INDIANAPOLIS – He’s held the title of ‘most indispensable Colts player’ for the last two seasons.
And now the Colts must figure out the very difficult answer in replacing Anthony Castonzo for good, after the 10-year vet retired on Tuesday morning.
First, let’s appreciate what Castonzo has meant to this football team, since joining the Colts in 2011:
With Castonzo (144 career games)
-Colts Record: 79-65 (.548 win percentage)
-Points scored per game: 23.4 PPG
Without Castonzo (16 career games)
-Colts Record: 4-12 (.250 win percentage)
-Points scored per game: 20.4 PPG
It’s astronomical to see what Castonzo’s presence has been for the Colts. His presence has been the difference in an 8- or 9-win season or a 4-12 football team.
For the last decade, the Colts have gone into an offseason knowing that one of the most important positions in football was in place for their franchise.
From a game plan standpoint, Frank Reich has often said you can count on one hand how many times the Colts actually feel the need to help Castonzo out at left tackle on a given play.
“That position, I don’t take it for granted,” Reich says of left tackle. “Every week when we’re protection game planning, as an offensive play caller and game planner, you’ve got to think, ‘I don’t have to worry about chip-helping Anthony Castonzo. He can handle whoever it is over there one-on-one.’
“I can’t begin to explain what an advantage that is schematically in the pass game not to have to help protect him all the time.”
What do the Colts All-Pros alongside think of Castonzo?
“My rookie year, there was a big difference the first 5 games playing without him to when he came back,” left guard Quenton Nelson says of Castonzo. “It’s been awesome playing next to him. He’s such a selfless guy in the way he plays. He’ll do anything to make my job easier and I just appreciate him, his worth ethic, the way he comes in every day and sets a great example for a lot of the young guys on this team and we have a have young team so he sets a great example for all these guys. He’s a very valuable guy.”
“Since I’ve been here, he’s been just an incredible guy,” center Ryan Kelly says. “Day One, coming in and being the starting center (in 2016) was really nerve wracking, especially coming into a solidified offense. That was really tough for me. But as the years have gone by, we got tighter. We had deeper conversations, obviously not just about football stuff. An incredible player, all at left tackle and a position a lot of the times if you do your job right, you don’t get a lot of credit for it. He’s really played at a high level and has been an incredible mentor to everybody in the room. An incredible leader. A guy that I’ve watched with the way he’s prepared his body, takes care of it and really goes about things as a professional. He’s just an incredible peer to have.”
So, that brings the question that the Colts now have to answer for 2021, and beyond:
-Have Quenton Nelson (who hasn’t played left tackle for more than 10 snaps since high school) switch to LT?
-Try Braden Smith (who hasn’t played left tackle since high school, too) at the other tackle spot?
-Pay a veteran left tackle good money in free agency?
-Try to hit on an early draft pick from Day 1?
“Anthony was a pillar of this team for the last 10 seasons,” Chris Ballard says. “He played one of the toughest positions in the game at an extremely high level for a long time. Anthony was a veteran leader in our locker room and will be greatly missed.”
That is an understatement.