Salute Magazine’s Exit Interview series examines the status of each NFL team heading into the offseason, along with their free agents, team needs and more. Click here for the rest of the exit interviews. Up next: the Indianapolis Colts.
2017 was a lost year for the Colts as soon as Andrew Luck started missing regular season games as a result of offseason shoulder surgery. However, as the season went on, it was clear that Luck’s absence wasn’t the only reason for their ineffective play.
The Colts have holes all over the roster. Their only two stable position groups are the defensive line and the safeties. The rest have a few bright spots but are largely mediocre. That’s mostly the result of general manager Chris Ballard inheriting a mess from previous GM Ryan Grigson, but the former has his work cut out for him this offseason if he wants to get the team back to competitive play. At least Ballard has a good amount of money to spend.
It starts with the head coach. Chuck Pagano seems like a nice guy, and his fight against cancer back in 2012 was truly courageous. But the magic of those first few seasons faded fast, and the Colts quickly fell apart. Pagano didn’t do enough to scheme around the depleted roster talent, and he got fired as a result.
The team’s coaching search is wide open as of now; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels seems to currently be a prime target, but other teams are chasing him hard too. He could be a nice fit for their offense, and whoever the Colts hire should have time to slowly build the team up. However, that doesn’t mean they should tank next season either.
Getting a healthy Luck back will be a priority as well. Jacoby Brissett did as well as he could this year, but his ceiling as a quarterback is probably limited. Still, the Colts can’t wait around for Luck forever. Throwing in the towel for three straight seasons isn’t exactly good for their fanbase. Having high draft picks this year could help bolster their roster for the future.
Current number of draft picks: 7 (#3 in the first round)
Cap space: $77-84 million
Notable free agents
Frank Gore, RB: Gore is 5th on the career rushing list, and only needs 76 yards to pass Curtis Martin for 4th. He was decent enough in 2017, leading the team with 961 yards on the ground. It’s clear that he’s nearing the end, however, and if he does come back, he’ll need a partner to man the backfield with.
Rashaan Melvin, CB: Undrafted out of Northern Illinois, Melvin has bounced around the league for a while, spending time with four different teams before arriving at Indianapolis last season. He came out of nowhere this year to emerge as the Colts’ best cornerback, leading the team with 3 interceptions and 13 deflections. It’ll be interesting to see how much interest he draws in free agency.
Jack Mewhort, G: Mewhort was the most consistent lineman on the Colts the past few years before falling off a cliff this season. He had a Pro Football Focus grade of 46.1, down from an average of 80.2 in his first three seasons. He ended up playing just five games before going to injured reserve. In spite of his dropoff, Mewhort is still their best option in the interior offensive line.
Jon Bostic, ILB: Known primarily for special teams before this season, Bostic signed a one-year prove-it deal with the Colts and ended up finishing second on the team in tackles with a total of 97. The rest of the inside linebackers weren’t as stable, so keeping him around wouldn’t be a bad thing.
Donte Moncrief, WR: Moncrief had a lot of hype at the end of 2015, and many thought he’d break out the following year, which was cut short by injury. Despite playing in more games this season, he only caught 26 passes for 391 yards. He’s only 24, so there’s plenty of time for that potential to come out, but Moncrief might need a change of scenery in order to do so.
Adam Vinatieri, K: Perhaps the greatest kicker in NFL history, Vinatieri just turned 45 back a few weeks ago, yet he still hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. He could play until he’s 50 if he wants to.
T: Anthony Castonzo was solid at left tackle this past season, but the right tackle position was a disaster area. The Colts should think about targeting one of the top free agents come March, though this year’s group isn’t exactly inspiring.
G: Mewhort and fill-in backup Mike Person will both be free agents, and the rest of the interior lineman aren’t very inspiring. The Colts may have to think about spending the #3 pick in the draft on Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson.
RB: Gore’s contract is up, and it remains to be seen if the soon-to-be 35-year-old wants to come back for more. Marlon Mack is the only other runner on the roster with much upside. Saquon Barkley at #3 will be very enticing.
LB: Bostic is a free agent, and if he leaves, it would leave a barren wasteland at inside linebacker. Barkevious Mingo will also be hitting the open market, which would leave little at outside linebacker outside of Jabaal Sheard and John Simon.
CB: Melvin’s quasi-breakout season could earn him a contract outside of the Colts price range. They let Vontae Davis go during the middle of the year as well. Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston will be entering their second seasons, but they’ll need a veteran presence to help them grow.
Best player/building block
Andrew Luck, QB: It has to Luck, right? He’s signed to a big money contract through 2021, and a commitment to that degree is a serious one for any organization. When he’s healthy, Luck is one of the most talented passers in the NFL. But injuries have taken the last two seasons from him and his team. Simply put, when Luck isn’t playing, the Colts are stuck in quicksand.
Jabaal Sheard, OLB: The Colts defense was largely ineffective this season, save for the previously mentioned Melvin and Sheard, the latter of whom finally started to show his true potential. While he only had 5.5 sacks, he was productive as a pass rusher and against the run (ranked 9th and 6th respectively by PFF among edge rushers). If the Colts can add another outside linebacker, Sheard could continue to get better on defense.
AFC North: Cleveland Browns
NFC East: New York Giants