Along with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns, the Colts are one of the main suitors for Zeitler’s services as a soon-to-be free agent:
The 27 year old is expected to be arguably the most sought after offensive lineman on this year’s open free agent market.
Originally a 2012 first round pick of the Bengals, Zeitler started all 16 games for Cincinnati this past season at starting right guard. He hasn’t missed a start in consecutive seasons for the Bengals and has quickly become one of the best young offensive guards in all of football.
Per Pro Football Focus, he’s the top offensive lineman among their ‘10 best o-lineman set to hit free agency‘:
"Oct 18, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler (68) during the game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports1. Kevin Zeitler, G, Cincinnati BengalsZeitler may be just below the “elite” tier of guards, but not by much. He has earned a top-10 overall grade among guards in each of the last three seasons, and is pretty balanced in having success as both a run and pass blocker. Zeitler has allowed just one sack over the past two seasons, and recorded the fifth-highest pass-blocking efficiency among guards in 2016. At age 27, he likely has a whole contract’s worth of good years ahead of him, which gives him the edge over the next two players."
Specifically, Pro Football Focus (subscription) rated him as their 7th best offensive guard with a +87.1 overall grade this past season–including a +89.4 grade in pass blocking.
While the Green Bay Packers T.J. Lang is another prized offensive guard set to hit free agency, the advantage of Zeitler is that he’s two years younger–meaning that the Colts would theoretically have two additional years of his prime and elite level play.
There’s no question that the Colts could clearly use a veteran to solidify the starting right side of their offensive line.
It’s worth noting that a pair of rookies, Joe Haeg (RG) and Le’Raven Clark (RT), showed promise late in the season starting on the right side of the Colts offensive line. However, both players still remain unpolished, and the Colts would be rolling the dice by relying on a pair of unproven offensive lineman to shore up their offensive line woes.
It may not be the worth the significant risk given that the health of the Colts franchise player Andrew Luck could be the one whose ‘life is on the line’.
Certainly not helping matters is that the closest thing to ‘veteran insurance’ the Colts had along the offensive line, Joe Reitz, recently retired on Tuesday, which certainly adds to the team’s need for a veteran presence along the right side.
Having surrendered the 5th most sacks (44) and the 2nd most total QB hits (128) this past season, the Colts offensive line has to significantly improve in pass protection.
Keeping Luck healthy and upright has to be a top priority for the Colts this offseason, and new general manager Chris Ballard has emphasized getting stronger in the trenches–on both sides of the football:
"“Look, in this league you win upfront,” said Ballard in his introductory press conference. “You win on the o-line, d-line, and if you’re not good upfront, it’s very difficult when you get into December football. December, January football.”"
Signing a top-end veteran guard like Zeitler–or even Lang for that matter, would be a significant step in the right direction in solidifying the Colts offensive line for the foreseeable future.