The Colts didn’t have a great 2019. It could have been much worse.
Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement threatened to leave Indianapolis in a spiral, but a hot start from backup-turned-starter Jacoby Brissett helped the club exceed expectations ... for roughly half the season. The Colts’ 2-7 finish was proof Frank Reich’s team isn’t a contender yet, but a smart offseason could have it ascendant once more.
Only one team in the league entered 2020 with more spending room under the salary cap than the Colts. That gives general manager Chris Ballard a tremendous opportunity to add the talent needed to get Indianapolis back to the playoffs.
Indianapolis Colts (7-9), missed playoffs
Ballard also had plenty of spending money in 2019 — and only added Justin Houston and Devin Funchess as high-profile free agents last offseason. While major questions loom, the team’s stockpile of young, inexpensive talent (Darius Leonard, Quenton Nelson, Malik Hooker) could make this year Ballard’s best opportunity to add veteran difference-makers.
Before free agency:
- Wide receiver: For too long, the Colts have been the T.Y. Hilton show at wideout without a supporting cast. Now he’s 30 years old and coming off an injury-riddled season. Adding receiving talent wouldn’t just help free him up for more game-breaking deep throws, it would also boost Indy’s quarterback play in 2020 — whether that’s coming from Brissett or someone else.
- Defensive tackle: The Colts lacked penetration up front in 2019. While Leonard was there to vacuum up tailbacks, a gap-shooting, blocker-occupying big man could transform the Indianapolis run defense into one of the league’s best. It could also work wonders for a pass rush that ranked 16th in the league in sack rate.
- Quarterback: Brissett is under contract through 2020, but he fell back to earth after an impressive start to last season. Was the knee injury he suffered in Week 9 solely to blame? Or has he hit his ceiling as a top-line quarterback? Indianapolis has another season to figure it out, but adding a veteran passer from a deep pool of available talent would give the Colts a valuable insurance policy and a potential building block beyond.
What Stampede Blue wants most this offseason: Since Luck surprised the NFL world by retiring in his prime, the top unanswered question and long-term need to fill is at quarterback. Otherwise, Indianapolis is lacking in proven talent at the wide receiver position and Hilton is showing some signs of age. The defense has shown potential, but no Cover-2 system will work without consistent pressure using four rushers. The primary area to improve is on the defensive interior, allowing some of the promising young edge talent to increase their own production. — Brett Mock
After free agency:
Ballard made a splash when he traded the 13th overall pick to the 49ers to acquire defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. With it came a four-year, $84 million extension. Then the Colts dished out a one-year, $25 million deal to Philip Rivers.
- Wide receiver: It was already a need prior to free agency and now it’s even more important with Rivers on the roster. The Colts didn’t give a 38-year-old quarterback $25 million so they can sit on their hands. Expect the position to be a priority in the draft.
- Tight end: Rivers has relied on tight ends for much of his career and won’t have Eric Ebron in Indianapolis. The Colts would benefit from adding another player at the position to complement Jack Doyle.
- Quarterback: Signing Rivers makes it explicitly clear that the Colts don’t see Brissett in their long-term future at the quarterback position. Rivers is a band-aid for now, but finding a plan for 2021 and beyond is a priority.
After the draft:
Despite not having a first-round pick, the Colts acted quickly. With their first second-round pick, they nabbed USC receiver Michael Pittman Jr., a 6’4 target for whoever is under center. Their next pick was used on highly decorated running back Jonathan Taylor out of Wisconsin.
Indianapolis made a quarterback move in the fourth round by selecting Washington’s Jacob Eason, who was expected to go on Day 2. They added depth on the offensive line and in the secondary, too. The Colts didn’t end up with a tight end, though sixth-round pick Dezmon Patmon (Washington State), like Pittman, is another big body at wide receiver.