INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – We’re less than a week into the NFL’s new league year and the 2017 Indianapolis Colts already are dramatically different than the 2016 Indianapolis Colts.
And the contrast will only increase.
Retirement has claimed mainstays Robert Mathis, Pat McAfee and Joe Reitz.
After a critical view of the roster he inherited, general manager Chris Ballard cut starting inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and starting cornerback Patrick Robinson, and traded starting tight end Dwayne Allen to New England.
He re-signed tight end Jack Doyle and backup running back Robert Turbin and still might bring back versatile defensive back Darius Butler. But Ballard allowed more than a dozen players to walk, including Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams, linebackers Erik Walden and Trent Cole, defensive lineman Zach Kerr, backup offensive lineman Jon Harrison and kick returner/running back Jordan Todman.
Of the 66 players under contract at the end of last season, 17 are gone, including five who started the regular-season wrap-up against Jacksonville. That’s a quarter of the roster.
And that’s to be expected, with more to come. Much more.
Remember, these are not Ballard’s players. There are limits to his overhaul, but he won’t tread lightly in remaking the roster.
For proof we remind you of the dramatic facelift that occurred when Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano arrived in 2012 and charged with transitioning the franchise from the Peyton Manning/Bill Polian era. The 53-player roster that faced the Chicago Bears in the 2012 opener at Soldier Field consisted of just 23 holdovers from the previous season. Nine of 11 offensive starters were newbies.
Ballard’s commitment to strengthen the roster – from top to bottom – has been clear from Day 1. He’s talked about it never being about one person (we might argue that point on a roster that features Andrew Luck) and the importance of increasing the competition at every position.
Every team has depth. Contending teams possess quality depth.
Too often last season the Colts replaced an injured starter with unproven talent.
Ballard has spent the first week of free agency doing exactly what he promised: bolstering the entire roster.
Rush linebacker Jabaal Sheard represents a possible impact presence on defense while John Simon appears to be a legitimate strong-side replacement to Walden. The other acquisitions have “positional competition’’ written all over them, including center/guard Brian Schwenke, defensive end Margus Hunt and linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
“We’re going to try to acquire as many young players that we can to have a competitive roster,’’ Ballard said.
Last season, the Colts relied heavily on 12 players who were 30 or older. Seven no longer are on the roster: Mathis, Reitz, Adams, Jackson, Walden, Cole and Butler.
But more than simply getting younger, Ballard wants a roster that’s stronger from top-to-bottom.
“We want the most competitive roster we can get,’’ he said. “That’s how you get great. That’s how you get to be special as a team.’’