Colts GM Chris Ballard said in his end-of-the-season press conference that the staff will spend all of January evaluating every aspect of the team. They’ll examine coaches, players, and staff. No process or methods will be left unexplored or unquestioned. After that evaluation process concludes, there will be decisions made about a number of things to start off the offseason.
One of those key areas is in determining which of their free agent players will be re-signed and which they’ll allow to test the free agent market. The Colts have several 2019 starters who will become unrestricted free agents as of 4pm on March 18th.
It would not be surprising if none of these players were with the team in 2020. Let’s take a look at them:
This one is a no-brainer, but it could also very well be out of the Colts’ hands. Castonzo has been a very good left tackle for the Colts and one of the more underrated players on the offense in his time in Indianapolis. There is no doubt that the Colts want Castonzo back, and they won’t be afraid to pay him in a league where finding a starting caliber left tackle is often nearly as elusive as finding a franchise quarterback.
Unfortunately, simply throwing money at him is no guarantee of being able to re-sign Castonzo. He stated his intentions at the end of this season to do some soul searching before determining whether he would play another season or opt to retire. Losing both Andrew Luck and Anthony Castonzo in back-to-back seasons would be a major blow, and this is one situation to watch very closely, because it will certainly impact how the Colts approach free agency and the draft.
The Colts have several areas on defense where they need to improve, and their defensive line still needs a good deal of work. Jabaal Sheard has been a valuable free agent acquisition and has been great playing defensive end over the past three seasons. During Chris Ballard’s time as GM the defense has seen a ton of turnover, and is now skewed younger than ever. That has made Sheard’s veteran leadership up front even more important.
While Sheard hasn’t solved the Colts’ pass rush woes, he has made an impact there, notching 15.5 sacks in his 3 seasons with the team. His real impact has been in the run game. Sheard excels in setting the edge against the run and has been particularly impactful there in Matt Eberflus’ defense.
With Chris Ballard speaking specifically about how he may have overestimated the team’s ability to deal with the loss of older veterans to provide leadership ahead of 2019, don’t be surprised if they re-sign Jabaal Sheard. Though he isn’t a statistical leader of the defense, he is a bit of an unsung hero in the same way that Anthony Castonzo is for the offensive line. In my opinion, it is a coin flip as to whether Sheard is a Colt in 2020.
The emergence of rookie Khari Willis as well as the continually improving play of George Odum have really proven to solidify the safety position in a way that is really encouraging. While that is great for the depth on defense and the future of the defense, it is bad news for a player like Clayton Geathers. Despite being a returning starter and team captain, Geathers saw his snaps reduced significantly from last year, as well as an uptick in special teams work.
Given his injury history, physical limitations, and decline in his overall effectiveness, it seems likely that we’ve seen the last of Clayton Geathers. However, the same caveat exists for Geathers as for Sheard. If he can make himself a factor on special teams and still be a value to the team in a limited capacity on defense while providing his level of leadership in a very young defensive backfield, the Colts may decide to stick with him on a reasonable deal.
It is tough to think of a player so disliked by Colts fans as Chester Rogers. The guy has done well for himself, transforming from undrafted free agent receiver to a reliable (if somewhat underwhelming) starting NFL receiver and punt returner.
The expectations for most undrafted free agents have been far exceeded by Rogers, and while he hasn’t been enough to meet the team’s many needs, “Chester from Grambling” has been a reliable placeholder and has come up in big spots on occasion.
Unfortunately for Rogers, he is likely going to fall victim to the team’s need to fully overhaul the receiver position in the offseason. With a completely impotent passing game, the Colts will need to surround whoever is throwing the football with greater talent, and that puts Rogers on the outs. What’s more, Nyheim Hines looked far more electric as a punt returner when he stepped in after Rogers’ injury. That likely undercuts the only other real way Rogers might have expected to continue contributing to the team.
Funchess is in an odd position. A freak injury knocked him out for the season, and the Colts clearly felt he gave them something of value. He would certainly have been a starter if he had been healthy, but his return depends on a lot.
To begin with, Funchess signed with the Colts to play with Andrew Luck. He may not be as keen to re-up with the team as they try to figure out their quarterback situation. With the kind of changes likely ahead of this wide receiver room, it is tough to say whether they opt to re-sign Funchess, or if they pursue someone else in free agency while primarily looking to the draft to fill their needs.
Adam Vinatieri and Eric Ebron
Both of these guys started for the team in 2019, but it would be shocking to see either wearing Colts blue in 2020. Adam Vinatieri had his worst season by far, and his poor kicking cost the Colts several games in a season marked by close ones. At 47 years old, it is hard to see him doing anything other than hanging up his cleats, but with Chase McLaughlin signed, it seems as though the Colts are moving on.
As to Ebron, who surprised the team by opting to have surgery on both ankles midway through the season despite never appearing on an injury report, Chris Ballard put any thought of his return to rest at his press conference.
“We’ll probably move on,” is probably about as direct and to the point as Ballard could make it when asked if they would bring Ebron back, and given the tone and manner of delivery, it seems that it wasn’t a tough call to make.