INDIANAPOLIS – The NFL’s version of musical chairs – veteran free agency – is in its sixth day. Sixth day, not sixth week.
It only seems like six weeks to the Indianapolis Colts fan base.
While so many teams have signed so many players, general manager Chris Ballard essentially has looked on as the parade passes him by. He’s signed one free agent – former Chargers defensive end Isaac Rochell – while inside the AFC South alone, Houston has restocked a roster that clearly needed it with 25 players through free agency or trades. Jacksonville has signed 19.
In New England, Bill Belichick seems to be in the midst of an out-of-body experience. He’s signed 19 free agents – his own and other team’s discards – with $162.5 million in guarantees. Owner Robert Kraft bought the Patriots in 1994 for $172 million.
It’s largely been crickets in Indy.
The Colts have taken their usual patience to an extreme. Ballard and his staff have done a good job constructing a roster than blends promising/proven youth with veteran presences, but that playoff-caliber roster still has more than a few glaring holes at critical positions: left tackle, edge pass rusher, tight end, wideout.
Here’s where we remind you the season opener is six months away, so there’s plenty of time to decide on Anthony Castonzo’s replacement (probably in the April draft), who’ll be the pass-rush catalyst (Justin Houston coming back?), whether quarterback Carson Wentz will have a down-field tight end option (Zach Ertz?) and if T.Y. Hilton is able to finish his career where it started.
And here’s where we remind everyone about Ballard’s roster-building philosophy. It was during his introductory presser in January 2017 and Ballard was asked about how he prioritized player acquisition.
“You want to raise your own,’’ he said. “We want to be a good drafting team. We want to have a sound structure and foundation in place where we’re producing players every year for the Colts.
“Now saying that, between street free agents, between waiver claims, we’ll get into free agency a little bit but . . . you can’t buy a locker room and you have to be very careful when you enter into free agency.’’
It’s up to you whether you agree with it.
Under Ballard, the Colts have shopped selectively and with financial prudence on the open market. They’ve used the draft to stock the roster with top-tier talent – yes, there have been some misses and the 2017 draft included too many (Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson and Tarell Basham come to mind) – and they’ve done it all while not mortgaging the future to win in the present.
They’re more focused on extensions than excursions into the unknown. And that’ll continue with new contracts for linebacker Darius Leonard, right tackle Braden Smith, running back Nyheim Hines and left guard Quenton Nelson.
Now that we’ve got you sufficiently riled up over the Colts’ relative inactivity, here’s a recap of the last six days.
- Re-signed: RB Marlon Mack (one year, $2 million), CB Xavier Rhodes (one year, $6.5 million).
- Signed: DE Isaac Rochell (one year, $2.5 million).
- Restricted tenders issued: WR Zach Pascal ($3.84 million, second-round compensation), TE Mo Alie-Cox ($3.84 million, second-round compensation), S George Odum ($2.133 million, right of first refusal).
- Still unsigned: WR T.Y. Hilton, DE Justin Houston, DE Al-Quadin Muhammad, S Malik Hooker, TE Trey Burton, OT Le’Raven Clark, OT Chaz Green, CB T.J. Carrie.
- Signed elsewhere: DE Denico Autry (three years, $21.5 million with Tennessee), QB Jacoby Brissett (one year, $7.5 million with Miami), LB Anthony Walker (one year, $3.5 million with Cleveland), S Tremon Smith (one year, $1.113 million with Houston), S Tavon Wilson (one year with San Francisco).
The Colts continue to express their interest in re-signing Hilton, but he continues to be a four-time Pro Bowl wideout without a team.
This was owner Jim Irsay last week: “I think there is going to be an opportunity for us to get something down with T.Y. I know I really would love to see T.Y. back. He is a special, special Colt player. I know Chris is working hard on that and we have optimism there that that can happen.’’
It hasn’t simply because Hilton still is weighing his options. He has told Ballard he will give him the opportunity to match any offer he receives on the open market, but that’s a risky proposition.
It’s also risky to be a week into free agency and still have the Hilton situation unresolved. Overall it’s been a soft market for wideouts unless you happen to be Kenny Gollday (four years, $72 million with the New York Giants) or Corey Davis (three years, $37.5 million with the New York Jets), but Hilton is the top free agent available at his position. All it’s going to take is one receiver-needy team to push Hilton’s price higher than the Colts are willing to pay.
We still expect Hilton to re-up with the Colts. If not, they’ll have to find a suitable replacement in a depleted receiver market or add a young prospect through the draft. Neither option is appealing.
The Colts’ receivers room needs Hilton’s leadership and Wentz needs his on-field presence.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.