Since the new league year started on March 9, the Colts have lost three starters and added one backup. Though their moves (or lack thereof) are not unexpected, they do open up holes and question marks on the roster: namely in the role of three "starting" spots that have now opened up. What will the Colts do to fill them?
After the Colts re-signed tight end Dwayne Allen and kicker Adam Vinatieri before the new league year started, they promptly lost three starters over the next few days. The first one they lost was safety Dwight Lowery, who on March 9 signed a three-year deal with the San Diego Chargers worth $7.2 million with a $1.5 million signing bonus. Lowery replaces safety Eric Weddle in San Diego in John Pagano's defense, as Weddle signed with the Baltimore Ravens in free agency.
Honestly, the Colts were never going to give Lowery a better deal than the one he got in San Diego, as they signed him to a three-year deal - which, though every contract is to some degree a year-to-year thing in the NFL, gives him some job security. It also pays him an average of $2.4 million per season, which is a nice payday and a raise for the 30-year old safety (he made $950,000 for his one season in Indy). It's a nice deal for Lowery and he should fit in well in San Diego, but it does inevitably leave a hole in the Colts' defense.
Lowery started all 16 games last year, one of just five Colts defenders to do so (along with D'Qwell Jackson, Vontae Davis, Kendall Langford, and David Parry). Not only was he available every week, however, he also played well for the Colts, recording 76 tackles, a sack, nine passes defensed, and four interceptions (returning one for a touchdown). The best thing that Lowery did for the Colts was simple: be reliable. He played every single week and was a steadying presence in the secondary. He wasn't great, but he was definitely a boost and definitely was valuable to the defense last year. It was never even close to certain whether the Colts would re-sign him, and it's unclear whether they even made an effort to. But the reality is that Lowery is now gone, meaning the Colts need to fill his spot.
Thankfully, the Colts knew that with two veterans at safety (Mike Adams and Dwight Lowery) they'd be needing to look for a long-term option, and so they drafted a safety in the fourth round last year. At the safety position, then, the Colts have someone in line ready to step in and replace Lowery in Clayton Geathers. The 23-year old safety out of Central Florida played in 15 games during his rookie season, making two starts. He recorded 34 tackles, a pass defensed, and a fumble recovery during his action in 2015. Mike Adams missed three games in the 2015 season, and during his first missed game, Colt Anderson filled in as the starting safety. Later in the season, however, the role went to Geathers, and he started back-to-back games - in week 11 against the Atlanta Falcons and then in week 12 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He displayed his hard-hitting style and was a force on the field. Chuck Pagano was impressed with the young safety, and said as much after Geathers' first career start.
"I thought Geathers stepping in for Mike had a heck of a ball game," Pagano said on the day following the Falcons game. "He was all over the place, big hits, tipped balls, I mean he was outstanding, special teams. The kid played a really good football game."
"He's a tough, tough, tough dude," Pagano said later in that same press conference. "He played really well, and he prepared really well. He rose up and met the challenge, but he put the time in. He beat everybody here. Every single morning he was with his coaches. We start meetings at 7:30, 8:00. He's in this building 6:30, 7:00 grinding away. The hit he put on (Devonta) Freeman was unbelievable. He shot through there, made plays, forced the interception in the end zone on the second possession after the fumble. He played with a lot of energy, a lot of physicality and a lot of passion. You could just see it after - whether he made a play or somebody else made a play. He brought a lot to our defense yesterday."
The Colts are clearly high on Clayton Geathers, and there's good reason to be as well. So unlike some of the other positions that may be on the roster, the safety spot is one where the Colts have a promising young player ready to step in. The team has other players at safety - Akeem Davis, Winston Guy, and Dezmen Southward - but it's clear that the spot, as of right now, is Geathers' job to lose. Of course, with that comes question marks and uncertainty, as Geathers does have just two career starts and it's unclear how he'll handle a full-time starting job, but at least it doesn't open up a hole that the Colts now need to go fill. Losing Dwight Lowery hurts because of what he did for Indy last year, but the team has Clayton Geathers waiting in line to step up and fill Lowery's place in the lineup next seasons.