Tis’ the season.
The days following the NFL draft are some of the best times to be a fan of your franchise. Why? Because there is reason to hope. You and your friends on (insert NFL team) Twitter believe that your team has been set up for success, whether it be now or in a few years. That new franchise quarterback will deliver a Lombardi soon.
Or so goes the narrative.
In reality, your new quarterback probably won’t be on the team in the next 5-6 years, and most of the players that were drafted alongside him will be on a different team or out of the league over that time. The point of this article isn’t to rain on everyone’s parade, but instead to temper your expectations. Only one team can win the Super Bowl each year, and there are 32 teams, some of which have never reached the Super Bowl before.
We, as Colts fans, are very fortunate to have had multiple competitive teams since the turn of the century. 1 Super Bowl victory in 2 appearances makes the Colts one of the winningest franchises since 2000. Many fans of other teams would kill to have the same success the Colts have had, and I, as a fan, consider myself lucky to have been able to watch it. I am certainly not arguing for complacency or that we as a fanbase should be satisfied due to this success, as that would be foolish. I am saying that we as fans know something deep down but may not want to admit: The Colts will most likely not represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVI, and the future beyond this year is filled with many question marks. Hopefully, my deep dive into these questions will give you a longer-term outlook of the Indianapolis Colts’ direction as a franchise.
- Free Agency 2022
According to Spotrac, the Colts currently have 38 free agents upcoming next year; this includes everyone from Darius Leonard to Joey Hunt and offers a glimpse into the issues the Colts may face after this season comes to an end. Jim Irsay recently said that the Colts would extend Braden Smith, Darius Leonard, and possibly Nyheim Hines in the future, which takes care of a few long-term positions. However, players such as TY Hilton, Mark Glowinski, Xavier Rhodes, Mo Alie-Cox, Zach Pascal, and TJ Carrie were major contributors 2020 for the Colts and are set to hit the market. This off-season was as simple as resigning some of these players as stopgaps. But signing 30 plus-year-old players to one-year deals to consistently play as your top options at premium positions is not the way to build a reliable future. There are other important role players to mention, including Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyquan Lewis, Zaire Frankin, Matthew Adams, Zaire Franklin, and George Odum. They are also set to become free agents after this year. Chris Ballard will not be re-signing everyone from this group, which opens up multiple spots at positions Colts fans haven’t had to worry about over the past few years. Between the major contributors and the depth pieces I just mentioned, the Colts will have significant holes in their roster that have to be addressed. Without a first-round pick (most likely), the pressure will be on Chris Ballard to find immediate starters at these positions or, use his least favorite team-building method, free agency.
- Possible Solutions
What I just laid out may seem like a doomsday, worst-case scenario hypothetical. However, as the header to this section states boldly, there are possible solutions. The young, raw players that Chris Ballard has acquired over his tenure are coming to a fork in the road in their development. They can either prove their worth as valuable members of a roster within the league or fade into the obscurity of practice squad hopping. This is most obviously the case with the Colts defensive line unit. Tyquan Lewis, Kemoko Turay, and Ben Banogu are on the clock. Will they step up into starting roles that give the Colts flexibility in that unit moving forward? Or will they fail to be resigned after this season, or in Banogu’s case cut, after disappointing years? Only time will tell on how Ballard will construct the future Colts defensive line. If even two of those players become contributors, the unit has the potential to be among the scariest in the league.
Okay, great, but what about possibly having to replace TY Hilton, Xavier Rhodes, and Mark Glowinski? There are a lot of variables that go into this. I wish I could tell you the answer was as simple as Michael Pittman Jr, Rock Ya-Sin, and Danny Pinter. But the odds of all three of those players developing into the roles that are needed are slim. For instance, what are the odds of both Pittman and Ya-Sin becoming Wide Receiver 1 and Cornerback 1, respectively? To go along with that, their current positions on the roster as the number 2 at both of those positions will be vacated, creating another hole. Eventually, slotting a player up one spot on the depth chart each year doesn’t work, and a hole opens up on the roster that has to be filled. This isn’t to say Hilton and Co. won’t be brought back, but how long can you count on an aging Xavier Rhodes to be effective on one-year deals without having to go out and find yourself a true Cornerback 1. The same principle applies to wideout with TY. These players are no longer seen within the organization as long-term contributors, and even if they are resigned at the end of next year, large roles will have to be taken up by younger players. In reality, we will be asking about these players and their respective positions next year, wondering if the position groups themselves give the Colts a chance to compete for a Super Bowl.
So what does all this mean?
If anything is guaranteed in the National Football League, it’s that stagnation will never reign, and this is especially true in roster construction. Father time is undefeated, and the job of a general manager is to keep up with it. Skill diminishes with age for the vast majority of NFL players unless you’re a certain quarterback in Tampa Bay that we don’t speak of. With the diminishing returns comes the need to find younger players who can fill the shoes of their predecessors. The Colts have aging players at key positions that have been signed as stopgaps for this year. Unless the players behind them can step up and carry the torch for the foreseeable future, there will be major questions for Chris Ballard to answer next offseason.
Any way you slice it, there will be significant needs on the Colts roster next year as currently constructed. The way the organization will add to the team to make it a legitimate contender remains to be seen. Of course, the elephant in the room is that none of this will matter if Carson Wentz proves to be an ineffective quarterback. But that, my friends, is a can of worms for another day.