially loaded roster.
We will see how everything shakes out when the free agency window opens on March 16 and if the team is still tied to Wentz after March 18. On that latterdate, his $22 million salary is fully guaranteed and he gets a $6.3 million roster bonus; before that date, a release would put them on the hook for "only" $15 million in dead money. Either way, I expect the Colts to be very active in trying to solve a few lingering issues via free agency and hope they do it right without going hog-wild on trying to fix something that was not their biggest issue in 2021.
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