“Well, we’d love to see T.Y. back,” Irsay said during his end-of-season press conference on Wednesday. “There’s no question about it. He’s such a great Colt. What a competitor and still has excellent skills and can take over a game.”
However, Irsay also acknowledged the often colder business side of things, where the Colts will look to see what Hilton’s market is and whether it coincides with their fair valuation of him:
“I think the biggest thing at this point in a career for athletes, and you see it all the time, the competitive nature is look, there’s a business side to it. So you want a guy back, but it has to fit into what your view of what the marketplace dictates, what other teams, and where someone’s value falls within the price signs.”
“We love T.Y., and we want him back. It’s just a question of what that means financially, and I know Chris [Ballard] and him will talk with his agent, and we’d love to have T.Y. back. I mean T.Y. is such a major Colt, and really, you think of the great receivers in this franchise’s history, and T.Y.’s just done some of the most remarkable things that all of the greats that you guys know about . . . You’d love to see someone like T.Y. be back because he’s such a good man. He’s such an outstanding football player and a selfless player that you’re just hoping it works out that way, but the market usually dictates that.”
However, Irsay’s ultimate wish is that Hilton remains with the only NFL franchise he’s ever known in 2021, as the former 3rd round pick in 2012 has played all 9 seasons of his standout career in Indianapolis:
“That’s the aspect of free agency, and when it’s all said and done, I’m really hoping that it works out that, and that we, and Chris, can work something out with T.Y. and his agent, and we find a way there because we’re a better football team with T.Y., and we love him as a legacy player and as a present player in that he can help us where we need to go because he’s a great veteran leader and still has plenty of gas left in the tank.”
Hilton is coming off a 2020 season in which he caught 93 receptions for 762 receiving yards (13.6 ypr. avg.) and 5 touchdown receptions during 15 starts.
While he wasn’t quite his old Pro Bowl caliber self, Hilton still proved he can be a productive wideout in this league—who’s fully capable of producing a big play when needed. As a feared deep threat, Hilton may have also been limited a bit by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers’ diminished arm strength downfield—and may have been doubled in coverage more than was actually made apparent this past season. It’s hard to fully know.
Even though Hilton is no longer ‘the undisputed alpha dog’ of the Colts receiver room—as he ages into his early 30’s and may be transitioning to more of a complementary #2 or #3 wideout role, he still can he a solid veteran option for Indianapolis going forward in the short-term.
That being said, the Colts could pursue an upgrade at their #1 wideout spot with the Chicago Bears Allen Robinson, Detroit Lions Kenny Golladay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chris Godwin, and Pittsburgh Steelers JuJu Smith-Schuster among potential imminent free agents—although there’s no guarantee any of them actually escape the franchise tag and hit the open market this offseason (especially in Godwin’s case). [For what it’s worth, Robinson is a preferred Colts’ top free agent priority of mine—and presumably, many other Colts fans].
Nevertheless, the Colts want one of their all-time franchise greats to remain a Colt, as Hilton ranks 3rd in receiving yards (9,360), 4th in receptions (608), and 4th (tied) in receiving touchdowns (50) in career team history respectively.
It’s just a matter of whether the team can make it work with the business side of things too.