INDIANAPOLIS – The resources aren’t as abundant as in years past, but the Colts will still have a good amount of wiggle room to make moves this offseason.
And some questions are certainly needed to be answered.
Currently, the Colts have around $60 million in cap space (3rd most in the NFL) and will be drafting 21st overall in April, with one pick in each round (as of now).
Here are 10 questions facing the Colts this offseason:
1. Are you running it back with Philip Rivers?
Well, I guess the first part of this is: Does Philip Rivers want to play an 18th NFL season or is he ready to go coach high school football in Alabama?
Rivers has given plenty of indications that he would like to keep playing, but nothing is definite yet. He has said he’ll either play for the Colts in 2021 or retire. He won’t play elsewhere.
Once that personal decision is made by Rivers, the Colts will then have to decide if they want Rivers back.
Do they feel having Rivers, who turns 40 in December, gives them the best chance to win now in 2021, while still realizing that the long-term answer is not him?
Are they intrigued by Frank Reich trying to revive Carson Wentz? What about big-armed Matthew Stafford, 32, out of the black hole that is Detroit? Give a big contract to Dak Prescott coming off a serious injury? See if Sam Darnold has stopped seeing ghosts?
Similar to last offseason, the Colts will ask all these questions internally, before Reich, Chris Ballard and Jim Irsay decide on the move for the QB in 2021.
2. Is Anthony Castonzo going to ponder retirement again?
It sounds like the conversation between Frank Reich and Anthony Castonzo will come pretty quickly here in January.
Castonzo, 32, thought about retiring last offseason before signing a 2-year deal with the Colts.
While Castonzo still has 1 year left on that contract—and sounded like a guy who definitely will fulfill that when talking last year—he did just go through the most injury riddled season of his career.
The veteran left tackle suffered rib, knee (MCL) and ankle injuries—missing 4 games, the most since his rookie season—with the last one ending his season and needing surgery (not career threatening though).
No matter Castonzo’s decision, finding a quality tackle needs to be a priority this offseason.
Yes, the Colts have discussed the long-term possibility of Quenton Nelson out at left tackle, but that working is no guarantee.
A lack of competent tackle depth likely cost the Colts an AFC South crown/home playoff game.
The same mistake can’t be made in 2021.
3. Will Matt Eberflus be back?
It sounds like Matt Eberflus is a candidate for the head coaching openings of the Jets and Chargers. Eberflus interviewed with the Jets on Sunday, and he’s reportedly meeting with the Chargers on Monday.
The Eberflus/head coaching possibility will be a big domino that could fall on Chris Ballard/Frank Reich’s lap this offseason, after the team has kept their trio of coordinators intact for three straight years (which is rare in today’s NFL).
Reich has given Eberflus all the autonomy to run his defense over the last three seasons, so losing him would cause a big shift in the leader of that unit.
On paper, there doesn’t appear to be an obvious replacement. Defensive backs/safeties coach Alan Williams is the only staff member with prior defensive coordinator experience (for the Vikings in 2012 and 2013).
If Eberflus were to leave, it would be a surprise to see the Colts change defensive systems. Ballard wanted this defensive scheme and several offseasons of roster building specifically for this system has occurred, with improvements over that time.
4. Is it time to push the chips in the middle and make that aggressive move for a long-term quarterback?
The Colts have already started pretty extensive homework on the 2021 quarterback class. Internally, the Colts will definitely be discussing this idea, knowing the significance of such a move.
In 2020, we saw the Colts trade the 13th overall pick for DeForest Buckner.
With the 21st overall pick in 2021, is it time for the Colts to either use that pick on a QB, or package some picks and move up?
Look at the final four teams in the AFC.
All four have quarterbacks under the age of 25, all drafted in the last 4 years, and all having the ability to make some plays with their legs.
Finding the future of the franchise is not at all easy, but ignoring it for another year would keep this inevitable question looming.
5. Does T.Y. Hilton have a third contract here in Indy?
If Saturday was it for T.Y. Hilton with the Colts, it was not a memorable ending.
Hilton didn’t have a catch in the final 52 minutes of the loss to Buffalo, with just one target after the opening quarter, as he was unable to snare a couple of catchable chunks early on.
At the age of 31, Hilton stated before the start of the season that he would like one more contract from the Colts.
While Hilton stayed healthy in his 9th NFL season (played 15 of 16 games), he didn’t sniff a 1,000-yard season (762 yards) and averaged just 3.7 catches per game.
Still, the Colts battled inconsistency in the wideout group and Hilton offers some presence that commands attention.
The staff loves a lot of what Hilton brings to the locker room, but is it enough to hand him another contract?
6. Are you willing to give Xavier Rhodes a much different contract than you did last March?
One could say that the most important free agent for the Colts in 2021 is 30-year-old cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
The 1-year prove it deal for Rhodes in Indy worked out great for both parties. Rhodes got back to his Pro Bowl-caliber self.
He also did it making about $11 million less than he was making when the Vikings cut him last March.
Given his age, and the season he just had, one would think Rhodes will be looking to cash in one final time in his NFL career.
Are the Colts willing to get into a potential bidding war? Do they feel forced to do that given the lack of proven/quality corners behind Rhodes?
7. Where are the rush, and cover, answers?
For 2021, and beyond, the Colts need to find answers in the rush and cover department.
With the pass rush, answers are really needed out on the edge, as Justin Houston (turns 32 next week) is a free agent, and young rushers in Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu did not establish themselves in 2020.
At corner, you have free agents in Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie, and a very ‘meh’ second season for Rock Ya-Sin, as Kenny Moore is the definite.
In 2020, the Colts defense did not have the pressure numbers needed to stymie some of the better quarterbacks on the roster.
The run defense remains elite, but the pass defense must improve.
8. What is the 2021 role for Jacob Eason?
This is such an unknown.
Eason probably took a notable number of reps in about a handful of practices this year, all as the scout team quarterback when Philip Rivers was sitting out due to his toe injury.
It’s borderline impossible to imagine a situation in which the Colts would actually give Eason the keys to the franchise in 2021.
But could he be the backup?
That’s possible, with both Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett hitting free agency.
Again, with Eason having played football really just one season in the last four years, it’s so hard to see the Colts truly committing to Eason in a substantial role. Some development, particularly in-game, is needed.
9. Are Michael Pittman and Parris Campbell the answers at wide receiver?
One of the biggest individual highlights from Saturday’s loss to the Bills was the performance of Michael Pittman.
After a quieter final month of the season, Pittman impacted the game in multiple ways on Saturday.
His numbers as a rookie weren’t at an eye-popping number, but the 34th overall pick had encouraging signs in the second half of the season that make you think he can be a future No. 1.
With Campbell, it all comes down to the injury question.
A knee injury in Week Two ended Campbell’s promising season. The staff is extremely bullish on Campbell and he offers a skillset that is so needed for this offense.
Having said that, you are still banking on health from Campbell we’ve yet to see in the NFL. Wideout—with T.Y. Hilton’s uncertainty—remains a need in 2021, with some intriguing free agent names at this position.
10. Any long-term extensions coming in 2021?
This is not something you will necessarily see out of the Colts early in 2021, but it could/will happen at some point this calendar year.
We are talking about contract extensions for Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and maybe even Quenton Nelson or Nyheim Hines.
Leonard, Smith and Hines are all entering the final years of their rookie contracts in 2021.
Nelson has a 5th year option for (2022) that could/will be picked up this offseason.
Giving extensions to Leonard and Smith would make the most sense. They’ve been outstanding in their three NFL seasons and are obvious key building blocks deep into the 2020s.
This is where the new cap balance will start to impact the Colts as they start to pay some of these young pieces.