By Callum Squires

As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.

In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Indianapolis Colts:

2020 Recap

Indianapolis Colts
Credit: Getty Images

Well, this one required a significant rewrite following the news that broke earlier this week. The Colts – one of 2020’s most impressive teams for my money – had secured their new quarterback. It’s a risk, no doubt, but a calculated one, and if anyone has proven themself capable of managing cap space and team requirements enough to earn themselves a free hit at a big trade it’s Colts’ GM Chris Ballard. It’s Carson Wentz time in Indy. 

Looking back at 2020, we see a slow starting Colts team who heated up in midseason, before flirting with failing to make the playoffs, but snuck in before being comfortably beaten by a better team in the Buffalo Bills. What proved to be a one-year ride with Phil Rivers was exciting at times, but felt like a bit of a stop gap whilst the team figured out who was going to be their leader moving forward. This franchise is still reeling from the early retirement of Andrew Luck, and yet held itself together with far more respectability than other teams not going through anything like the same upheaval… I’m looking at YOU Chicago and Philly. Anyway, the Colts lost to the lowly Jaguars in week 1, before rattling off 7 wins in their next 9, including an overtime win over the (very very good) Packers. 

After a week 16 collapse against the Steelers, where Indy threw away a 24-7 lead, the Colts needed outside help to sneak into the Playoffs. Luckily for them, the Buffalo Bills obliged, destroying the Miami Dolphins, and opening the door for the Colts. All Indy had to do was avenge their week 1 shock defeat against the Jaguars, which they did with relative ease. Unluckily for them, this meant they were facing the aforementioned Bills team IN Buffalo in the opening round. Buffalo had serious “team of destiny” vibes, and despite a manful effort to slow down Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs, the Colts fell short, like Phil Rivers’ ill-fated Hail Mary attempt to win the game.

Now? It’s Carson O’Clock. It’s a reunion for Wentz with Frank Reich, with whom he was considered the front-runner for MVP in 2017, before he was injured. With the Colts poised to make a serious championship run, it’s a great landing spot for Wentz, who will be protected behind a stellar offensive line, and with a great young running back he can lean on for the hard yards. The Colts look set to make another playoff run in 2021, and they’ll hope it’s a lot deeper than the wildcard round this time.

Staff Changes

10 changes to the coaching staff of the Colts are obviously headlined by the departure of Nick Siriani to the Philadelphia Eagles. Offensive coordinator for the past 3 seasons, Siriani’s departure has opened the door for former QB coach Marcus Brady to step into that role. Brady will inherit a run-first offense led by Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines, but with some intriguing pass catching options to utilise.

That move led to the Colts hiring former Jaguars QB coach Scott Milanovich to move into that vacant role. Milanovich was actually most-recently the head coach of Canadian Football League franchise the Edmonton Football Team (so THAT’s where Washington got the idea from…), but that league’s season was wiped out entirely by Covid-19.

Furthermore, Scottie Montgomery takes on the mantle of running backs coach, whilst Joe Hastings is probably the 2nd biggest hire as he leaves the University of Mississippi to become assistant special teams coach. 

State Of The Roster

Indianapolis Colts
Credit: Justin Casterline (Getty Images)

Considering their defense led the league in fewest points conceded, the Colts have to feel very good about that side of the ball. Darius “the maniac” Leonard leads the pack with intensity and vicious hits, but DeForest Buckner and Kenny Moore II also contribute to one of the NFL’s best overall defensive units. They’re solid from top to bottom, inside to out, and have built smartly meaning they should be able to keep the crew together for quite a while.

Offensively? Well, now they’ve got their Quarterback. Whether you love him or think he’s a bust, Wentz is there and barring an insane setback will start in week 1 and lead this team forward. Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines both found nice usage in the backfield, with Taylor looking to be the bellcow moving forward behind a very impressive and stout offensive line. That line – highlighted by Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Quenton Nelson – is one of the main reasons why Wentz is being tipped by some to succeed. He shouldn’t have to run for his life like he was seemingly doing constantly in Philly.

The protection should be solid, creating him a nice comfy pocket to sit back in and find some of his big targets downfield. Many of these targets we’ll talk about in the free agents section below, but Michael Pittman Jr. had a nice rookie campaign, and will seek to grow his relationship with Wentz, even if he’s already said he won’t be giving up his number 11 jersey for Carson… Feels like the sort of thing you SHOULD be doing for the franchise QB, but hey, I’m not Michael Pittman Jr. What do I know?

Salary Cap & Cut Candidates

The biggest issue with the Carson Wentz trade is undoubtedly the inflated contract that Philadelphia had bestowed upon him. This incurs about a $25million cap hit for the Colts, plus they’ll want to extend contract offers to some of their bigger name free agents. That said, the deal on the whole is fairly team friendly and aside from the numbers on the contract, the Colts’ fanbase can’t be too unhappy with what they had to give up to get a former number 2 overall pick. But, thankfully for Indy, Ballard has done a stellar job building this roster, meaning the Colts will certainly not be ending up in “cap hell” this summer.

As I’m about to touch on, the Colts have some decisions to make about free agents, which will obviously impact both the roster and the cap, but the Colts’ front office have maneuvered things very smartly in recent years, meaning they’ve got room to work with regardless. With both Quenton Nelson and Darius Leonard needing new deals in 2022, I can also foresee the Colts keeping some headspace this summer to ensure they don’t lose two of their franchise stalwarts next off-season.

Free Agents

Credit: Jenna Watson (IndyStar)

Well, the Colts have 19 players set to become free agents, so there’s set to be some significant turnover in Indy. Running back Marlon Mack looks set to move on following his unfortunate injury last year and the emergence of Taylor as a rookie sensation. I literally cannot fathom T.Y. Hilton playing for any team besides the Colts, so I really hope Chris Ballard decides to re-sign him. I would suggest it’s likely Indy bring back both Hilton and his running mate Zach Pascal to partner Michael Pittman Jr. In the QB room, Jacoby Brissett could probably be re-signed on a one year deal to lend support to Wentz as he settles into the franchise. Furthermore, the Tight End room will have a bit of a shake up, with Trey Burton and Moe Alie-Cox both free agents, though I’d suggest they’d be alright considering Jack Doyle’s production. In all likelihood, I’d guess one of those two moves on, and one remains.

There’s a few notable names on defense who look set to sail to other shores. Some will no doubt re-sign, but with Xavier Rhodes, Malik Hooker, Justin Houston, and others all set to renegotiate, it seems unlikely they’ll all remain with the Colts. That said, with the other pieces they have under contract, the Colts defense will remain fearsome whatever happens to those three big names.

Team Needs

With the Phil Rivers adventure over and done with (#ThankYouPhil, we’ll always have that time you tackled yourself trying to save a pick 6…) the Carson Wentz pick up assessed the glaring hole in the Colts offense. Will it work? … way too early to say, but I’d say that I honestly can’t see Wentz being worse than he was last year in Philly. There HAS to be some element of that 2017 Carson Wentz still in there somewhere… right?!

Defensively, you could make the argument the Colts could use a little bit more explosive pass rushing so, whether they do it in free agency or the draft, look for the Colts to add some EDGE talent at some point this summer.

With those two tight ends we mentioned earlier being out of contract, might we see Chris Ballard take a swing at an in-division free agent in Jonnu Smith? Smith has a great skill set and is super athletic, plus weakening the Titans has to be an attractive prospect in the long run. 

And carrying on the free agent theme, the Colts could do with picking up another weapon on the outside. If Hilton or Pascal were to leave Lucas Oil Stadium, then look for the Colts to be aggressive and try to tempt a big name to join them. Chris Godwin? Allen Robinson? Either way, I’d be surprised if the Colts didn’t take a WR within the first 3 rounds of the draft.

The Colts are ALMOST there – they just need to put the finishing touches to this roster, and then it’s look out AFC…