INDIANAPOLIS – It is an offseason starting earlier than anyone thought was possible just two weeks ago.
That 98 percent chance of making the playoffs with two games remaining in the Colts season developed into two losses to two interim coaches when Indianapolis was favored by a combined 23 points.
With that, the Colts (9-8) are back to the drawing board after finishing 8th in the 16-team AFC.
Here are 9 storylines (one for each Colts win this year) for the 2022 offseason:
1. Decision Needed On Carson Wentz
When discussing the financials of Wentz moving forward (has $15 million guaranteed for 2022) and the QBs seemingly available (weak free agency and draft class at QB), odds are Carson Wentz will be starting again for the Colts this September.
But a real discussion is needed on Wentz’s future, and Frank Reich seems open to it after his comments on Monday, which followed a notable meeting with Jim Irsay the previous night.
Why did a healthy Wentz wilt more often than not in the game’s biggest moments? Is committing to him just delaying the inevitable at quarterback? Would Wentz’s level of play rise with more training camp practice and better personnel at wide receiver and tight end?
Frank Reich must put his strong off-the-field relationship aside when making a critical evaluation on if Wentz is worth another year when making nearly $30 million.
2. Change In Roster Building
Is Chris Ballard building the Colts in the way modern-era football is played?
There’s no denying that the passing game, on both sides of the ball, is where the NFL game has its most focus right now.
Ballard has hit on numerous draft picks in his tenure, but so many of those revolve around the run game, and not the pass.
Where has that got the Colts? In the middle of the AFC pack.
It’s time for the Colts to put serious (and correct) investment into the positions that matter the most in today’s NFL. That would be quarterback, wide receiver, left tackle, defensive end and cornerback.
3. Any Changes Near The Top?
This is unlikely.
There are reasons to maintain Chris Ballard and Frank Reich. Although those contract extensions Jim Irsay gave Ballard and Reich before the start of the season continue to look laughable.
Similar to the decision with Wentz, the question on making a decision on Ballard and Reich should not be influenced by the financial implications.
If we don’t see anything significant at GM or head coach though (which is expected), what about Matt Eberflus at defensive coordinator?
Who is to answer for another year of silent pass rushing? Not the right talent found by Ballard? Not enough development from Eberflus and the defensive staff?
No position group has underperformed more under the 5 years of Ballard than the pass rush bunch.
4. What About Parris Campbell?
Still playing on his rookie contract, Campbell has one more year left due $1.1 million. So cutting him wouldn’t save the team a massive number.
No matter what the Colts decide with Campbell—let his rookie contract finish out in 2022 or cut him now—this should have no impact on the importance to upgrade the wide receiver position in the upcoming offseason.
Yes, Campbell brings a unique talent, but he can’t be relied upon as someone you pencil into the depth chart. If healthy, his presence is a bonus.
So, finding answers around Michael Pittman is a huge priority, with more support needed for Carson Wentz (or whoever is the QB in 2022).
5. Quenton Nelson Contract Extension Debate
Nelson is under contract for 2022 on that 5th year rookie option of $13.7 million (nearly doubling Nelson’s cap number from this past year).
Under Chris Ballard, the organization has handed out second contracts to players like Nelson heading into the final years of their respective deals.
With Nelson due an eye-popping extension number, should the Colts give him that?
Does an offensive guard deserve such a contract? What about Nelson’s injury history rising to 3 surgeries in a 9-month period last year? Did the presence of Chris Reed filling in for Nelson this past season impact this question?
Such a debate seemed a bit ludicrous in previous years. It’s fair to be asked though, especially when you go back to the proper roster building blueprint in the 2022 NFL.
6. Retirements For T.Y. Hilton, Jack Doyle?
Two pillar Colts have acknowledged retirement decisions forthcoming.
Let’s start with Hilton, who just wrapped up his 10th NFL season at the age of 32. Hilton, a free agent this offseason, caught 23 balls for 331 yards and 3 touchdowns in 10 games played.
While, Hilton was limited a bit by the play of Carson Wentz, his play and health has dipped in recent years.
Doyle has had a hell of a run playing for his hometown team. Doyle, 31, has one year remaining on his contract, and is due $6.2 million for the 2022 season.
Both have said they will bounce ideas off the other in making their decisions, and both sound like guys content with calling it a career.
7. Resources A Bit Scarce
In listing the reasons why this season was a fail, not having a first-round pick falls right near the top of the list.
With Carson Wentz easily eclipsing the play time threshold for the Colts/Eagles trade, the No. 16 overall pick is now going from Indianapolis to Philadelphia.
This is a brutal blow to the Colts, with so many important positions left to address with unanswered/unproven names moving forward.
The Colts do have more than $50 million available in cap space, but they also have a handful of starters that are free agents.
8. Present And Future At Left Tackle Up In The Air
The bet on Eric Fisher did not pay off for the Colts.
Fisher struggled mightily in pass coverage coming off his January 2021 torn Achilles.
So the question is can the 31-year-old Fisher re-gain his old form, two years removed from such a devastating injury? Is Matt Pryor an in-house option if Fisher isn’t the guy? Or if Fisher costs too much money (Fisher had a cap hit of nearly $7 million last year)?
Long-term, the answer at left tackle remains a mystery.
Is this finally the year Chris Ballard gives LT attention in the draft?
9. Free Agents To Prioritize
Like was stated above, the Colts have around $50 million available in cap space this offseason.
The free agents of note include: Marlon Mack, T.Y. Hilton, Mo Alie-Cox, Eric Fisher, Mark Glowinski, Al-Quadin Muhammad, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Xavier Rhodes, Michael Badgley.
When you look at that list, are any of those guys “must re-sign?”
It’s hard to put anyone in that category, even if you have 7-8 starters potentially hitting the open market. Still, decisions are needed on guys who have had notable roles in years past.