Colts roster needs some work heading into free agency

Indy Blitz

Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich walks on the field before an NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

INDIANAPOLIS – Fact is about to replace fantasy across the NFL landscape.

After weeks of speculation – Which team is signing this high-profile free agent? – we’ll soon know who’s going where and who’s going nowhere.

Teams are allowed to negotiate with pending free agents beginning noon Monday, and even though contracts can’t be finalized until 4 p.m. Wednesday, they generally are unofficially official.

The Indianapolis Colts are in prime position to be active shoppers on the free-agent market. They possess $46.7 million of cap space, an owner willing to spend and more than a few high-stress positions to address: left tackle, edge pass rusher, cornerback, wide receiver, tight end.

They also have a slew of major players whose contracts expire at the start of the new league year: T.Y. Hilton, Justin Houston, Xavier Rhodes, Denico Autry, Anthony Walker, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Marlon Mack, Malik Hooker.

General manager Chris Ballard has expressed a desire to re-sign a few of his own, but probably will allow them to test their value on the market before approaching them for new deals.

“Look, you want to bring back all of them, but that’s not realistic,’’ Ballard said in January. “They’ve gotta, one, want to be back. Two, you’ve got to be able to meet from a contract standpoint financially to bring them back. Their careers are short. Financially they’ve got to do the best they can do.

“If another team offers more money than we do, good for him. Sometimes I get (upset) about it because I don’t want to lose the player. But always be able to take a step back . . . him and his family deserve to be rewarded.’’

Here’s a position-by-position look at the roster as the Colts head into free agency. We’ve included players under contract at the end of the 2020 regular season, including those with expiring contracts, along with each player’s 2021 salary-cap figure. And we’ve included quarterback Carson Wentz, whose trade becomes official Wednesday.

QUARTERBACK

  • Under contract: Carson Wentz ($25.4 million), Jacob Eason ($963,066).
  • Expiring contract: Jacob Brissett.
  • Level of concern: Low. Look for the team to sign a proven veteran as Wentz’s backup. There isn’t enough evidence for anyone to believe Eason is ready for that role. He’s likely QB3 in year 2.

RUNNING BACK

  • Under contract: Jonathan Taylor ($1,779,353), Nyheim Hines ($2,364,137), Jordan Wilkins ($980,310), Darius Anderson ($660,000).
  • Expiring contract: Marlon Mack.
  • Level of need: Low. We might be in the minority with this, but perhaps the Colts re-sign Mack. He’s still in rehab mode after suffering a season-ending Achilles injury in the September opener, which probably limits his options on the open market. Bring him back with a low-risk one-year deal and let him serve as a proven rotational back while he regains his A-game.

WIDE RECEIVER

  • Under contract: Michael Pittman Jr. ($1,957,464), Parris Campbell ($1,302,528), Dezmon Patmon ($812,353), DeMichael Harris ($780,000).
  • Expiring contract: T.Y Hilton, Zach Pascal (restricted), Ashton Dulin (exclusive)
  • Level of need: High. Bringing back Hilton makes a ton of sense. Everyone in the organization is on record about his value in the locker room and on the field, but Ballard won’t overpay to retain an offensive cornerstone. Most expect Hilton to command a multi-year deal worth at least $10 million per season. If Hilton relocates, it probably will cost the Colts more to replace him.

TIGHT END

  • Under contract: Jack Doyle ($5,850,000), Noah Togiai ($780,000).
  • Expiring contract: Trey Burton, Mo Alie-Cox (restricted).
  • Level of need: High. Alie-Cox undoubtedly returns with the one-year restricted tender, but the offense still needs that hybrid player at the position. Ballard has addressed that through free agency (Eric Ebron, Burton), and probably will do so again.

OFFENSIVE LINE

  • Under contract: Quenton Nelson ($7,771,018), Ryan Kelly ($14.650,000), Mark Glowinski ($7,550,000), Braden Smith ($3,260,943), Danny Pinter ($867,174), Will Holden ($920,000).
  • Expiring contract: Le’Raven Clark, Joey Hunt, Chaz Green.
  • Level of need: High. Anthony Castonzo’s retirement created a massive hole at left tackle. The cost of getting a proven veteran is exorbitant, so we’re expecting Ballard to find A.C.’s successor in the first two rounds of the April draft. Once that’s done, Indy still needs to find a reliable backup tackle.

DEFENSIVE LINE

  • Under contract: DeForest Buckner ($17,000,000), Grover Stewart ($8,250,000), Tyquan Lewis ($1,389,199), Kemoko Turay ($1,660,401), Ben Banogu ($1,621,229).
  • Expiring contract: Justin Houston, Denico Autry, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Taylor Stallworth (exclusive).
  • Level of need: High. This is our No. 2 offseason priority, behind left tackle. Ballard has been committed to ensuring the d-line is well-stocked with quality and quantity. He’s drafted four lineman in the first three rounds since 2017 (Banogu, Turay, Lewis and Tarell Basham) with mixed results, and feasted on the open market (Houston, Autry, Jabaal Sheard, Jonathan Hankins, Al Woods, Margus Hunt).

LINEBACKER

  • Under contract: Darius Leonard ($4,259,783), Bobby Okereke ($977,779), Matthew Adams ($945,396), Zaire Franklin ($941,764), E.J. Speed ($922,349), Skai Moore ($850,000), Jordan Glasgow ($812,353).
  • Expiring contract: Anthony Walker.
  • Level of need: Moderate. In an ideal world, re-signing Walker would be a no-brainer. But there’s only so much cash and cap space to go around, and he’s likely the odd-man out. Okereke’s development has led to less reps for Walker. Coordinator Matt Eberflus needs to find a strong-side starter with Okereke moving inside. By the way, looking forward to that ground-breaking extension Leonard’s going to get this summer.

CORNERBACK

  • Under contract: Kenny Moore II ($6,400,000), Rock Ya-Sin ($2,159,033), Marvell Tell III ($862,041), Isaiah Rodgers ($816,281).
  • Expiring contract: Xavier Rhodes, T.J. Carrie, Tremon Smith.
  • Level of need: High. This mirrors the Hilton situation. The Colts want Rhodes back, but he might command a bigger payday on the open market. And as we’ve mentioned, Ballard generally sets a price on a player and sticks with it. If Rhodes departs, Indy again might have to pay more to find his replacement.

SAFETY

  • Under contract: Khari Willis ($1,042,009), Julian Blackmon ($1,052,011), Rolan Milligan ($780,000).
  • Expiring contract: Malik Hooker, Tavon Wilson, George Odom (restricted).
  • Level of need: Moderate. The future once included Hooker, but it’s now in the hands of Willis and Blackmon. Odom should return with under the restricted tender. This position definitely needs depth, including a No 3 guy, but that takes a backseat to priorities in other areas.

SPECIALISTS

  • Under contract: P Rigoberto Sanchez ($2,000,000), PK Rodrigo Blankenship ($786,666), LS Luke Rhodes ($990,000).
  • Expiring contract: None.
  • Level of need: Moderate. We’re not here to rain on Hot Rod’s parade, but we expect Ballard to bring in training camp competition (that’s normally the case anyway). Blankenship set team rookie records with 139 points and 32 field goals, but there were a few hiccups and his distance came into question. The most concerning miss came in the 27-24 playoff loss at Buffalo when he bounced a 33-yard attempt off the right upright – five of his six misses last year hit the goalpost – in the third quarter with the Colts trailing 17-10.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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