INDIANAPOLIS – There was back and forth, an internal debate that began last offeason and was rekindled as Anthony Castonzo’s 10th NFL season was interrupted by an ankle injury.
Am I willing to re-commit to my normal regimented offseason process?
Am I coming back for 2021?
Am I done?
Castonzo bounced the various scenarios off his family, his wife, teammates, friends.
He has maintained close contact with Andrew Luck, who suddenly retired in August 2019, and Jack Mewhort, one of his offensive line comrades who was forced from the NFL when his body no longer could hold up during 2018 training camp.
Great resources, he called them all. Great friends and sounding boards. They had been here, and are doing that.
“I talk to Andrew regularly. He and I are still very good friends,’’ Castonzo said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “Yeah, I talked to him, just saying, ‘What’s it like?’’’
He wasn’t seeking that final weight to tip the scales in a certain direction.
“It was more leaning on him for, ‘What’s it going to be like? After you retire, what is life like?’’’ Castonzo said.
He’s about to find out.
After 10 seasons with an Indianapolis Colts franchise that selected him with the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft, and after starting 152 of a possible 169 games at left tackle, and after being an integral part of five playoff teams, and after protecting the blindside of a quarterback gamut that ranged from Luck to Jacoby Brissett to Philip Rivers, Castonzo decided enough was enough.
“It’s hard to explain,’’ he said on a Tuesday Zoom conference call. “It’s kinda one of those things when you know, you know. I waited to finally make the decision after the season, but I contemplated it last year, and I’ve kinda been thinking about it and trying to evaluate things.
“It just seemed that it was the right time and after doing it, I’m very pleased with my decision. I feel very good about it.’’
He informed general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich Sunday.
“It was kind of like, ‘Hey, we would love to try to talk you into staying around year,’ but I went to them with conviction to let them know that I was finished,’’ Castonzo said. “They were both extremely happy for me.’’
He opted to hit the reset button last March and returned with a two-year, $33 million extension. It’s worth noting he’s earned more than $76 million in his career but walks away from a 2021 base salary of $16 million. He leaves the Colts with no dead money against the salary cap, but a massive hole at the most important position on their offensive line.
He walks away – well, limps away considering he underwent season-ending surgery on his right ankle in late December – with no hesitation.
“I feel extremely fortunate,’’ Castonzo said. “I feel like I put everything that I had for 10 years into the game and have really no regrets. That has allowed me to be really at peace with this retirement, that I’m going away and not a single regret that I can think of.
“That has me in a good place.’’
As a rookie in ’11, he routinely stood face-to-face in practice with Dwight Freeney, one of the NFL’s fiercest edge pass rushers. It was enough to have Castonzo questioning his worthiness.
“I swear, that’s one of the first things I thought about when I looked back on my career,’’ he said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘If you would have told me after training camp of my rookie year I was going to have a 10-year career, I would have laughed in your face.’ I was like, ‘I can’t block anybody in the NFL.’ Dwight Freeney did that to me.
“As a rookie I was just trying to survive.’’
Ten years later, he walks away after proving he could block the elite edge rushers in the NFL. He walks away with more than a little sense of pride.
“As soon as I made the decision and I said I’m going to retire, it was like I took a big deep breath,’’ Castonzo said. “I was able to say, ‘You know what? I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done in 10 years.’ It was pretty cool to immediately get that perspective and not have to think about, “OK, what’s the next thing I need to do to get prepared for the next day?’
“I’m ready to take a little break from football. I’ve been playing non-stop every year for 25 years. I’m ready to take a little bit of a break.’’
The internal praise poured out for Castonzo.
From owner Jim Irsay: “The Colts have been blessed with many talented offensive linemen throughout our rich history and Anthony Castonzo is among the best to represent the Horseshoe . . . he will be sorely missed . . . and we congratulate him on a fantastic career.’’
From Ballard: “Anthony was a pillar of this team for the last 10 years. He played one of the toughest positions in the game at an extremely high level for a long time.’’
And from Reich: “I was an assistant coach with the Colts when Anthony was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft. From day 1, I knew he would be a special player.’’
Castonzo insisted the injuries he dealt with this season didn’t seriously impact his decision. There were damaged ribs, a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee and the injury to his right ankle that occurred during a Christmas Eve practice.
“Would it have been more ideal to finish with a nice playoff run? Yeah. But it’s football. Injuries happen,’’ he said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to go through a career where I haven’t really had major injuries.
“It was just a little extra punctuation on the fact that, yeah, I am going out there sacrificing my body every week.’’
At some point during his final season, Castonzo decided he simply no longer was all-in. He prided himself on taking a short time off after one season before fully committing himself to what it took to prepare for the next. He loved “the process.’’
“When I couldn’t get a clear picture of what that was going to look like going forward, that was when the decision really started to come to light for me,’’ he said.
Castonzo, 32, isn’t certain what post-NFL life holds, other than “chillin’ for a little bit.’’
“No. 1 on my list is probably lose a little bit of weight, just because I can. Also, get healthy. I’ve got this ankle.
“I’m excited to kinda let my creativity open up and be able to use my brain for something other than game plans. I’ve been kind of stuck in an almost military-like process, knowing what I need to do at what moment. Seeing what I can come up with is exciting challenge.’’
What’s next at left tackle?
Castonzo’s retirement makes finding his replacement a major offseason priority. The Colts are 4-13 when he’s missed a game with an injury, and there is no suitable successor on the roster. The Colts hold the 21st overall pick in the April draft.
It’s interesting the Colts’ last two franchise left tackles came at about that spot: Castonzo with the 22nd overall pick and Tarik Glenn with the 19th overall pick in ’97.
There’s the possibility of moving three-time, first-team All-Pro left guard to tackle. Reich and Ballard have at least considered that option. Nelson took a handful of snaps at left tackle when Castonzo temporarily left the Las Vegas Raiders game with a knee issue.
Castonzo and Nelson have discussed Nelson’s viability at a new position.
“If that’s what happens, I’m going to tell you right now he’s going to do a nice job,’’ Castonzo said. “He’s got all the skills to do it.’’
There were times during practice Nelson would insist on taking reps at left tackle with the scout team.
“He’s come up to me and be like, ‘Look at my set. Look at my set. What do you think? What do you think?’’’ Castonzo said. “I’m like, ‘You know what? Honestly it’s pretty good. Surprisingly, it’s actually pretty good.’
“He knows what comes with it out there. There’s a lot of space you’ve got to deal with. If that does come to fruition, I bet we’ll end up having a lot of conversations about technical stuff.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.