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Offseason Primer: Colts Have Ample Cap Space, But Need to Find Long-Term Answers at Several Key Positions

NFL: AFC Wild Card Round-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts suffered a disappointing loss to the Buffalo Bills during the wild card round of the NFL playoffs, as the team came close—with a chance to win or tie with possession of the football in the closing seconds—but couldn’t quite complete the spirited comeback effort, falling 27-24 on Saturday.

Despite their season having ended earlier than Indianapolis would’ve hoped for, it’s one that saw the Colts finish 11-5 and return to the playoffs just two years after franchise quarterback Andrew Luck shockingly retired—which would’ve likely sent other less well run or leadership-less NFL franchises into a complete tailspin.

Instead, the Colts had a fairly successful season—even if the franchise came short of its ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl championship.

Indianapolis was a well-rounded, pretty good AFC team—even if they weren’t a great one. While not a top AFC contender, being a complete team, the Colts had a chance to make a little noise in the postseason and could win against anyone in a single elimination game.

The Colts remain stocked with young talent on both sides of the football. With a projected $58.3M of cap space for the 2021 offseason and currently, the 21st overall pick, the franchise has the means to continue to add talent to their already impressive core too.

That being said, the Colts face long-term issues at several key positions—which aren’t always the easiest to fill either:

  • Quarterback: Philip Rivers, 39 years old (2021 free agent)
  • Wide Receiver: T.Y. Hilton, 31 years old (2021 free agent)
  • Defensive End: Justin Houston, 31 years old (2021 free agent)
  • Left Tackle: Anthony Castonzo, 32 years old (2022 free agent, but previously has seriously contemplated retirement)
  • Cornerback: Xavier Rhodes, 30 years old (2021 free agent)

There’s also a number of other 2021 free agents to think about:

  • Anthony Walker, LB
  • Denico Autry, DE
  • T.J. Carrie, CB
  • Marlon Mack, RB
  • Malik Hooker, S
  • Trey Burton, TE

The biggest question for the Colts will be what they want to do at quarterback, and the rest will presumably fall into place. Rivers played pretty well for the Colts—all things considered, and could very well be back for his ‘swan song’ in 2021.

When properly protected in the passing game and complemented with a running game, Rivers was one of the better starting quarterbacks in football—even if he does come with some of his veteran limitations (including diminished arm strength and a lack of mobility).

However, even if Rivers does return for a final season, the Colts may have to look into grooming a rookie behind him for a year in 2021 (as backup Jacob Eason remains a lottery ticket)—before having the top rookie fully assume the starting role ahead of the 2022 season.

The Colts could also pursue a high profile trade for the likes of a theoretical veteran starting quarterback upgrade over Rivers such as Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, or Carson Wentz if potentially available—in the hopes of getting younger and more dynamic, but there’s no guarantee right now of who or what will be actually available and at what exorbitant cost to the Colts.

In some regards, Colts general manager Chris Ballard’s offseason to-do list is presumably envious to other league GMs given his salary cap flexibility, already budding roster, and a team owner willing to spend cash, but in other ways, not so much, when factoring in the other critical positions that he still has to fill long-term (especially at starting quarterback).