INDIANAPOLIS – There has not been an in-house free agent class in the seven-year Chris Ballard era that has had as much notoriety as this one in 2024.
With that, brings difficulty in finding enough cap space to bring back many of these names below, even with the Colts having north of $70 million in cap room this offseason.
Let’s rank the tiers of free agents by placing guys in the green (should look to bring back), yellow (could go either way) and red (no need to bring back):
Green (darker green to lighter green)
- WR-Michael Pittman Jr. (Age: 26): With Anthony Richardson’s continued development and support the top off-season focus, MPJ tops this list. He’s the most important free agent to bring back, and that’s saying something in a year with so many deserved in-house FAs. Pittman is too dependable and consistent at a position that directly impacts Richardson.
- CB-Kenny Moore (Age: 28): In a pass-happy league with the Colts playing much better QBs next season, a versatile guy like Moore continues to be important. Bouncing back from a 2022 season to forget, Moore was much closer to his old self this past season. Plus, the Colts have no serious young nickel cornerback option on the roster for Moore to pass the torch to in 2024.
- DT-Grover Stewart (Age: 30): Whenever a guy reaches the age of 30, their long-term future is going to be heavily debated. I still think Stewart has some quality football left in him though. And we saw how the Colts run defense tried to patch up the loss of Stewart for 6 games this past season. If the Colts saw more from Eric Johnson II during that stretch, maybe Stewart would be a tad more expendable. Stewart has started the last 61 games he’s played in, missing only the 6 games due to his suspension during that span.
- S-Julian Blackmon (Age: 25): It’s hard to pick a definite order/ranking of Moore, Stewart and Blackmon. But the injury history for Blackmon and the fact that the Colts do have a couple of other (unproven) drafted safeties is why I put him third on this list. Still though, just pop in film of the season finale loss to the Texans if you forget what Blackmon brings to the Colts defense. Blackmon has missed 18 games in 4 years, and that can’t be ignored. When healthy though, he’s a key and versatile playmaker and communicator. The Colts would be very wise to try and bring back Blackmon.
- DL-Tyquan Lewis (Age: 29): The names above, I’m standing on a table for. Lewis is a guy I’d stand on a chair for. After years of devastating injuries, Lewis played in all 17 games this past season. This marked just the 2nd time in Lewis’ 6 NFL years in which he played double-digit games in a season. Per usual, Lewis was a productive and versatile defensive line piece. Lewis had torn his patellar in the month of October in each of the last two seasons. Late in the season, the Colts were actually putting Lewis on the field in some of their 4-man rush packages, moving Kwity Paye to the bench.
- P-Rigoberto Sanchez (Age: 29): We will round out the “should bring back’ group with the long-term Colts punter. Sanchez returned from an August 2022 torn Achilles to punt all season for the Colts. Sanchez ended the season with a career-best net punting average of 42.8 yards per punt. Amazingly, Sanchez did not have a single touchback in 68 punts last year.
Yellow (darker yellow to lighter yellow)
- QB-Gardner Minshew (Age: 27): Backup quarterback is a definite need for the Colts in 2024. But bringing back Minshew (for both parties) is not a slam dunk. Minshew is likely to garner more realistic playing time chances elsewhere. And if the Colts want him back, he’s going to come at a pretty hefty backup QB price.
- RB-Zack Moss (Age: 26): In a similar manner to Minshew, there are reasons for the Colts to want Moss back, but this is a two-way street in free agency. There’s no denying Moss had a really nice contract year. The problem for him in gauging a free agent market is he plays a position that teams don’t put a ton of value on, and this 2024 free agency class at running back has several pretty accomplished guys. Jonathan Taylor is the obvious bell cow, so how Moss views a future in Indy will have some impact, too. The Colts could try and save a little money at QB2 and RB2 by moving on from Minshew and Moss.
- OL-Danny Pinter (Age: 27): I view a Pinter return similar to giving a Jack Mewhort or a Tyquan Lewis another one-year chance to prove they can stay healthy. A broken ankle back in August ended the final year of Pinter’s rookie contract. The Ball State product has made 7 total starts in 3 years with the Colts. Pinter trained around the team throughout his rehab. A 2020 fifth-round pick, Pinter could certainly be back to compete for a roster spot as an interior depth piece.
- DE-Genard Avery (Age: 28): An August injury also ended Avery’s season, with him going on injured reserve in the preseason. Avery has played 62 career games. During the 2023 training camp, Avery flashed a bit and looked to have a potential roster spot, so that’s why he creeps into the “yellow” category.
Red (darker red to lighter red)
- DE-Jake Martin (Age: 27): Martin played in all 17 games for the Colts this past season, finishing the year with 2.0 sacks and 7 tackles in 191 defensive snaps. Rotation along the defensive line is something that could keep Martin in the mix.
- WR-Isaiah McKenzie (Age: 28): Suspended for the final 3 games of the regular season, McKenzie heads to free agency after having a pretty limited role with the Colts. McKenzie was mainly a returner for Indy, catching just 11 balls for 82 yards in 117 offensive snaps (across 14 games).
- WR-Juwann Winfree (Age: 27): The Colts used Winfree in 9 games, playing 21 offensive snaps and 75 special teams snaps. Indianapolis never realty settled on a consistent 3rd wideout (after the Ashton Dulin season-ending injury) behind Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce.
- DT-Taven Bryan (Age: 27): With the Grover Stewart suspension, the Colts actually relied on Bryan for 7 starts in playing all 17 games. Bryan had 22 total tackles and 2.0 sacks in his 343 defensive snaps. Bryan joined the Colts on a one-year deal he had made 33 career starts with Jacksonville and Cleveland.
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