INDIANAPOLIS – The draft is over, but Chris Ballard still has an important decision to make by next Monday (May 4th).
During draft week we saw the name of Malik Hooker floated around as a possible trade candidate.
Now, the Colts must decide whether or not to pick up the 5th year rookie option on Hooker’s contract, which would keep him under team security through the 2021 season.
If the Colts decide not to exercise Monday’s option, Hooker would be an unrestricted free agent next March.
That would place Hooker in a (motivated) contract year here in 2020.
Even though Hooker’s first three seasons have not brought the return of his pick value (No. 15 overall in 2017), there’s still some evidence pointing to picking up that, relatively, affordable 5th year option.
For one, the Colts do not have a ton of proven safety depth on their roster.
The team is extremely high on Khari Willis heading into his second year. The full expectation is Willis will start next to Hooker in 2020, with Clayton Geathers no longer on the roster.
Behind a starting duo of Hooker and Willis are former undrafted free agents in George Odum and Rolan Milligan, who have combined for 3 career starts, mostly playing in sub package roles. Willis, Odum and Miligan have combined to play just 4 total seasons in the NFL.
The Colts did draft one safety in 2020, however Julian Blackmon (3rd round pick, 85th overall) doesn’t appear to have the direct same skillset as Hooker. And Blackmon could be headed for a redshirt start to the 2020 season after tearing his ACL last December. Blackmon’s ideal role in the NFL appears to be more of a versatile defensive back moving all over the defense, and not as the centerfield type that Hooker brings as a strength.
Although Ballard mentioned during the draft process that he thinks Blackmon is a ‘legitimate free safety’ in the NFL.
Injuries, questions about scheme fit and concerns over consistent impact have led to indecision on Hooker’s future with the Colts, he still is a 24-year-old rangy safety who has shown playmaking, with improved health.
Hooker ranks in the top 5 of all NFL safeties in interceptions per game (7 picks in 34 games) since entering the league in 2017.
After tearing his ACL as a rookie, Hooker has played in 13 and 14 games each of the last two seasons.
The Colts used Hooker more around the line of scrimmage in 2019, but the staff was disappointed by how he ended last year.
“Malik was solid,” Ballard said at the end of the 2019 season. “Wouldn’t say he was great.
“He had some moments of being really good. And I thought he tailed off a little bit there at the end.”
Quarterbacks had a high completion percentage (76.0) and passer rating (123.7) when targeting Hooker last season. The Colts also struggled in allowing big plays, a key job that Hooker is part of at safety.
When Ballard was asked before the draft about exercising Hooker’s upcoming 5th year option, he said the following:
“We have a little bit of time. When we get through the draft, we’ll sit down and talk about the direction we will go there.”
That wasn’t the same conviction Ballard gave for the same question on Ryan Kelly last April.
Hooker is due a base salary of $2.1 million here in 2020. There would be no cap savings to release him. He has no contract guarantee past this season. A rise in contract value for the 2021 option would still likely have Hooker in the middle of the pack of starting safety money (around $7-8 million).
Unlike with Kelly’s 5th year option decision last year, there’s clearly some questions on what Hooker’s future will look like in Indianapolis.