The Colts offseason needs to be defended. Among all teams in the NFL, they arguably had the best in the league.
To address the first criticism, the Buckner trade itself was the best move in the league in terms of an upgrade. Buckner is coming off of the best season of his career, where he finished with 7.5 sacks, 8 TFL, 2 FF, and 4 FR (one returned for a touchdown). While he had a better season in 2018 in terms of stopping the run and getting to the quarterback (12 sacks, 17 TFL), he was a more well-rounded player in 2019 and it showed with his All-Pro selection.
His contract is expensive in comparison to the other deals as the position as a whole. Buckner’s $21 million per year contract ranks as the 2nd-highest per year contract among all defensive lineman in the NFL, sitting only behind 2-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and tied with DeMarcus Lawrence.
In defense of his contract, Buckner is one of the best linemen in the league. He’s in the top tier of players and has the potential to be a future Defensive Player of the Year. This season, he’ll be the premier linemen in the Colts’ front seven and will have every opportunity to shine each week. He was one of the 49ers’ best run-stoppers and will have no issue translating his skills to Indianapolis.
Barnwell’s second criticism is easiest to agree with. The Colts’ 5 offensive line starters played in all 16 games last season, but that isn’t something the team can rely on each and every year. Outside of the five starters, including Anthony Castonzo and his new 2-year deal, the Colts have only 3 players with previous NFL experience, as well as rookie Danny Pinter.
If the unit can stay healthy again next season, it’ll be one of the best lines in the NFL. It will still be a concern moving forward, but the team can rebuild the depth over the next two offseason as Castonzo nears his retirement.
The last criticism is in the secondary. The Colts lost two starters from 2019 (CB Pierre Desir and S Clayton Geathers) but have replaced them with former Pro Bowl CB Xavier Rhodes and S Julian Blackmon out of the draft. The team also signed T.J. Carrie for depth.
Barnwell discussed the lack of production on the back end, specifically with Malik Hooker. While Hooker hasn’t produced well since the first seven games of his 2017 rookie season, there is still hope for the ball-hawking safety. He’s shown flashes of his immense potential, and as he grows more comfortable coming back from his various injuries, he’ll likely improve in 2020.
Strong safety Khari Willis is entering his second year and, like Hooker, has shown flashes of his bright future with the Colts. Willis’ tackling ability is something to note; the unit struggled as a whole giving up chunk plays last year but Willis’ improvement moving into 2020 will certainly help. The improvement of the defensive front will help take some of the load off of the secondary as they will improve against the pass next year.
At cornerback, Kenny Moore will be returning from an injury that kept him out of the final 5 games of the season last year. He was regarded as one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league and would’ve had a great shot at making the Pro Bowl if not for his injury. Xavier Rhodes had the least productive year of his career last year but the 3-time Pro Bowler will be able to bounce back and shine in his new environment as the team’s lockdown outside corner.
The secondary is full of pieces with a ton to prove heading into 2020 and it’s the main reason why analysts are skeptical of the unit moving forward, but with these chips of their shoulders, the players in the Colts’ secondary will thrive in new environments and prove their worth.