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INDIANAPOLIS – He’s the lone Colts player currently on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium.

And, in case you forgot, Jim Irsay mentioned that earlier this year, acknowledging Hilton’s presence in 1 of the 4 player slots plastered on the home of the Colts.

The love for Hilton is simply not just from the fan base.

Irsay, Chris Ballard and Frank Reich do not hide in heaping out praise for one of the greatest Colts in modern history.

“He’s always been a great player, but how he has grown, as a teammate, man, he’s really special dude,” Ballard said at the end of the 2020 season. “T.Y. Hilton is a really special dude. Before we played Buffalo, I walked up and I said, ‘I love you. I do.’ T.Y. is not the most emotional guy but he gave me a hug. He knows…he’s special man, as a person, and as a teammate, and as a competitor.

“As to his ability, T.Y. can still play. Whether it’s at the level it was 4 or 5 years ago, as you get older, you have to find different ways. But I’ll tell you this, T.Y. is smart, instinctive, knows how to get open and he still has value. We’ll see how it works out here over the long haul. But we value T.Y. and we think he can still play. And he’s been a great Colt.”

Was that embrace between Ballard and Hilton before the Wild Card loss in Buffalo a goodbye?

Hilton stayed healthy in his 9th NFL season (played 15 of 16 games), but he didn’t sniff a 1,000-yard season (762 yards) and averaged just 3.7 catches per game.

Still, Ballard thinks Hilton can play a ‘significant’ role as the wideout approaches the age of 32.

“What’s been really cool about T.Y. is to see his growth and maturity,” Ballard says. “That’s been really cool (as a person and player). When you are used to catching 1,400 (yards) to all of a sudden to go to 600-800, that’s a little bit of a hit to the ego. He never once bitched, complained. No, here’s my role. This is what I’m going to do. How do I help the team win?

“A lot will depend on the market because we have some work to do. But would we like him back? Yes. We’ll see if it works out.”

Based off what Irsay is saying, the Colts would love to bring Hilton back, but know full well that the market will impact how both parties view the other one.

This year’s free agency class at receiver has notable depth, including several young options who could offer similar production, and potential down the road. Ballard is also a fan again of the wideout group in the draft.

What the Colts must decide is can they find an upgrade, someone who is likely younger than the 31-year-old Hilton?

If they can, wouldn’t too much be invested at receiver to bring back Hilton?

And then you have Hilton’s side of it, as a first-time free agent following his 9th NFL season.

What does Hilton, who will turn 32 years old in November, want out of what could very well be his final NFL contract?

Would something in the two-to-three-year range, with a value of around 9-10 million appease both parties?

Is a new QB for the Colts, one that might challenge the field more vertically, be enticing to Hilton?

“We’d love to see T.Y. (Hilton) back, there is no question about it,” Irsay says. “He is such a great Colt. What a competitor and still has excellent skills and can take over a game. I think that the biggest thing at this point in a career for athletes and you see it all the time is the competitive nature, look there is a business side to it. You want a guy back but it has to fit into what you view, what the marketplace dictates and other teams and where someone’s value falls with the price sign. It really comes down to that. The biggest thing that I’ve found is, you want guys that really want to be here so sometimes if they don’t hit their price mark, you don’t want them to be resentful saying, ‘I should have gotten more.’ So, you’re always wanting to make sure

“It’s just a question of trying to find what that means financially. I know Chris and him will talk with his agent. We would love to have T.Y. back. T.Y. is such a major Colt. Really, you think about the great receivers in this franchise’s history and T.Y. has done some of the most remarkable things that all the greats that you guys know about have done. You love to see someone like T.Y. be back because he is such a good man, he’s such an outstanding football player and a selfless player that you are just hoping that it works out that way. But the market usually dictates that. That’s the aspect of free agency. When all is said and done, I’m really hoping that it works out that we can work something out and Chris can work it out with T.Y. and his agent and we find a way there because we are a better football team with T.Y. and we love him as a legacy player and as a present player in how he can help us get to where we want to go. He is a great veteran leader and still has plenty of gas in the tank.”

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