The Indianapolis Colts were a play away from making the playoffs this year and were taken out by an up-and-coming Houston Texans team led by another rookie quarterback and first-year head coach. The Colts defense had an overhaul this offseason as young talent was bolstered by an experienced defensive coordinator. The offense was also reshaped as Jonathan Taylor was out with injury for the first quarter of the season, leading to a contract extension for him.
Last season, the Frank Reich era came to an abrupt end as the team decided to move on from Reich after a disappointing season where Matt Ryan was benched and the team nearly went on a firesale before securing Anthony Richardson in the 2023 NFL Draft. They also hired Shane Steichen who was largely responsible for the success of the Eagles after Nick Siranni, the former offensive coordinator for the Colts, left for the head coaching job.
The Colts took their time in the offseason leading to the hiring of Shane Steichen who took just about the same team from four wins to nine wins the next season. The future looks bright the Colts, but there's one thing holding the Colts back. Talent.
Indianapolis’ strategy of not spending money in free agency has started to make me sour. Last year, when we needed multiple holes filled the Colts were largely quiet in free agency outside of depth fills. Some notable free agents who we let go to other teams were Orlando Brown Jr., Jessie Bates III, Mike McGlinchey, Jakobi Meyers, and not to mention letting Stephon Gillmore walk out of the building.
This all being said, coaching made a huge difference. Shane Steichen did an incredible job with the chips he had. He took a young team that looked destined for another awful season and took them to within one play of making the playoffs. While the defense struggled in the secondary and the offense had some awful games, the team largely did well throughout the season at the helm of the new coaching regime.
This still doesn't excuse the lack of big-name free agents during the offseason. This is a make-or-break year for Chris Ballard in my eyes. Ballard needs to stop relying on drafting talent to develop and create a team that is in a win-now mode like how they are right now. While he's done a good job at finding talent through the draft, that's no question, the team is a few pieces away from winning a Championship: most notably wide receiver depth, offensive line depth, and secondary skilled players. The team didn't give up the big play too often in the secondary and held their own in the run defense, but they lacked the most critical part of the team: offensive line.
Colts need Chris Ballard to be more aggressive
The left tackle position has been a sore spot these past two seasons after Anthony Costanzo left for retirement. The Colts tried their hands at a few journeymen and then drafted a young player late in the draft but it was a sore spot throughout the year. Not to mention letting Orlando Brown Jr. sign with another team in the offseason and refusing to draft a top player at that position led to a sore sport on the offensive line.
Then there's the wide receiver position. Outside of Michael Pittman Jr., the talent has been largely average. Josh Downs played extremely well this season as the slot/deep threat but outside of Pittman, there wasn't a threat to contain. This brings me to the tight-end position. The Colts were blessed with Dallas Clark who was one of the best, if not the best, tight ends during the 2000s. Clark was a force and an excellent route runner. Mo Alie-Cox isn't that person. Alie-Cox is a great run blocker and can set an edge for the running plays and stretch plays Steichen is known for.
This season, Chris Ballard needs to push hard for players who can get this team over the edge. In particular, we need a left tackle, a shutdown corner, and another receiver who can play opposite MPJ (yes, I expect him to be signed to a long-term deal).
In the end, Chris Ballard needs to do something with the $72 million of cap room we have this year or turn the job over to someone who will.