Dale Money | January 14th, 2020
I don’t think there was one person that follows the NFL, who wasn’t caught off guard by the sudden news of Andrew Luck‘s early retirement. With the announcement coming the last week of August, the Colts were left scrambling with only a handful of weeks to find a starting quarterback before the opening of the regular season. With so few options available, backup Jacoby Brissett became the most logical choice at that point. Brissett would be signed to a two year $30 million dollar contract, just a week after Luck’s retirement.
To their credit, the Colts would start off the season strong winning five of their first seven games. But as the season rolled along, the novelty would essentially begin to wear off as they would win just two of their final nine. They were left in the divisional dust, as both the Texans and Titans piled up the wins as the season went deeper. Indianapolis would finish out the year third in the AFC South.
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What Went Right
The Colts running game was one of the more successful in the league, finishing the season seventh in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Headed by second-year player Marlon Mack, would miss two straight games, regardless he was still able to finish 11th overall in rushing yards and ninth in rushing touchdowns.
Not only did the Colts lose T.Y. Hilton for a chunk of the season, but they would also have to deal with the absence of new rookie receiver Parris Campbell. Campbell would manage to play in just seven games. With Indianapolis looking for any viable options to step in and help the ariel game, former Old Dominion receiver Zach Pascal would step into the breach. Having gone undrafted in 2017, he would bounce around between the Redskins and Titans before finding a home with Indianapolis last season.
Pascal did have those games where he seemed virtually invisible, but when he was given the looks produced fairly solid numbers leading the Colts in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. Just a day after their week 17 game, the club made the announcement they re-signed Pascal to a one-year extension.
What Went Wrong
What a turn about of bad fortunes for Brissett, who started out the season red hot and dropped off just as quickly. In Brissett’s first six games he had 14 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. However, just like the Colt’s early success, he would begin to struggle mightily as the weeks went by. He would record just a single 300-yard passing game in his last eight weeks and would only top 200 yards or more in two of them.
Some people may feel the Colts are satisfied with Brissett as their man behind center for next year, but after his offensive collapse, I’m certainly not convinced they have their guy for the foreseeable future. Expect Indianapolis to be very active in the draft and quite possibly in free agency as there will be a few fascinating quarterback options that could be available.
Let’s not overlook the loss of Hilton, he has been the straw that stirs the drink for the Colts passing attack for quite a number of years now. Hilton would return for the final three weeks after being sidelined since week 12. However, have it be rust or the chemistry between the veteran receiver and Brissett, something was not clicking. In those last three weeks, Hilton would top 70 yards just once with a combined 10 receptions.
Outlook For The Offseason
The Cleveland Browns requested an interview with Indianapolis assistant general manager Ed Dodds, to fill their general manager role, which was granted. However, fortunately for the Colts, Dodds has since declined the interview. In just his second year as Chris Ballard’s second in command, Dodds can continue working on building up this roster.
The Colts come into the offseason with their most pressing needs at quarterback, defensive line and slot receiver. But unlike a lot of teams in the same situation, they have the luxury of around $97 million dollars in cap space which tops all other clubs in the league.
The Team’s Free Agents
Anthony Castonzo’s career is currently at a crossroads, having stated if he does not re-sign with Indianapolis he will decide to hang it up. The linchpin of the Colts offensive line, he has been with the club since his rookie year in 2011. It would be in the clubs best interest to get Castonzo locked up, as he was one of the better left tackles in 2018. I expect they’ll do the right thing and get him signed.
Only a year prior Eric Ebron would have a career season in which he produced 13 touchdowns on 110 targets. How quickly things would change just a year later, as Ebron would produce just three touchdowns on 52 targets before he decided to finish the season in order to get ankle surgery. After the club signed fellow tight end Jack Doyle to a three extension, in mid-December. The likelihood of Ebron being brought back now seems slim to none.
The NFL’s scoring leader Adam Vinatieri is still trucking along at 47 years old, but time catches up to every player eventually, as his kicking struggles were evident. He would finish 42nd in extra point percentage and 37th field goal percentage. Vinatieri would end the season on injured reserve, in order to undergo left knee surgery. The team has not ruled out his return, but I wouldn’t bank on it.
Open Market Free Agents
Nelson Agholor is among the many Eagles players hitting free agency. Although Agholor doesn’t stuff the stat sheets like some might like, he is still one of the more talented slot receivers, currently, in the game. As of now, their top slot receiver is Campbell. Adding a very experienced player in Agholor could do wonders for Campbell’s development. He does bring risk, theirs no getting away with that as he currently recovers from knee surgery which cost him six games in 2019.
There is a real possibility Tom Brady could decide to leave New England in free agency this offseason, which may have seemed unthinkable not too long ago. The Colts would be a very attractive option if Brady chooses to test the market, not only do they have the solid offensive line in which to protect him but unlike a lot of other teams, they’ll have an abundance of cap space to spend.
Indianapolis is going to be looking to shore up the kicking game, after 13 years with Vinatieri. Mason Crosby continues to produce as one of the leagues top kickers, making all but one his 39 extra points.and 22 of his 24 field goal attempts this season. A true iron horse, Crosby has not missed a single game in his 12 years in Green Bay. On the off chance, the Packers decide to move on from him the Colts could do a lot worse.
Projecting the NFL Draft
With the final completion of the regular season, the Colts were awarded the 13th pick in the draft. This is the first time in franchise history they have had the 13th overall choice. Let’s take a look at some of the Colts needs heading into April, and project what they might decide to do with their selections.
1st Round, Pick 13: Justin Herbert, QB, Oregon
Going after a potential franchise quarterback with their first selection is something they need to consider. Herbert makes sense here, he’s an athletic player with good size and an arm to make those downfield throws.
2nd Round, Pick 34: Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Murray could get drafted anywhere between the very late first round and the beginning of round two. Murray is a bull out on the field, he plays a quick psychical type of football that would suit any NFL clubs identity. In his past two seasons with the Sooners, Murray racked up over 100 tackles in each.
2nd Round, Pick 44: Offensive Tackle
With the possibility of Costanzo not returning the Colts are going to need to add some depth at the left tackle spot. Even if Costanzo returns the Colts should add a development offensive tackle behind him as he will turn 32 years old in August.
Indianapolis is coming off a pretty disappointing season, but theirs certainly plenty of room left for optimism. What was holding this Colts team back last year, obviously was the passing attack for the most part. The Colts have the means to make a huge upgrade at quarterback if that’s what they choose to do. They will also need to go out and get themselves a quality slot receiver, adding a talented player such as Agholor could do wonders.
How will younger pass rushers from last season Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu perform in 2020, will they take a step forward and potentially develop into the defensive foundation as the club steps into the future? It’ll be interesting to see if Pascal, has more to offer as a wideout should he have a more talented quarterback in which to work with.
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