According to ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, the Indianapolis Colts have had the NFL’s 14th best offseason after the blockbuster trade for former Philadelphia Eagles franchise quarterback Carson Wentz headlined their acquisitions:
14. Indianapolis Colts
What went right: Indy was able to buy low on a guy who was perceived to be a top-10 quarterback in many circles two years ago by sending a third-round pick and a potential first-rounder in 2022 to the Eagles for Carson Wentz. Frank Reich will need to essentially rebuild Wentz from the ground up after the former MVP candidate collapsed in 2020, but the Colts should be able to support Wentz with much better offensive line play than what we saw last season in Philly.
What went wrong: Both quarterback Philip Rivers and left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired, leaving the Colts in need of replacements at two of the most important positions in football. Wentz cost the franchise two draft picks, while Castonzo will be replaced on a one-year deal by Eric Fisher, who tore his Achilles in January and might not be ready to start the season. Indy also appears set to move on from Justin Houston, who was its primary pass-rusher on the edge; while it used a first-round pick on end Kwity Paye, there’s nobody with a long track record of success rushing the passer on this roster besides DeForest Buckner.
The Colts also re-signed two players who might have outlived their usefulness on the roster. Marlon Mack’s future with the team seemed in question last season when it drafted Jonathan Taylor, and that was before Mack tore his Achilles. His one-year, $2 million deal seems unnecessary for a player who doesn’t catch passes or play special teams. T.Y. Hilton is a Colts legend, but at one year and nearly $9 million, he’ll make more than guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster for 2021. General manager Chris Ballard has earned the benefit of the doubt over the past few years, but this is nearly $11 million the team could have used elsewhere.
What they could have done differently: Was Fisher the right choice at left tackle? Given the injury and the short-term nature of the deal, I wonder whether the Colts might have instead looked at Alejandro Villanueva as their veteran solution on Wentz’s blindside. They are pretty picky about who they target from outside the organization and place a heavy emphasis on character, but it’s difficult to imagine Indy finding many faults with the former Army captain.
What’s left to do: It’s contract extension time for Ballard’s dazzling top two picks from 2018. Quenton Nelson is about to become the highest-paid guard in football, and Darius Leonard won’t be far off among off-ball linebackers. If they each sign four-year extensions, Leonard could take home $64 million on his new deal, while Nelson could be up with approximately $70 million.
For the most part, I think Barnwell gets it pretty right for a national NFL writer—particularly on Carson Wentz, as well as the Colts current lack of proven edge rushers, as they’re clearly relying on a ‘youth movement’ at a pivotal defensive position.
The Colts will need a big rookie season from 2021 first rounder Kwity Paye, as well as other young defensive ends such as Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Ben Banogu, and second rounder Dayo Odeyingbo to step up when called upon in key roles.
However, I think there are a few things to still nitpick about.
Namely, the Colts re-signing either T.Y. Hilton or Marlon Mack to slightly more than their market value is a non-issue. These are homegrown veterans that the Colts have developed, and the organization knows how each player conducts himself both on and off the field. If that means paying a little extra to keep valuable leaders (and mentors to younger players) in their close-knit locker room, so be it. Both players can still be pretty productive, particularly in Hilton’s case (without any major lingering injury clouding his 2021 campaign).
My issue with wide receiver isn’t that the Colts re-signed Hilton either, but rather if enough was done in addition to re-signing the longtime veteran (and all-time franchise great). The only notable offseason addition at the position was 7th round rookie Mike Strachan. This is a unit that lacked some ‘juice’ down the stretch.
The Colts will need Hilton to find a career renaissance with the stronger armed Wentz behind center—reclaiming his title as one of the league’s top deep threats, while Indy will also hope Michael Pittman Jr. can make a significant sophomore leap. Seeing speedy wideout Parris Campbell finally stay healthy would certainly help in the firepower department and the unit’s overall big play ability.
It’s also peculiar a bit to me that Barnwell suggested former Pittsburgh Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva as a potential upgrade over Eric Fisher. Maybe he’s simply worried about Fisher’s initial availability coming off a late season torn Achilles, but when healthy and going right, Fisher is the better player, superior athlete, and is also two years younger.
Lastly, despite mentioning both Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard’s looming mega-extensions, Barnwell makes no notice of ascending star right tackle Braden Smith’s—which will be lucrative in its own right.
Like I said, I think the ranking was overall fine, but there were a few ‘sticking points’ for me.