INDIANAPOLIS — The focus when talking about the Indianapolis Colts this offseason — and rightfully so — has centered around the quarterback position following Philip Rivers’ retirement. Consider that box checked, now that the team has an agreement to acquire Carson Wentz from the Eagles.
But general manager Chris Ballard still has some internal decisions he has to make when it comes to the rest of the roster. The Colts have 10 notable unrestricted free agents, highlighted by wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, running back Marlon Mack and defensive end Justin Houston. Let’s go position by position and provide reasons to both keep and move on from each player.
Why keep him: Reich believes in having multiple options to turn to in the backfield. Can you imagine a trio of Mack, Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines? That’s three different ways the Colts could beat teams out of the backfield. Mack rushed for 1,091 yards in 2019 before a torn Achilles in Week 1 ended his 2020 season.
Why let him walk: The Colts may not be able to afford him or Mack may not want to share the workload with Taylor, who topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark as a rookie last season. “Marlon Mack deserves a good contract,” Ballard said in January. “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do that here. But I’m not saying Marlon (won’t return).”
Why keep him: Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne are the only two receivers who are above Hilton in the team’s record books. Hilton is currently the longest-tenured Colts player on the roster.
Why let him walk: The reality is Hilton will turn 32 in November, has topped a 1,000 yards receiving just once in the past four seasons and has played all 16 games just once in that same span. This, unfortunately, outweighs the positives. It could be a case where the Colts let Hilton test the market first and then see if the two sides can reach a deal.
Why keep him: The Colts will likely be able to re-sign Burton at a cheaper price tag and he’s already familiar with Reich from Indianapolis and Philadelphia.
Why keep him: Extra depth on an offensive line that lacked it in 2020.
Why let him walk: Clark is not a starter on a playoff team. He’s more of a backup you can plug in as a starter for maybe a game, if needed. The Colts should be able to find a serviceable backup tackle in free agency or the draft.
Why keep him: The veteran had a team-high 19 sacks in two seasons with the Colts. This would be an easier decision for the Colts if they already had Houston’s replacement at defensive end on the roster. But that’s not the case, as none of the younger players played like they wanted to take over that role last season. That’s why bringing Houston back shouldn’t be ruled out.
Why let him walk: Houston turned 32 in January and at some point the Colts have to get younger at the position. Melvin Ingram, Bud Dupree and Jadeveon Clowney are some of the notable free-agent pass-rushers.
Why keep him: Autry wasn’t mentioned in the same breath as Darius Leonard, DeForest Buckner or Houston on defense, but he quietly had the second-best season of his career, totaling 7.5 sacks to bring his three-season total with the Colts to 20.
Why let him walk: Autry will be 31 later this season and he’ll likely get more money from another team as he looks to land potentially his final big contract.
Why keep him: Muhammad’s presence was felt more in the run defense than in getting sacks, as he had only five in three seasons with the team. But 56 of his 80 tackles in that same time span were solo and he’s still young (he’ll be 26 in March), which fits into the Colts’ mold of roster building.
Why let him walk: The Colts need a lot of help in the pass-rush department. Muhammad didn’t provide that.
Why keep him: Walker is one of the leaders of the defense. He has worked his way up from barely being able to get on the field as a rookie in 2017 to forming a solid trio with Leonard and Bobby Okereke.
Why let him walk: Okereke is better suited to play middle linebacker, and a possible sign of things to come occurred when Walker played only 18 snaps in the playoff loss in Buffalo. Walker wants to be a full-time starter, not a player who has to split snaps.
Why keep him: No reason, unless Hooker is willing to be a backup, which likely isn’t the case.
Why let him walk: Hooker had two of his four seasons cut short due to injuries. He tore his ACL as a rookie in 2017 and then tore his Achilles last season. Hooker didn’t play a full season in any of his four years with the Colts. Julian Blackmon stepped into Hooker’s starting role last season and appears to have that locked down for the time being. The decision by the Colts not to pick up the fifth-year option on Hooker’s contract said a lot.
Why keep him: Rhodes went from a player the Colts signed as a one-year flyer to being the team’s best cornerback last season. He had 42 tackles, two interceptions, including one he returned for a touchdown, and 12 passes defended in 2020.
Why let him walk: Rhodes increased his financial value with his play last season and will likely be able to get more money from another team.