INDIANAPOLIS – One of the Colts most respected players is retiring from the NFL at the age of 26.
Fourth-year safety Khari Willis is leaving the game of football.
On his Instagram, Willis shared the following as his reason for retiring:
Willis is leaving the game of football, after he was away from the team all spring, in what Frank Reich called an ‘excused’ absence, with the head coach in constant communication with the young safety.
When Reich talked about the multi-week absences of Yannick Ngakoue and Willis this spring, he called the two situations “different.” While Ngakoue showed up for the mandatory minicamp, Willis remained away.
It is now known why Willis did not show up for the offseason program.
With one year remaining on his rookie contract (in which Willis will forego $2.54 million), Willis’ retirement comes during an offseason in which the Colts made several moves this offseason at the safety position.
No position saw more outside the building moves of note than safety.
Perhaps the Colts sensed something like this could be coming for Willis.
They first signed veteran safeties Armani Watts (53 games played, 1 start) and Rodney McLeod (139 career games, 123 starts).
Then in the draft, Chris Ballard did a very un-Chris Ballard like move by trading back into the third round for safety Nick Cross. Even though Cross is just 20 years old, he was getting some first-team run during last week’s minicamp.
Easily the best off-season injury news for the Colts is the fact that Julian Blackmon is well ahead of his Achilles rehab, looking like a guy who can be ready for Week 1.
Willis’ retirement comes after a season in which he was sidelined for more than a third of games. He played in 11 of 17 games last year.
In 2021, Willis did have some on-field struggles, too.
Prior to that though, he is someone this staff has called one of their most underrated defenders.
A pretty private person, Willis has dealt with some extreme life challenges over the past few years.
Him and his girlfriend saw their baby twins born 3 months premature back in Willis’ rookie season of 2019.
From their birth in August, that had Willis juggling time at the Colts facility to fulfill his new NFL job, and then head down to Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital at night to spend what would amount to a fourth-month stay alongside the newborns.
Wills pointed to his faith as a major reason why he was able to get through such a turbulent time in his life.
Dating back to his days at Michigan State, Willis has spoken about his faith.
“My faith to me is a personal journey,” Willis said in a 2018 story with Sports Illustrated. “Along this road of faith, I’ve had a lot of ups and truthfully, I’ve had some downs as well. But it’s something that if I stick to, I’ll become better and better and better at what I’m doing. Faith to me is important, believing in something you can’t see, especially in this dark world, something that you can’t see with your eyes and especially when you may not always want to believe or want to do the right thing, sometimes it’s a hard thing to do. But I feel my faith is something that keeps me grounded and keeps me honed in on who I am.”
The retirement of Willis gives the Colts a couple of different avenues to explore next to Blackmon—the veteran guy in McLeod or the young rookie in Cross.
With Wednesday’s news, the Colts have these safeties on their 90-man roster: Julian Blackmon, Nick Cross (rookie), Trevor Denbow (rookie), Rodney McLeod, Armani Watts.