According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the Indianapolis Colts had the NFL’s 4th best offseason—highlighted by the signing of veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers and the acquisition of All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner:
4. Indianapolis Colts
What went right: Indy upgraded at arguably the two most important positions on its roster. At quarterback, it found a short-term replacement for Andrew Luck by signing Philip Rivers, who will move Jacoby Brissett back into the No. 2 role. The Colts still need to find their quarterback of the future — I’m not sure fourth-round pick Jacob Eason is that guy — but Rivers can flourish behind an effective offensive line after spending last season playing behind turnstiles at tackle. They also were able to convince star left tackle Anthony Castonzo to put off retirement for a two-year, $33 million deal.
Our Mike Clay pegged the upgrade from Margus Hunt to former 49ers star DeForest Buckner at defensive tackle as the largest any team made at any position this offseason. The trade for Buckner gives the Colts a two-way superstar in the prime of his career.
What went wrong: The Buckner trade was expensive for the Colts, who shipped off the 13th pick while handing the former Oregon star a four-year, $84 million deal with $56.4 million due over the next three seasons. Sacrificing the surplus value of the first-round pick and tacking it onto Buckner’s contract means they realistically paid north of $25 million or so per season for the interior disrupter. It’s still a defensible move, but he has to play like a superstar for this one to work.
I would have liked to see Indy further address its secondary, which shed a pair of starters in Pierre Desir and Clayton Geathers. The team signed journeyman corner T.J. Carrie and took a flier on Xavier Rhodes, but third-round pick Julian Blackmon tore his ACL in December and isn’t likely to make an immediate impact at safety. General manager Chris Ballard tried to address the secondary in his first draft, but 2017 first-round pick Malik Hooker has struggled to stay healthy and saw his fifth-year option declined last month, while second-rounder Quincy Wilson was shipped off to the Jets. It’s a position the Colts will have to address next offseason.
What they could have done differently: In addition to going after a veteran cornerback, the Colts should have added more offensive line depth. Each of their five starting linemen made it through all 16 games last season, which is difficult to count on as a going concern. They lost utility lineman Joe Haeg to the Bucs, and the only lineman they added to the mix was fifth-round pick Danny Pinter, who was a tight end at Ball State before moving to tackle for his final two years. Le’Raven Clark will be the swing tackle, but the Colts could use a primary backup on the interior.
What’s left to do: Re-sign Ryan Kelly. Indy’s excellent center is approaching free agency, and while injuries have been a concern, this team should keep its offensive line together by locking up the last first-round pick of the Ryan Grigson era. Kelly could become the first center in football to top $12 million per season on a multiyear deal.
Was it perfect? Probably not quite.
The Colts could still have some issues at starting outside cornerback—should veteran Xavier Rhodes continue to regress (and 2nd-year corner Marvell Tell prove to be unready), and the team lacks established offensive line depth as a whole. Additionally, which wasn’t mentioned, but the Colts also don’t have a clear internal replacement to fill in for departed free agent Jabaal Sheard as a starter along their defensive line.
That being said, the Colts had two huge acquisitions: Rivers and Buckner, and the team also added two top offensive rookies: wideout Michael Pittman Jr. and running back Jonathan Taylor as dynamic playmakers to help generate more big plays and ultimately, score more points than last season.
As Barnwell alludes to, the only thing potentially left for the Colts this offseason is re-signing Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly to a multi-year extension—who’s a Top 5 NFL center and could become the highest paid player in football at his position. Colts head coach Frank Reich called Kelly ‘the alpha dog’ anchor earlier this week for one of the league’s best offensive lines—and for a unit that started all 16 games together last season.
From this offseason, the Colts should be one of the most improved teams in the league and could potentially become a rising AFC contender—but they still have to earn it on the field.