A wild 2020 offseason has wound down and the Colts have not shied away from utilizing free agency in their favor. Here are the pros and cons of the team’s transactions.
In a completely different direction than what was expected of GM Chris Ballard and the rest of the front office, the team has put themselves in “win-now” mode after spending nearly $50 million in cap space this past week alone, all the while trading away the 13th overall pick. Let’s look at the Colts’ biggest transactions so far in the new league year.
What went down: In a very surprising first move by the Colts this season, Ballard opted to trade the valuable 13th overall pick for 49ers defensive lineman, DeForest Buckner. In this straight-up trade, Ballard acquired the 26-year-old Pro Bowler without giving up any other assets besides the pick. Buckner is set to bring a dominant pass rush to the Colts defensive line.
Why it’s a great move: As I just stated above, Buckner is 26 years old and a Pro Bowl defensive lineman. That’s exactly what the Colts are looking for on defense. One of the team’s biggest weaknesses, and oldest position group, is the defensive line. Justin Houston and Jabaal Sheard are solid players on the end, however, both are over 30 and are set to decline in a minimum of 2 years. Outside of them, the Colts have used a revolving door at defensive tackle. Both Kemoko Turay and Tyquan Lewis are young players with starting potential, but they still are players in dire need of some more experience before they can replace Houston or Sheard.
Buckner is an established star at his position and has the ability to record more than 10 sacks in a season and 40 tackles (he recorded 12 sacks in 2018). With the team only giving up the 13th pick, they are effectively “selecting” Buckner with that pick. Rather than a college player with potential, Buckner to the Colts brings the Pro Bowl talent that the defense needs heading into 2020.
Why it isn’t: The cons to the Buckner trade can be boiled down to two things: his new contract and the loss of the 13th pick. The lineman signed a 5-year deal worth $21 million dollars per year, without incentives. Cap space wasn’t a concern for the Colts going into this offseason, so it’s a very smart move by the front office to lock him up for that long.
The only concern is if he lives up to that expensive of a deal. The deal is the 2nd-most given to a defensive lineman in the NFL currently, as well as the 2nd-most in NFL history at the position, both behind Aaron Donald of the LA Rams. Buckner is an extremely talented player and deserves a large contract, but how large is too large? That’s the question to be answered as he plays out his season with the team.
Without the 13th pick, the Colts have taken themselves out of the running for a top prospect at QB and WR. The majority of mock drafts heading into the offseason had the Colts picking either Utah State QB Jordan Love or Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy.
Both have the potential to be incredible players in the league. The Colts are still in desperate need of a second wide receiver, especially after Devin Funchess signed with the Green Bay Packers. Although the draft is historic in terms of wide receiver prospects and the team should have no problem finding talent in the second round, it’s still a risk to pass up on a transcendent talent like Jeudy or Love to bolster the lackluster offense, no matter how good the haul is.
What went down: The former Charger quarterback agreed to a one-year, $25 million dollar deal to sign with the Colts.
Why it’s a great move: The Colts are ready to win now. With the team signing the 38-year-old quarterback, it’s clear that addressing the position was one of the big needs heading into the 2020 season. The team recognized that current QB Jacoby Brissett isn’t the option moving forward; bringing in Philip Rivers solidifies the position for the next year or two while the team looks to find a suitable young prospect to sit behind the veteran in the coming seasons.
Rivers’ ability to throw the football has dipped with age, but he still has a great throwing motion and can throw the deep ball accurately. One of Brissett’s negatives as a quarterback last season was his inability to get the ball down the field in chunk plays.
It resulted in an offense too reliant on the run game and led to an average, at best, unit last season. Yes, Rivers did throw 20 interceptions last season, but he did throw for over 4600 yards last season and has finished with over 4000 yards in 11 of his 14 seasons as the Chargers’ starter. Rivers is a proven veteran that can lead the Colts into a deep playoff run while the team is ready to win.
Why it’s not: In terms of the signing itself, there isn’t any risk at all in bringing Rivers in, especially on a one-year deal. While $25 million is expensive, if Rivers doesn’t play well enough next season, there isn’t any money tied up if he were to be released.
The real problem for the Colts is the total amount of cap space that is taken up by the QB position. Brissett’s 2-year, $30 million dollar contract is set to expire after the 2020 season is concluded, however, that amount of space taken up doesn’t allow for any more big signings for the Colts this offseason.
That may not be of the biggest concern, but it’s unlikely that the Colts release Brissett. He’s a proven backup with starting potential; he isn’t worth his contract, unfortunately. If the team looks to trade him, it would be difficult, given his contract.
What went down: Former 49er defensive lineman Sheldon Day and the Colts agreed to a one-year deal on March 25th.
Why it’s a great move: Day doesn’t do a lot on the stat sheet, but the Colts don’t need someone to fill the sheet. Buckner, Houston, Sheard, and LB Darius Leonard will all be at the forefront of the Colts defense moving forward. One of Chris Ballard’s key beliefs is competition; Day brings exactly that to the defensive interior unit that boasts Turay, Lewis, and Ben Banogou. The former 49er will be a key piece of the interior rotation in 2020 and his one-year contract, along with that of Rivers and Brissett, provides cap flexibility in what will be an extremely busy offseason in 2021.
Why it’s not: There isn’t anything wrong with this deal other than the fact that Day might not end up being as key of a rotational player as expecting. He only notched one sack last season and 15 total tackles in 16 games; he’ll have to fight for playing time with Banogou and Lewis moving forward.
What went down: Colts offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo agreed to a two-year extension, keeping him in Indianapolis through the 2021 season.
Why it’s a great move: The Colts’ most important transaction of the offseason was the re-signing of Castonzo. Selected as a Pro Bowl alternate and the 2nd-Team All-Pro, the 9-year veteran is coming off of the best season of his career.
According to Pro Football Focus, he let up only 3 sacks and 5 QB pressures all season while not missing a snap. Castonzo is the glue for the team’s top-tier offensive line. Although LG Quenton Nelson is the clear face of the league for offensive linemen and C Ryan Kelly is now at a Pro Bowl level, Castonzo is still the most critical piece of Indy’s line solely due to how consistent he is. It’s a no-brainer to see him back in the building for another two years and solidifies that the team’s offensive line will return all five of its starters once again.
Why it’s not: N/A.
Castonzo’s two-year deal is a perfect move; it gives Phillip Rivers his starting tackle for multiple years and allows some breathing room until having to look at the next step in the tackle’s career. He is a lifetime Colt and will continue to play at Pro Bowl level alongside his fellow star offensive lineman.
What went down: Former Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes and the Colts agreed to a one-year deal on March 26th.
Why it’s a great move: The Colts are in desperate need of a number one cornerback, especially after the team released CB Pierre Desir this past week. Outside of Kenny Moore in the slot, the cornerback unit is incredibly young and in dire need of a proven veteran presence in the locker room.
Rhodes can definitely bring that; he’s at the peak of his career at a ripe age of 29. His two year stretch in 2016 and 2017 was a dominant one. He totaled 7 interceptions in those two years (5 in 2016) and 21 passes defended. Rhodes earned Pro Bowl honors both years and was selected to the First-Team All-Pro in 2017.
Rhodes, like the majority of the Colts’ free-agent signings this offseason, have been one-year deals. It’s a perfect situation for the CB as he looks to prove himself after two lackluster seasons in 2018 and 2019 (we’ll touch on that shortly). He has the potential to be the Colts’ lockdown outside CB that the team has been looking for since Vontae Davis left in 2017. It’s clear that Rhodes, despite his recent struggles, has shown enough to merit him amongst the top corners in the NFL.
Why it’s not: It seemed that the cornerback was ready to place among the top corners in the NFL following his stellar 2017 campaign. However, Rhodes has failed to measure up anywhere close to that since then. Rhodes wasn’t a reliable player for the Vikings the past two years, and even though he was selected into the Pro Bowl as an alternate, it’s clear that there’s been too much left on the table compared to previous years.
Rhodes allowed a below-average 123.8 passer rating and an 81.5% completion rate last season when targeted. In comparison, Desir finished with a 96.5 passer rating and a 64.9% completion rate. That isn’t anywhere close to what the Colts are looking for in a potential top corner on the roster. Rhodes’ only upside in comparison to Desir is his lack of injuries, which is one of the most likely reasons that led to the release of Desir and Rhodes’ signing.
Rhodes needs to get back on track next season and at least return to a consistent level of play if he is to have a future with the Colts as the number one cornerback on the roster. If he can, he’d be a key asset in the coming years on defense for a couple of deep playoff runs.