The retirement of Anthony Castonzo has left the Indianapolis Colts in a tough position regarding the state of the left tackle position. While you typically would like to have a high-level player fill this important position, the Colts really can’t afford to spend big at that position at the moment. Currently, the Colts are paying center Ryan Kelly as the highest-paid center in the NFL and in the next two years will also be dealing out major contract extensions for Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith.
With those three all being near locks to be among the highest-paid players at their positions for the near future, the Colts can’t allocate all their resources into just the offensive line. So the solution at left tackle essentially comes down to two options; sign a cheap veteran who can provide average play and/or draft a player to fill that spot. While we will certainly talk about some draftable players for the left tackle position, today’s article will focus on a few cheaper veteran options that the Colts could sign this offseason to at least fill the void at swing tackle for the upcoming season.
Roderick Johnson, OT, Houston Texans
My personal favorite offensive tackle option for the Colts in free agency this offseason is Texans’ tackle Roderick Johnson. Now before you all crucify me for actually suggesting that the Colts sign a tackle from the Texans, hear me out. Johnson, 26, is a veteran offensive tackle who has played 626 snaps for the Texans over the past two seasons. He is a 6’7” 311 pound tackle who was drafted in the 5th round by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft.
While he has had his fair share of struggles in pass protection throughout his career, he shines as a run blocker with his combination of power and athleticism. Similar to when the Colts brought in Jared Veldheer late this past season after Castonzo’s season-ending injury, Johnson could bring an element of power that Castonzo simply never had in the run game. This isn’t criticizing Castonzo in any way but adding a big offensive tackle with the quickness to cut off and then control three-techs on the interior could be huge for this team’s run game.
Reaching the 3-tech with ease on this big run. He's not perfect by any means but I am all for the Colts' bargain bin shopping for a left tackle and bringing Roderick Johnson in to potentially be the guy next year. Fits their offense really well. pic.twitter.com/p1xGCtpcCq— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) January 31, 2021
While his pass blocking has been a bit inconsistent in his career, I do think there is something to work with there. He typically gets into trouble when asked to vertical set which is a pass set that the Colts’ offensive linemen don’t do. In the more aggressive style of pass setting that the Colts’ have, Johnson has had much more success from the film I have seen. He is an aggressor that is much more suited for a scheme that allows him to jump and attack pass rushers off the edge. Despite his struggles in Houston, he only allowed four sacks and six quarterback hits in 403 pass-blocking snaps in his career.
Roderick Johnson proving to all of his truthers back in January 2017 that he was worth a high pick with reps like this pic.twitter.com/JOvBVd3dkZ— Billy M (@BillyM_91) January 5, 2021
Overall I think this is the best option available considering that Johnson is fairly young, a more than solid run blocker, and shouldn’t cost much at all on the open market. The Colts have the ability to hide some of his deficiencies in pass protection much like they did with Braden Smith in 2018 with their scheme and the strength of the other linemen up front. I think overall Johnson would give them an athletic run blocker who can at least hold up in pass protection.
James Hurst, OT, New Orleans Saints
If the Colts want to go the veteran route, they can look at a hometown talent in James Hurst. Hurst— a Danville, Indiana native growing up— is a 30-year-old tackle who has appeared in 90 games in his seven year NFL career. The 6’5” 310 pound tackle originally went undrafted in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Hurst is pretty much a polar opposite from Roderick Johsnon. Where Johnson excels with his athleticism and in the run game, Hurst is more of a pass blocker. He logged 376 snaps last year for the Saints across three different positions and allowed two sacks, zero quarterback hits, and zero hurries on the season according to Pro Football Focus. While he isn’t a nimble or spry athlete, he wins with his power and strength at the point of attack that he uses to control blocks early in the rep.
James Hurst is another free agent option I like for the Colts this year. Not the greatest athlete but he's a big and strong tackle who excels with aggressive sets. Also a Danville, Indiana native pic.twitter.com/uFOKiReHXW— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
Hurst would be as average of a signing as you can get but that is a win when it comes to offensive tackle play. While he may not elevate the run game whatsoever, he would be a sturdy pass blocker that can hold his own on the outside. If the Colts do elect to go with Hurst, I’d hope they’d draft a developmental tackle as well but I do not mind pursuing this veteran Indy native.
Bobby Massie, OT, Chicago Bears (Potential Cut)
While he is still currently under contract with the Chicago Bears, Massie seems to be an obvious cut for the team as they are currently negative in cap space before the offseason fully kicks off. Massie is a 31-year-old tackle who has started 110 games in his NFL career. The 6’6” 325 pound tackle was originally a fourth-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals back in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Massie is a bit closer to Hurst in terms of winning more with his power rather than athleticism. Where he is different though is he has much better length and a bit quicker foot speed than Hurst possesses. Massie would likely be the most expensive player on this list but I doubt he would break the bank at all after an injury-plagued season for the Bears in 2020. In 469 snaps played this year, he allowed three sacks, three quarterback hits, and 10 hurries while grading positively in just about every game he appeared in according to PFF.
Bobby Massie also intrigues me a bit (or Charles Leno Jr, whichever one the Bears cut). The Bears will cut one of their tackles this offseason and smart money is it being Massie. A 6'6" 325 pound tackle with crazy reach. He'd be solid at LT for Indy pic.twitter.com/JeZVLzFXHf— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) February 9, 2021
Massie would be a solid veteran addition to solidify the left side of the offensive line for the Colts in 2021. He is a strong player with good length who has had a mostly positive impact throughout his NFL career.
The biggest point of this entire article is the Colts can and should go cheap at the left tackle position this offseason. I see so many experts and fans alike clamoring for the Colts to sign Trent Williams this offseason. The problem is, Williams is going to get 20+ million dollars a year on the market. Why would the Colts pay that when they were able to get more than capable play from Jared Veldheer off the street to end last season?
The Colts have major needs at DE, CB, and QB this offseason. They can’t afford to attack left tackle aggressively in free agency because they have the pieces to surround an average talent at that spot where they really can’t do the same for those other three needs. The Colts don’t need a Trent Williams type at left tackle, they just can’t have someone as bad as Chaz Green or Le’Raven Clark and they will be fine.
The plan of attack at left tackle should be to sign a stable veteran in free agency, like one of the players listed above, and then draft a tackle in round 1-3. That would give the Colts a promising young player along with a solid veteran where one can start and the other can be the swing tackle. Overall the Colts shouldn’t spend big on a left tackle in the offseason and should save that money for needs at defensive end, cornerback, and maybe even quarterback.