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INDIANAPOLISThe goal is to have Michael Pittman Jr. remain a Colt.

How that exactly looks though remains to be seen.

Chris Ballard has long praised what Pittman Jr. brings to the Colts, and that was backed up in 2023 by the wide receiver himself.

In a year the Colts really couldn’t rely on any other consistent skill guys, Pittman Jr. gave the Colts reliability.

Pittman Jr. ended his contract year with 109 catches for 1,152, while continuing to stand for so much of what the Colts want to be about.

“I care deeply about (Pittman Jr.),” Ballard said at end of season press conference. “We have a really good relationship. It’s an honest one – almost too honest I think sometimes. But that’s what I love about him. The guy is competitive. He’s tough. He cares. He wants to win.

“We’re going to work to get him back. We’ll work through that…Pitt is a good football player for us and hopefully he still remains a Colt.”

As February arrives, the big date to watch comes on Tuesday the 20th, as that is the first day the Colts can apply the franchise tag to Pittman Jr.

That goes back to the “how” this situation plays out, as the Colts clearly have a desire to retain their top wideout.

From February 20th to March 5th, the Colts will have a two-week window to apply the tag to Pittman Jr., before free agency begins on March 13th.

Tagging Pittman Jr. would give him a one-year contract in the expected range of $21 million. The Colts would then have several months to try and forge out a long-term deal with Pittman Jr. If the two sides would be unable to reach such a deal, it’s anyone’s guess as to if we could see another awkward training camp situation, a la Jonathan Taylor this past year.

“As of right now until March whatever, I’m still a Colt,” Pittman Jr. said at the end of the 2023 season. “But speaking to the contract stuff…I loved my four years here, but I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence if I didn’t explore every option and find the best fit.”

“I think we want to get a sense of what’s out there before. We kind of had an agreement that we were going to wait until the season ended and kind of feel it out. There really haven’t been any contract negotiations or offers just because we felt like it wasn’t the right time.”

While some fans might be turned off by hearing those comments from Pittman Jr, the Colts are still in the first power of control thanks to the franchise tag.

Satisfying the long-term question though remains the biggest hurdle, as major wide receiver money continues to skyrocket.

But there’s no denying that both parties liked how an attention-filled contract year went.

“I feel like Shane (Steichen) really had confidence in me as a player,” Pittman Jr. said of his ’23 campaign. “They just leaned on me at times and that’s pretty much what I’ve wanted my whole career – just to be that guy that’s leaned on and that can carry you through.”

The Steichen element is a key, and new, ingredient in all of this.

Certainly, the head coach, the play caller and the biggest offensive voice in the Colts building is going to have some strong say in how the Colts view Pittman Jr. moving forward.

“He was big for us,” Steichen said of Pittman Jr. at the end of the year. “What he did week in and week out, the numbers he put up, the consistency he played with, the toughness that he played with – I’ve got a ton of respect for him as a football player.

“He’s meant a lot to this organization and a lot to this city.”

The words are adding up to the Colts wanting Pittman Jr. back.

And now we are about to see the actions play out.

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