The Indianapolis Colts 2020 season has come to an end. After a very promising season that saw the Colts return to the playoffs, the Colts now face a pivotal off-season to help steer the franchise in the right direction and to continue in their winning ways. The first big topic on the Colts’ off-season agenda is deciding who among their own free agents they should re-sign.
The Colts currently have 15 players set to become unrestricted free agents at the end of the NFL year. So, today we are going to play a little game of swipe left (no) or swipe right (yes), made famous by a certain dating app, with the 15 Colts’ upcoming free agents.
WR TY Hilton – Swipe Right (Yes)
TY Hilton’s potential return is a difficult decision. He has been the Colts’ number one receiver since Reggie Wayne retired in 2015. Hilton has posted great numbers, going over 1,000 yards receiving in five of his nine seasons, averaging 15.7 yards per reception, and even led the league in receiving yards in 2016. However, he is not the type of receiver that Chris Ballard targets in the draft, primarily due to his size. He does have great hands and good speed and has been the Colts’ most reliable receiving option for a long time. However, Hilton has been plagued by injury over the last few years and hasn’t played a full season since 2017; and even then it was only his fourth time doing so in his nine-year NFL career.
If Hilton is willing to return at a discounted price, I think he will return. If not, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him leave.
QB Jacoby Brissett – Swipe Left (No)
Jacoby Brissett was brought over by Colts GM Chris Ballard via trade with the New England Patriots in exchange for wide receiver Phillip Dorsett. The Colts needed another quarterback after the injury to Andrew Luck.
Brissett was originally drafted in the third round out of NC State in the 2016 NFL Draft. He ended up starting for the Colts in 2017, but without an off-season with the team, he pretty much had to learn the playbook on the fly. In 2018 he was the Colts backup as Luck returned from injury. In 2019 he was forced to start after Luck retired. Brissett had an average year in 2019, finishing with 2,942 yards passing, 18 touchdowns, and just six interceptions but the team finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs. In 2020 Brissett return to his backup role after Indianapolis acquired veteran Philip Rivers.
Brissett is a good backup quarterback, but that is likely his ceiling. He wants to be starting at quarterback. The Colts will likely have Carson Wentz and Jacob Eason on their quarterback depth chart so there is no real need for Brissett.
Justin Houston – Swipe Left (No)
Justin Houston is a dependable defensive end. He isn’t flashy, but he grinds away against both run and passing games. Houston was brought in by Chris Ballard in 2019. He had to transition to the defensive end position after having played 3-4 outside linebacker for most of his NFL career. In his two years in Indianapolis, he has produced 79 tackles, 21 for a loss, and 19 sacks.
Houston is a veteran presence on the defensive line and a leader in the locker room. Given that he is now 32 years old and just saw his lowest sack total since 2016, when he only played five games, the Colts may look for a more long term option at defensive end.
DL Denico Autry – Swipe Right (Yes)
Denico Autry was one of the first free agents Chris Ballard signed in Indianapolis when Frank Reich was named head coach. Autry came over from the Raiders, where he played a rotational role on their defensive line. He played his first two years in Indy as the team’s three-technique defensive tackle before moving over out to base defensive end, largely the result of the DeForest Buckner trade. Autry has never been a flashy player but does a lot of the dirty work.
He played exceptionally well in his first year as a Colt managing nine sacks and followed that up with a quieter second year with the Colts. In 2020 the Colts asked Autry to move to defensive end and Autry produced. Autry’s versatility to play inside and rotate out to defensive end is a quality that the Colts clearly covet.
Autry will be 31 before the season starts but his veteran presence will be needed in 2021, add in his position flexibility and skill set the Colts should re-sign Autry.
S Malik Hooker – Swipe Left (No)
Malik Hooker came into the league as a first-round pick out of Ohio State. He was Chris Ballard’s first draft pick as Colts GM. Ballard drafted him to be the Colts single-high free safety in Chuck Pagano’s defense. Hooker played right away in his rookie season and showed a lot of promise before tearing his ACL and MCL in Week 7.
Since his rookie year, Hooker has shown some improvement but the only constant has been injuries. He has never played a full 16 game season. The closest he came was in 2019 when he managed 13 games. Hooker was challenged after his rookie season to transition to a new defensive scheme under Matt Eberflus, a transition that hasn’t been smooth.
His 2020 season was cut in Week 2 when he tore his Achilles against the Vikings. His play dropped off in 2019, especially his pass coverage. Hooker is a veteran but injuries and a poor fit in the Colts scheme suggest that he shouldn’t be re-signed.
CB Xavier Rhodes – Swipe Left (No)
Xavier Rhodes signed with the Colts last year in free agency after he was released by the Minnesota Vikings. He signed a one-year prove-it deal that ended up an absolute bargain. Rhodes played like a true number one cornerback and his play was exactly what the Colts needed with Rock Ya-Sin having such an up and down year. Rhodes is now 30 years old and will be 31 before the season starts.
The trouble in choose to re-sign Rhodes is that his play last year will likely result in a lucrative contract offer. At 31 this will likely be his last opportunity to cash-in. Given his age and contract situation, the Colts should look to free agency or the draft for their next cornerback upgrades.
RB Marlon Mack – Swipe Left (No)
Marlon Mack was drafted by the Colts in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He started off his career as the backup behind veteran Frank Gore. In his second season, Mack was named the starter and has been so ever since. He tore his Achilles Week 1 against the Jaguars this year, a particularly troubling injury for a twitchy change of direction style back. These injuries can be career killers.
Given Mack’s injury and Jonathan Taylor’s massive rookie year, there is no need to re-sign the veteran. The Colts should move on and feel good about the future with Taylor, Hines, and Wilkins at running back going forward.
LB Anthony Walker Jr. – Swipe Left (No)
Anthony Walker Jr. was the first linebacker Chris Ballard drafted in Indianapolis. In his rookie season, Walker was primarily a backup in Chuck Pagano’s 3-4 defense but played in 10 games. After the Colts hired Matt Eberflus as the defensive coordinator, Walker found his home at the MIKE linebacker spot. He has been one of the Colts leaders on defense. Walker is a good overall linebacker who excels more on early downs. He has been phased out some since Bobby Okereke was drafted in 2018.
Okereke excels in coverage and Walker struggles in this area of his game. As a result, signing Walker shouldn’t be a big priority. Okereke will likely serve as the team’s primary MIKE linebacker and Walker will likely leave in free agency.
CB TJ Carrie and DE Al-Quadin Muhammad – Swipe Right (Yes)
Both TJ Carrie and Al-Quadin Muhammad are rotational players who had to step up are starters occasionally this season. Carrie signed this off-season after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns. He was brought in due to his ability to play inside and outside at corner. Carrie started 2 games and replaced Rock Ya-Sin a few times due to his inconsistent play.
Muhammad was claimed off waivers from the New Orleans Saints in 2018. He isn’t a flashy defensive end but quietly goes about his job and does it well. Muhammad plays the run well and offers some upside rushing the passer. He is exactly the type of rotational depth piece the Colts have needed at defensive end.
Neither will demand large contracts and what they can offer as depth and spot starters is valuable. Both should be re-signed.
Le’Raven Clark, Tavon Wilson, Trey Burton, Chaz Green, Joey Hunt – Swipe Left (No)
None of the above are high priorities and will likely all be replaced by outside free agents or draft picks. Clark was the Colts’ swing tackle but his poor play and season-ending injury point to the end of his tenure in Indianapolis. Wilson was brought in after injuries at the safety position but didn’t do much to warrant retention. Chaz Green was a reserve offensive lineman for the Colts but when he had to play first-team snaps he really struggled. Hunt was signed to be interior offensive line depth and is replaceable. Burton was signed to be a receiving threat at tight end but only managed 250 yards and 3 touchdowns in 13 games.