The Colts’ season ended just as it began: in disappointment, frustration, and general helplessness. The team was thoroughly outplayed and outclassed by a drastically more talented Chiefs team, falling 31-13 in a game that was, despite an admirable performance by the defense in the second half, never close. The Colts looked like the 1-5 team they started the season as; they were boring, uninspired, and frankly untalented.
The disappointment in Kansas City falls mainly on the shoulders of the offense, as once again quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t show up in a playoff game and head coach Frank Reich’s gameplan was completely unsuccessful. No receiver other than Dontrelle Inman could get open against a pretty average chiefs secondary, and the offensive line, the key to the Colts’ playoff run, was dominated in the run game by a defensive front that had been the weakness of the Chiefs’ absurdly awful run defense throughout the season.
On Saturday, the Colts looked like a team that wasn’t in the same class as Kansas City or any of the elite NFL teams. But the good news, as every Colts fan knows all too well, is that they shouldn’t be.
As admirable as the team’s 10-1 run this season was, it was pretty clear this team was not a true playoff contender as much as we might have tried to convince ourselves otherwise. The team’s best wins of the season came against a Dallas team with an unusually inept performance by quarterback Dak Prescott, twice against a Houston team with an offensive line that would make the Grigson/Pagano Colts proud, and twice against a Tennessee team starting quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert, who’s proven to be terrible, and Marcus Mariota, who Tennessee should and presumably will be looking to replace in the next couple of years.
All of that’s to say that their divisional round loss must be put in the right context. As admirable as their run was, the Colts were lucky to make the playoffs (thanks to the easiest schedule of the past three seasons) and were lucky to be placed against a Houston team that they were extremely comfortable with.
But while the Colts’ success this season can be seen — to some degree — as a fluke, the foundation they were able to lay this season is something to be incredibly excited about going forward. The post-Grigson rebuild is over for all intents and purposes. GM Chris Ballard has put together a young core that’s only going to get better, has extra picks in the second and likely fourth round from the Sam Darnold trade and the Donte Moncrief signing respectively, and has $100+ million in cap space that he could and absolutely should use recklessly before it comes time to pay Luck and the young studs from the 2017 and 2018 draft classes in a few years.
This team has all the makings of a team that will be ready to truly compete in the playoffs as soon as next year, despite an absolutely brutal road schedule. This is a critical off-season for Ballard and company because if they take advantage of the plethora of resources at their disposal, those Super Bowl dreams fans had at times this season will not be far-fetched.
So what exactly must the team do in the off-season? Let’s dive in, position by position, as the off-season ramps up in the next few months.
Note: UFA denotes an unrestricted free agent, RFA denotes a restricted free agent, and ERFA designates an Exclusive Rights Free Agent.
On Roster: Malik Hooker, George Odum, Ahmad Thomas
Free Agents: Clayton Geathers (UFA), Mathias Farley (RFA), Mike Mitchell (UFA), J.J. Wilcox (UFA)
What They Have:
Malik Hooker, despite not putting up the interceptions he did his rookie year, played as well as one could hope he would, considering he was not at 100% coming off of last year’s torn ACL. He helped the Colts’ “bend don’t break” defense hold up, as the defense gave up the 4th fewest big plays in the league with 61. Hooker should be primed for an even better junior season, one where he is fully healthy and hopefully playing with an even better team around him.
At strong safety, Clayton Geathers had a Geathers-esque season, playing very well when healthy and not being healthy all that often. When he was hurt, rookie George Odum was mostly dreadful, while J.J. Wilcox was somehow even worse. The only bright spot came with Mike Mitchell, who performed incredibly well when Geathers couldn’t go before going out with his own injury.
What They Need:
Geathers is obviously the big question mark. He and Matthias Farley, who went on injury reserve early in the season, simply cannot be relied upon as 16 game starters going forward, though both, as of late, have played very well when healthy. I can see the team bringing both or either of them back, but either way they must add some starting level talent; they simply cannot allow Odum/Wilcox caliber players to get playing time.
Landon Collins is the big name at safety in free agency and would certainly be a massive addition and worth the possible, if not likely, over-payment that they would have to give to get him. If they go for someone cheaper, former Charger Adrian Phillips makes a ton of sense as a versatile SS who helped make the Charger’s seven DB package work against Baltimore’s run-heavy offense, even if it blew up in their face the next week in New England.
On Roster: Rigoberto Sanchez
Free Agents: Adam Vinatieri (UFA), Luke Rhodes (ERFA), Corey Moore (RFA)
What They Have:
Rigoberto Sanchez is a very good punter, and that’s all I have to say about that. Adam Vinatieri is certainly in the twilight of his career, but it sounds like he wants to come back next season, and I’m OK with giving him one more year. Luke Rhodes, from my admittedly limited knowledge of the intricacies of long snapping, seems like a quality contributor and someone I expect the team to retain. Corey Moore is technically a strong safety but is primarily a special teams player and seemed to do a good job last season.
What They Need: Continuity!
What do you think of the Colts’ roster as a whole? What player would you most like to add in free agency? What position is in the most need of talent? Leave a comment or hit me up on Twitter, @__AlexJacobson.