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Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans

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INDIANAPOLISThe finality of an NFL season is always sudden, especially when the end to this one had such a stinging feeling.

In Shane Steichen’s first season, the Colts had plenty of unexpected positive moments and appear to be on the right path moving forward.

With that, here are 9 storylines for the 2024 offseason:

1. Supporting Anthony Richardson

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Just like the development of Anthony Richardson was the biggest storyline of the 2023 season, the biggest storyline of the 2024 offseason is how the Colts go about supporting their franchise quarterback. That means adding weapons, fortifying any offensive line cracks and making sure the defense can be a complementary unit, at the very least. Most importantly though is the skill talent around Richardson, especially the pass catchers. When mapping out a Colts future with Richardson, guarantees at the pass catching spots aren’t too abundant. It’s time to solidify those while also keeping an open eye to a big splash, too.  

2. Gus Bradley Returning?

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That’s quite the lasting impressing, in a negative light, for Gus Bradley. Shane Steichen should have nightmares over C.J. Stroud overcoming some huge down and distance chunks on the eventual game-winning drive, and no plan/execution of limiting Houston’s only serious threat in Nico Collins. Bradley and Steichen have history together, but the Colts head coach decided to just retain the long-time DC last offseason instead of having a full search for a new defensive coordinator. Is that something Steichen wants to explore again in his first full offseason as a head coach? Philosophically, there’s a clear differences in how the two guys approach their respective units. Bradley definitely has some reasons to be kept, but there’s also plenty of evidence in the other direction. Some might counter that Bradley can only do so much with the personnel he’s been given. No matter, Steichen has to examine Bradley’s future thoroughly as he decides what he wants the Colts defense to look like under his head coaching reign.  

3. Plan For Anthony Richardson’s Rehab/Playing Style

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Well, this is obviously. In about a month, Richardson is on track to start throwing again, which should leave him ample time to ramp that for OTAs starting in mid-May. The Colts and Richardson opted for surgery for a reason, and that was with the long-term view fully in mind. Over the next few weeks and months, this cannot be forgotten as Richardson preps himself for Year Two. Along with this, Shane Steichen needs to narrow down a focus of how he wants Richardson playing quarterback moving forward and how the play caller is going to use discretion, if at all, in deciding how many runs to dial up for AR each game. There’s no easy answer to that. My thoughts: limit, but don’t eliminate those run calls to try and keep Richardson away from a higher number of hits over a 17-game campaign, yet still have such a unique element available in critical moments. 

4. Franchise Tag Use

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Pat McAfee in the 2013 offseason (who wasn’t happy to be tagged by Ryan Grigson) was the last Colts player to have the franchise tagged placed on them. More than 10 years later, this offseason brings the realest possibility of the Colts using the tag. Michael Pittman Jr. is the most obvious name, although a potential Jonathan Taylor-type holdout. while waiting for a long-term deal, is something you couldn’t rule out with MPJ. This is the first major personnel decision the Colts will need to make this offseason, with the tag deadline coming in early March, about two weeks before the start of free agency. Again, this offseason brings the most potential for the Colts to actually use the tag, therefore retaining one of their free agents on a one-year deal, since McAfee in 2013

5. Handling Notable Free Agent List

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This is easily the most notable in-house free agent list the Colts have had in Chris Ballard’s 7 years as GM. Such a list would include Michael Pittman Jr., Kenny Moore, Grover Stewart, Julian Blackmon, Gardner Minshew and Zack Moss. You could make strong cases for virtually all of those guys to return, and each of them would garner a decently strong market from other teams. The Colts have ample cap space so retaining even all of these guys is possible, but we know how stringent Chris Ballard can be with his market values. Does a Shane Steichen influence alter Ballard’s steadfast approach in free agency at all?

6. Braden Smith, Ryan Kelly Futures

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First, neither of these two offensive line mainstays are free agents, and both played quality football (when healthy) this season. But they’re individual futures bring about some questions. Kelly, 30, is the oldest member of the Colts offense and just went through a season in which he suffered multiple concussions. Kelly is under contract through 2024 and the Colts don’t have any obvious answer at center behind him, so that’s something to jot down on the draft needs list. Smith is one of this team’s most indispensable player, but he played in just half of the team’s offensive snaps, as he battled through multiple injuries. The Colts are paying Smith a lot of money, for good reason. But they also expect more than 10 total games played in a season. Is a restructuring of Smith’s contract needed this offseason? This offensive line took a step back in the right direction in 2023, but these two bring a couple questions with their situations.   

7. Ranking The Needs

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Shane Steichen nearly joined Chuck Pagano and Frank Reich as head coaches who made the playoffs in Year One. But those two eras didn’t continue down a path of postseason success, largely because the personnel at the impactful positions weren’t there. When it comes to 2024 needs for the Colts, I start with a speed edge rusher along with a wideout. The next tier would include the secondary, with cornerback (nickel?) and safety both on that list. Tight end shouldn’t be completely ignored. Depth along the offensive line and at linebacker makes sense, too. The Colts have more than $70 million in cap space, and a big chunk of that is likely to go to in-house guys. But do we see more exploring of outside free agents with Ballard listening to Steichen.

8. Backup Quarterback Approach

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Gardner Minshew is a 2024 free agent, and both parties will have a decision to make here. It would make sense for the Colts to want Minshew back. On the wide-ranging, and somewhat scary, scale of backup quarterbacks, Minshew can offer competence at a position of volatility. He also knows Shane Steichen well, and even has pre-Colts history with Anthony Richardson. Does Minshew want to come back though? He has zero shot at starting unless Richardson is hurt. And Richardson will have one of the longest starting quarterback leashes in the entire NFL. Minshew should be able to find a more realistic chance at play time somewhere else, if he desires that in his next stop. 

9. Kwity Paye’s Fifth-Year Option

NFL: DEC 24 Colts at Falcons Source:Getty

While Kwity Paye’s 8.5 sacks might tell some otherwise, I don’t think his 5th year option for the 2025 season should be picked up. Paye didn’t create enough consistent pass rush pressure, and that 5th year option money should be reserved for an established, proven, upper echelon pass rusher. Paye hasn’t been that in 3 NFL seasons. Just 8 tackles for loss, 9 total quarterback hits and 17 pressures paints a truer picture of Paye not offering enough pop off the edge. By May 2nd, the Colts must make a decision on picking up Paye’s 2025 team option. If they don’t, Paye will be in a contract year next season. Has Paye really earned a $13.8 million figure for 2025? I say no. 

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