INDIANAPOLIS – Honestly, the list is starting to dry up a bit as free agency is now less than two months away.
With the retirement of Philip Rivers taking another name off this list, the Colts have gone from around a dozen starters poised to hit free agency here in mid-March to about 7-8.
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)
CB-Xavier Rhodes (Age: 31): In my opinion, Rhodes is the most important free agent for the Colts in 2020. Knowing full well that Rhodes could (will?) be seeking out a big final pay day given his age and impressive prove-it year, the Colts might sit out this potential bidding war. Still, given the lack of proven outside corners on the roster, Rhodes would be someone to look into bringing back.
DE-Al-Quadin Muhammad (Age: 26): AQM has been a nice find by the Colts scouting department as a waiver claim. He brings great effort, some run/pass down ability and just more trust than the other young edge rushers on the roster. I’d definitely look into giving him a second contract.
DL-Denico Autry (Age: 30): Again, the Colts young defensive linemen have not really proved themselves enough to totally write off an Autry or a Justin Houston. Autry has filled a variety of roles for the Colts and offered needed production, particularly as an inside rusher. Given his versatility and younger age, Autry’s slightly higher on my list than Houston.
Yellow (darker yellow to lighter yellow)
RB-Marlon Mack (Age: 25): The Colts are being realistic in publicly stating what they can offer Mack. But if the market isn’t as affluent for Mack, his return should be something the Colts look into. Remember, you are one freak injury away from really needing another consistent 1st and 2nd down option. It would be smart for the Colts to try and keep the young Mack, just in case something happens to Jonathan Taylor, thus keeping Nyheim Hines into that running/receiving role.
DE-Justin Houston (Age: 32): When signing Houston in 2019, the Colts thought they could get a player who would provide more availability and production off the edge. Houston did that in playing all 32 games and combining for 19 sacks in two years. But the consistent pressures weren’t there from Houston in 2020. If the Colts can upgrade with a rather intriguing (and younger) edge FA group, they would be wise to go that route.
WR-T.Y. Hilton (Age: 31): To me, the receiver position comes down to an either/or scenario. At the minimum, bringing back Hilton needs to be something that is talked about internally. But the wideout group on the open market also offers a bunch of other curious possibilities. In a year in which the Colts have lost some key veterans already, does that strengthen Hilton’s chances to return?
CB-T.J. Carrie (Age: 30): This comes more so down to position of need at this point. Simply, the Colts need another corner more so than a tight end or linebacker. Carrie also brings some position flex to corner and could be viewed as even more important to come back if Rhodes leaves.
C-Joey Hunt (Age: 27): Hunt was a nice interior in-season addition for the Colts in 2020. He could return and be thrown into the mix, especially if Quenton Nelson moves to left tackle.
TE-Trey Burton (Age: 29): While Burton had some ups and down in his one season with the Colts, he still was a decent versatile piece. Chris Ballard appreciated what Burton brought to the Colts. Honestly, the Colts could probably use an upgrade at tight end, especially in the age department. But that might be hard to fit into the off-season plan.
LB-Anthony Walker (Age: 25): Similar to running back, you are one major injury away from really needing Walker. But this has the sound of both parties realizing that a new marriage is expected. Chris Ballard has drafted very well at linebacker, so this spot could be another early Day 3 selection.
Red (darker red to lighter red)
QB-Jacoby Brissett (Age: 28): First, Brissett as a backup gives the Colts a very quality QB2. But for me, seeing Jacob Eason backup whoever is the new QB in Indy makes a lot of sense. Plus, Brissett has frequently, and passionately, expressed his hope to have a real starting chance again in the league.
OT-Le’Raven Clark (Age: 28): The only reason Clark is this high is because it would be good to have several tackle bodies competing to make the roster in 2021. But the Achilles injury to Clark in early December complicates his future.
S-Malik Hooker (Age: 25): Even before Hooker tore his Achilles in September, this had the makings of being just a one contract relationship. The future at safety for the Colts is pretty clear with Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon.
S-Tavon Wilson (Age: 31): Wilson offered a nice veteran presence, who played on special teams. His spot is expendable though.
OT-Chaz Green (Age: 27): It’s probably best for the Colts to look elsewhere for more tackle depth.