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INDIANAPOLIS – We are two months away from the courtship of free agents beginning, with the new league year officially starting on Wednesday, March 18th.


The Colts will have decisions to make on 12 of their own unrestricted free agents in the coming weeks.


Here’s a 1 to 12 ranking of the importance in each guy returning to the Colts.


1. LT-Anthony Castonzo (31): This is obvious. You could go back several years and Castonzo would likely be No. 1 on any list of free agents the Colts need to bring back. Castonzo is that good of a player, is that reliable and the gap between him and the next left tackle on the roster is probably as wide as any other position on the team. Of course, it’s going to come down to Castonzo and Chris Ballard sitting down this month and figuring out whether or not the left tackle wants to keep playing football.


2. WR-Devin Funchess (25): There’s a major drop from No. 1 to 2 on this list. Castonzo just means that much to this team. In most years, a No. 2 ranking on a team’s unrestricted free agent list would usually lead to a return. But this is not a slam dunk. A collarbone breaking in 5 different places kept Funchess from playing after the ’19 season opener. His return in 2020 makes sense because he’s a unique big-bodied wideout and Frank Reich was a big fan of his last offseason. But this is a two-way street. Does Funchess want to return, to a team where there’s questions at the quarterback position, as opposed to Andrew Luck being here when Funchess signed a 1-year deal last March? Also, maybe the Colts have their eyes on other free agent wideouts, although the 2020 FA group isn’t great.


3. DE-Jabaal Sheard (30): Honestly, I could probably be talked into a few different orders the rest of the way, but I do feel strongly about a short-term deal for Sheard. If the Colts feel they can go out and upgrade at defensive end in free agency, yet still receive a strong early-down presence against the run, then moving on from Sheard is okay. But having that guy who can play on run downs, along with Sheard’s valued leadership, is why he ranks this high. The Colts want to improve their defensive leadership. And while Sheard isn’t the most vocal guy in that area, he is a leader in the example department. The likes of Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu are intriguing pass rushers moving forward, but they still haven’t shown the ability to have a presence on run downs. Wouldn’t a 1 or 2-year deal for Sheard make sense?


4. OL-Joe Haeg (26): The run on offensive linemen begins here with Haeg. All of these returns would be in the backup role. Haeg was the most important reserve offensive lineman for the Colts in 2020. He can play guard or tackle and also was used in jumbo packages. Maybe Haeg wants to look for more of an opportunity to start somewhere else. If not, bringing him back would be wise.


5. OT-Le’Raven Clark (26): Some might disagree with having Clark this high, but the thinking comes with the possibility of Castonzo retiring. If Castonzo retires, Clark would be the only other player on the roster who has started an NFL game at left tackle. The return of Clark wouldn’t be to compete for a starting job. It would be just for depth purposes this offseason.


6. OL-Josh Andrews (28): Andrews was the top interior reserve for the Colts in 2019. If it weren’t for the impressive durability and availability of the Colts offensive line, we probably would have heard more of Andrews’ name this past season. Having Andrews compete for one of those valuable interior reserve spots, perhaps with 2019 seventh round selection Javon Patterson, is something I could see.


7. S-Clayton Geathers (27): For Geathers to sign a third contract with the Colts, a couple of things need to happen. For one, Geathers must be accepting of a reserve role (behind Malik Hooker and Khari Willis). And the Colts must really value the leadership of Geathers, because his on-field role dwindled in 2019. But the defensive leadership is something Ballard wants to have in a better place this year, so that should be in Geathers’ favor.


8. WR-Chester Rogers (26): Let’s not forget that Rogers did give the Colts a nice presence at punt returner, before Nyheim Hines exploded late in the year. Rogers was also needed offensively in the slot, with Parris Campbell battling four different injuries. A return of Rogers, with him in a full-on competition for one of the last wideout spots, isn’t the craziest idea. The Colts need to upgrade at receiver, but some depth for the offseason is important (like we saw last year at this position). The emergence of Hines though makes the need for Rogers far less than it used to be.


9. RB-Jonathan Williams (25): The only reason Williams is this low comes from how fluid a 4th running back is on any NFL roster. Williams had a pair of 100-yard games this past season. He’s shown flashes, but the priority that comes with his role on the 53-man roster isn’t locked in. When everyone is healthy in the Colts running back room, Williams is still unlikely to play offensively.


10. WR-Dontrelle Inman (30): If Inman didn’t want to come back to the Colts last spring, I can’t see mutual interest all of a sudden being there in 2020. Inman joined the Colts in the final month of the season with the team desperate for bodies at wideout. The receiver position needs bolstering this offseason, but it’s hard to see the need to have Inman return.


11. K-Adam Vinatieri (47): Some people (including the Colts?) might see this higher on the list, but it’s not for me. It’s time to close the book on the Colts and Adam Vinatieri’s impressive run. Injuries at the age of 47 are too risky to play with in giving Vinatieri another deal. Also, Chase McLaughlin looked more than competent in his pseudo job interview to end the 2019 season. The Colts have already signed McLaughlin to a new one-year deal. A return of Vinny would just delay the inevitable that is coming one day at kicker.


12. TE-Eric Ebron (26): In case you missed Chris Ballard’s quote about Ebron returning in 2020, here’s a refresher. This marriage did not end well. Ebron’s exit does open up a key role in Frank Reich’s offense though, as the Colts look to complement the freshly extended Jack Doyle.



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