Take a quick glance around the internet today at various draft grades and you might begin to notice a trend: people downgrading the Colts' 2015 draft class and citing their failure to add a right tackle as a significant reason why.
ESPN's Mel Kiper said that, "if there's a big gripe," it's the Colts failing to add competition to their tackle or guard spots. Mocking the Draft's Dan Kadar was even more adamant that the Colts should have addressed their right tackle position, writing that, "I don't understand how the Colts can come out of this draft without drafting a right tackle who can push Gosder Cherilus for the starting job."
Clearly, many thought that it was a failure by the Colts not to grab a right tackle. So since many people are downgrading the Colts for that reason, I think it's fitting to actually take a look at the position and examine why the Colts didn't take an offensive lineman period until the second-to-last pick of the entire draft.
Firstly and perhaps most simply, it's because the entire "offensive line is the team's biggest need" talk wasn't and isn't accurate. Currently, the Colts' starting offensive line for 2015 looks like Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, Jack Mewhort at left guard, Khaled Holmes at center, Todd Herremans at right guard, and Gosder Cherilus at right tackle. If that group remains healthy, then it'll likely be the best group that the Colts have put together since Ryan Grigson took over as general manager. And add in the fact that the Colts have players like Joe Reitz, Lance Louis, Ben Heenan, David Arkin, Donald Thomas, Hugh Thornton, Jonotthan Harrison, Ulrick John, and others as depth guys. Obviously not all of them will make the team, but the depth looks solid as well.
So if we're being completely honest, the offensive line (and in particular, right tackle position) weren't as big of needs as many made it out to be before the draft. The main justification for taking an offensive lineman early in the draft would have been for 2016, not 2015. In 2016, Cherilus (30 years old) holds a $9.9 million cap number, while the Colts could save $4.1 million in cap space by cutting him. With a mega-deal for Andrew Luck likely coming next offseason and contract extensions for Anthony Castonzo, T.Y. Hilton, and likely at least one of the tight ends (and maybe both) also needing to be reached after the season, the Colts could use the extra cap space. While we certainly have to wait and see how 2015 goes, it's fair to guess that this might be Cherilus' last season with the Colts, after which they'll need a new starting right tackle.
Of course, there are the injury concerns. Most of the draft "experts" only mentioned Cherilus' poor play and not injury concerns, but in reality that would have been the driving force behind taking a lineman much more than poor play would have been. When adding in the fact that the Colts could have been looking for their right tackle of the future and the fact that they do have legitimate concerns about Cherilus' status, the position was certainly a need - just not as big as many might have led you to believe.
So why didn't the Colts address that need? There are three main options that I see as possibilities why - and no, I don't think saying "they simply failed" is looking deep enough at the reasons. You may disagree with some of the reasons, but I'm sure they had some. Let's try to figure out why that was. Here are three potential reasons why the Colts didn't address their right tackle need:
- The Colts might have been less than thrilled with the talent available. The Colts approached the draft from a talent-first perspective and not from a need-first perspective, and so it's quite possible (and perhaps likely) that the Colts simply didn't like any tackles better than the players the team actually took. I think this definitely played a part in the Colts decision, at least to a degree.
- The Colts' concerns over Cherilus' injury might not be as great as we thought. Gosder Cherilus had an awful 2014 season plagued by injuries, and ever since the season ended Ryan Grigson, Chuck Pagano, and Jim Irsay have been very noncommittal on Cherilus' status, instead taking a wait and see approach. It wasn't hard to tell that there were legitimate questions that the Colts have about their right tackle's status. Perhaps, however, the Colts' draft should indicate that they aren't as concerned about his status? I think this is probably the least likely of the options, but we have to leave it open as a possibility because the Colts know the health status of Cherilus better than anyone else.
- The Colts think they already have the talent to deal with any injuries or poor play from Cherilus. I think this is probably the most likely option. We already mentioned that the Colts appear to have good depth along the offensive line, and that could give the Colts the confidence that they may already have guys capable of stepping in. That was likely at least part of the reason for re-signing Joe Reitz, and they have other players who could fill in at right tackle if need be. It wouldn't be the ideal situation, but it makes the position not as much of a need - at least, not so much so that the Colts would go away from drafting for talent (as we looked at in potential reason number one). Along these lines, the comments of owner Jim Irsay on Saturday are particularly interesting. "We're trying to figure out right tackle,'' Irsay said, per FOX59's Mike Chappell. "We could make an adjustment internally on who's playing where as we go into training camp." Is he referring to Jack Mewhort, who could slide outside to right tackle while someone else fills in at left guard? That's certainly possible, and in fact it might be the most likely option. Whatever the case, however, Irsay seems to reveal that the Colts think they have the people already on the roster who could make up for any questions about Cherilus, at least for 2015.
People will still criticize the Colts for not adding a right tackle, and that's fine. Of course you'd always like the Colts to add more protection for Andrew Luck, as there's not much more important than that. But I also think we must realize that the position wasn't as big of a need as many thought, and there are a number of potential reasons why the Colts didn't address the position. Before we make any judgement on whether that was right or wrong, it's important to at least examine the potential reasons for the decision.