Mike Fanelli | January 29th, 2019
After missing all of the 2017 season, Andrew Luck returned in 2018 with a BANG! Luck was second in the league in passing touchdowns with 39, second in passing attempts and fifth in passing yards. What all this means is simple; Luck is back to being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
Without Luck, the 2017 season was a miserable one for the Indianapolis Colts and the 2018 season didn’t appear to be much better after they started 1-5 with loses to the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets. However, the Colts got hot and won nine of their last 10 games to grab the final AFC wild-card spot in week 17 with a win over the Tennessee Titans.
In the wild card round of the AFC playoffs, the Colts kept their hot streak going, beating the Texans 21-7 as Luck threw for 222 yards and two touchdowns. Then the Colts traveled to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs where the Colts offense seriously struggled as the Chiefs won easily, 31-13. Even though the season didn’t end the way the Colts had hoped, they had a fabulous year and the future is very bright.
What Went Right:
Before the season even started the Colts already had success. The team’s 2018 draft class was one of the best all time. Of the Colts’ 11 picks all of them made the final roster while nine of them made an impact this season. Four of their top five picks were starters while both day three running backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins were part of the Colts strong running game.
Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard were both named First-Team All-Pro by the Associated Press. It is only the second time in NFL history that two rookies on the same team had such an honor, joining the Chicago Bears’ Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers in 1965. Nelson made the pro bowl as a starter while Leonard was unfairly snubbed.
The great rookie class gets a lot of praise and rightfully so but an under the radar transaction from last preseason paid off big this year. The New England Patriots waived nickel cornerback Kenny Moore on September 2nd, 2017 as part of their final roster cut down, the Colts claimed Moore the next day. For the 2017 season Moore was an afterthought but this season he turned into one of the better nickel cornerbacks in the league.
Moore had three interceptions, 11 passes defended and 1.5 sacks this season. The best part for the Colts is Moore is under contract for just $645,000 dollars next season and is a restricted free agent in 2020. The Colts would be wise to get a contract extension done with Moore as soon as possible. A key piece to a young defense that is up and coming is under team control for at least two more seasons.
Another key part of this up and coming Colts team is the offensive line, where the team has four former top 40 picks starting. Center Ryan Kelly was critical to the team’s success as he calls a lot of the protections for the offensive line and while Nelson gets a lot of the national attention, he isn’t the only rookie who made a big impact on that offensive line. Second round pick Braden Smith started 15 games and despite seeing many elite pass rushers he had just four total penalties this season; tied for the best on the team.
As a unit, the Colts’ offensive line had a bounce-back season in 2018. During the 2017 season, the Colts gave up 56 sack; most in the league. By comparison in 2018 they gave up just 18 sacks; best in the league. With three of their four starting offensive linemen on a rookie contract for at least two more seasons, this unit should continue to grow.
When the Colts gave former Detroit Lions’ bust Eric Ebron to a two year/$13 million dollar contract in the offseason many were shocked. However, Ebron went on to easily have a career year. In four seasons in Detroit, Ebron had 11 touchdowns but in his first season in Indianapolis, he had 13 touchdowns. His 13 receiving touchdowns were tied for second in the league and first among tight ends. To top off a great season, Ebron was named to his first pro bowl.
What Went Wrong:
There wasn’t much that went wrong this season. Many expected the Colts to finish last in their division and they were playing with “house money” all season long. Injuries to Kelly and T.Y. Hilton led to the offensive struggles verse the Chiefs in the playoffs, but outside of that, the season was a success.
If I really nitpick, during the winning streak the defense gave up just 16.4 points per game compared to 30 during the first six games. During the first six games, the Colts faced elite quarterbacks like Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, and Tom Brady, while during the winning streak they faced quarterbacks like Blake Bortles, Eli Manning and Blaine Gabbert. The Colts will play a second-place schedule next season and will face more elite quarterbacks.
Outlook for the Offseason:
Recently, future hall of famer and maybe the best kicker in NFL history, Adam Vinatieri, has agreed to a one-year deal worth almost $3.9 million dollars with the Colts; making it his 24th year in the league at soon to be 47 years old.
The Colts are projected to have $122 million dollars in cap space this offseason; most in the league. However, they have a couple of free agents they need to resign before they hit the open market. The Colts have seven free agents they should consider resigning including six starters.
- Dontrelle Inman, WR
- Chester Rogers, WR
- Mark Glowinski, G
- Matt Slauson, OL
- Margus Hunt, DL
- Pierre Desire, CB
- Clayton Geathers, SAF
Of this group, resigning Glowinski is a must. He filled in at right guard very well and starting caliber offensive line will be in short supply in free agency. Desir is the next most important free agent to resign as he had a career year as a starter but the free agency and draft class are deep at the cornerback spot.
Starters Hunt, Geathers, Inman and Rogers should be offered new contracts but be allowed to hit the open market and see what their value really is. Of the group Hunt has the best chance of being resigned by the team, coming off a career season while the Colts will look to upgrade at wide receiver.
The Colts will take a look at the trade market to try and upgrade the number two wide receiver spot opposite of Hilton. The first call they should make is to the Bengals and see if A.J. Green is available. However, one player that won’t be traded this offseason is back up quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Recently general manager Chris Ballard was asked if he would consider trading Brissett this offseason, his answer was “I won’t do it”.
The Colts have three picks in the top 60 selections of the 2019 draft and could make a major trade, but more than likely the Colts will build through the draft and free agency. With all the cap space the Colts have, it is expected that they will add at least one big time free agent. Here is a list of some free agents who should be on the Colts’ radar.
Bigger Name Options:
- Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
- Jay Ajayi, RB, Eagles
- Robby Anderson, WR, Jets (RFA)
- Adam Humphries, WR, Buccaneers
- Tyrell Williams, WR, Chargers
- Grady Jarrett, DL, Falcons
- Demarcus Lawrence, EDGE, Cowboys
- Brandon Graham, EDGE, Eagles
- Anthony Barr, LB, Vikings
- Ronald Darby, CB, Eagles
- Bradley Roby, CB, Broncos
- Landon Collins, SAF, Giants
Some of the names on this list I don’t expect the Colts to even consider signing. Bell’s off the field issues and big price tag more than likely takes him off the Colts’ radar. Both Lawrence and Jarrett would be excellent additions to a young defense but both are expected to be franchise tagged by their current team if a long term deal can’t be worked out. Of the listed players Ajayi, Humphries, Graham, Darby, and Collins probably have the best odds of signing with the Colts for different reasons.
Head coach Frank Reich was Ajayi’s offensive coordinator in 2017 and if the Eagles decide against paying him coming off a torn ACL, the Colts could add him to their running back by committee situation. Humphries isn’t likely to resign in Tampa Bay because of their cap situation and the emergence of Chris Godwin. If Humphries hits the open market, he should get a contract with an average salary around $7 million a year. The Colts lack a move the chains kind of wide receiver and Humphries is one the best on the market.
Much like with Ajayi, Graham is an Eagle that the team may not resign. With Michael Bennett under contract for just $7 million dollars next season and young players Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat, the Eagles could decide against resigning the soon to be 31-year old Graham to a long term deal. Adding Graham on a front heavy deal would be great for the Colts and their two young pass rushers.
Prior to the trade deadline, the New York Giants were shopping Collins, suggesting that they may not resign him this offseason. Assuming Collins isn’t given the franchise tag, the Colts would be a good landing spot. Pairing Collins with former first-round pick Malik Hooker would give the Colts two young safeties that can do many of the same things. However, if the Colts miss out on these bigger name players, some cheaper options could include.
Cheap Bargain Values:
- Latavius Murray, RB, Vikings
- Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
- Alex Collins, RB, Ravens (RFA)
- Frank Gore, RB, Dolphins
- Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
- Thomas Davis, LB, Panthers
- Kenny Vaccaro, SAF, Titans
- George Iloka, SAF, Vikings
If the Colts miss out on a bigger name free agent running back, these four guys could all be brought in on a short team deal. Ingram and Murray very easily could be resigned by their current team if the price is right. Collins probably will get an original round tender from the Baltimore Ravens and could be had for a fifth-round pick as the Ravens turned away from him during the second half of the season. While Gore coming back to Indianapolis after a year in Miami would bring veteran leadership to the running back meetings and even at 1,000 years old he can still play.
The Green Bay Packers aren’t likely to resign Cobb and he would be a cheaper version of Humphries for the Colts. Davis announced on social media a few weeks ago that the Carolina Panthers won’t be bringing him back in 2019, he would prove a veteran presence next to Leonard. While Vaccaro and Iloka both have starting experience and would be cheaper options over Collins at strong safety.
Everyone wants to know what players the Colts should take with their picks, but I don’t want to give player names because we have three months of evaluating to do before the draft. Also, free agency and trades will have an impact on how the team drafts so take these suggestions lightly. With four picks in the top 100, the Colts are in a good position to build off their good 2018 class and draft another group of future contributors.
- First Round (#26 overall): Cornerback / Wide Receiver
With two selections just eight picks apart the Colts can attack their two biggest needs based upon best player available. If Desir leaves as a free agent the cornerback spot would be the top need for the Colts. Given the depth at the wide receiver position, the Colts probably will wait till day two to fill that need. But again, the Colts can go either way at this spot.
- Second Round (#34 overall): Wide Receiver / Cornerback
This is the pick from the Sam Darnold trade last offseason. With the second pick in the second round, this is a prime spot for the Colts to trade back as teams will want to move up to get a first round graded prospect. If the Colts stick here and go with a cornerback in the first round, I expect them to target a big physical wide receiver to counter the speedy Hilton and hopefully a slot receiver in free agency here.
- Second Round (#59 overall): Defensive Line
Unless the Colts add an elite pass rusher in free agency and resign Hunt, the defensive line is a need. Starting defensive end Jabaal Sheard will be a free agent after the 2019 season and you can never have too many good pass rushers. The best teams in the NFL are the ones with talent and depth along both the offensive and defensive line. I expect the Colts to add to both lines this offseason.
- Third Round (#89 overall): Offensive Line
Speaking of the offensive line, if the Colts don’t resign Glowinski or make a trade for his replacement, offensive line jumps to the top of the needs list. Even if the starting five returns the same next season, the Colts need to continue to add depth. Starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo will be a free agent after next season and will turn 32 years old before the start of the 2020 season. The Colts would be smart to grab a developmental offensive tackle to groom behind Castonzo.
Obviously, expectations are now higher for the 2019 season because of the team’s success this year. Many will expect the Colts to reach the AFC championship game or Super Bowl next season but that’s optimistic. Instead, the expectations should be to build on their success this season and have the young players take the next step forward in their development. If the Colts win the AFC South title and get a first-round bye in the playoffs, that should be considered a successful season. The Colts have a chance to turn into the next dynasty but it likely won’t happen until the 2020 season.
Questions and comments?
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