INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As the NFL moves closer to the next significant date on its calendar, it’s worth reviewing where the Indianapolis Colts stand in terms of reshaping a roster that must rebound from last year’s riches-to-rags performance.
That significant date, by the way, is March 18. That’s the start of the new league year and the first day veteran free agents are allowed to sign with new teams. Free-agents-to-be are allowed to negotiate with another team beginning March 16, although nothing can be finalized until two days later.
We expect Chris Ballard to be active on the open market, but also expect him to follow the blueprint that’s been in place since he took over as general manager in January 2017. Look for him to consider the high-profile/high-priced talent, but resist the urge. Look for him to bide his time while others invest ridiculous money in another team’s castoff, then find more reasonable alternatives.
You can agree with that approach or not. But until Ballard proves otherwise, we’re anticipating another round of selective shopping even though the Colts once again head into free agency with tons of space under the salary cap – more than $126 million, including rollover from 2019 – and an owner more than willing to pay premium prices for risky talent.
Before Ballard, Frank Reich and their personnel staff determine which free agents to pursue, they must decide which of their own merit re-signing. If they truly value any of their own, they’ll wrap up Player A before he hits the open market.
That’s been the case the last three years with Jack Doyle, Adam Vinatieri (twice), Mark Glowinski, Margus Hunt, Pierre Desir and a few others.
Of the dozen Colts whose contracts expire March 18, Priority 1 is Anthony Castonzo. The veteran left tackle informed Ballard last month he planned on putting off retirement for at least another year and return for a 10th season.
“Brought a big ol’ smile to my face,’’ Ballard said during the NFL Scouting Combine. “We are in the process of working on that right now.’’
“I think he had the best year of his career last year and very excited to have him back,’’ Reich said.
A rundown of the Colts’ pending unrestricted free agents. By the way, there are three who will be restricted (cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun, defensive tackle Trevon Coley and wideout Marcus Johnson):
Experience: 9 seasons, 140 starts, including the postseason.
Comment: Castonzo’s decision to return alleviates what would have been one massive offseason migraine. Now, Ballard doesn’t have to find a left tackle in free agency (good ones seldom hit the market) or the draft (they’re there, but this is no longer an area of immediate need). Of course now, he must pony up for Castonzo. We’re thinking a short-team deal that reflects a year-to-year approach, and we’re thinking something that pays Castonzo $14-15 million in 2020.
Experience: 24 seasons, 397 games overall.
Comment: The Colts have signed Vinatieri to six contracts since 2006, including two offered by Ballard, but it might be time for each side to move on. Not only is Vinatieri in rehab mode following surgery on his left knee that contributed to the worst season of his career, but he’s 47. The Colts also signed rookie Chase McLaughlin to a one-year deal in January. This will be a tough move for Ballard and owner Jim Irsay, but it’s probably a necessary one.
Experience: 9 seasons, 141 games, including 105 starts.
Comment: We believe this is a tough call for Ballard. Sheard doesn’t fit the ideal profile – he turns 31 in May – but offers invaluable locker room leadership. And by the way, he’s the type of blue-collar player the team values.
Experience: 6 seasons, 87 games, including 50 starts.
Comment: No chance he returns. Zero. None.
Experience: 5 seasons, 66 games, 45 starts.
Comment: This one could be interesting. Ballard and Reich clearly believed Funchess was worth signing last offseason to a one-year, $10 million contract. How do they feel after a broken collarbone limited him to three quarters in 2019? Remember, he’s yet to hit his prime and is an imposing 6-4, 225 pounds. But does Funchess even want to return now that Jacoby Brissett (or someone else) is under center, and not Andrew Luck?
Experience: 5 seasons, 58 games, 36 starts.
Comment: The 2015 fourth-round draft pick would represent another veteran voice in the locker room, but undoubtedly be seen as a backup, not a potential starter. Iffy return at best.
Experience: 4 seasons, 57 games, 35 starts.
Comment: Ballard is bullish on proven depth along the offensive line, and Haeg provides that with the ability to play all five spots. The issue might hinge on whether Haeg is willing to be the sixth wheel for an o-line that returns all five starters, or wants to search for an opportunity to start elsewhere.
Experience: 4 seasons, 35 games, 12 starts.
Comment: We’re not going to causally jettison Clark even though he was on the field for exactly zero snaps last season. He provides depth until a younger option is acquired.
Experience: 6 seasons, 64 games, 35 starts.
Comment: He provided a much-needed boost when injuries decimated the position in 2018. The Colts didn’t get similar production last year. It’s time to move on.
Experience: 4 seasons, 23 games, 1 start.
Comment: Williams was a great story last season when he stepped in with a pair of 100-yard games while Marlon Mack was dealing with his fractured hand. He could be re-signed to provide depth at a deep position, or Ballard might look for a younger option late in the draft.
Experience: 5 seasons, 25 games.
Comment: If Andrews returns, it will be at the Colts’ price.
Experience: 4 seasons, 55 games, 23 starts.
Comment: The Colts must upgrade their wideout room, but probably will do so through free agency and the draft. Rogers’ possible return took a hit when Nyheim Hines emerged as a serious punt returner.