MASSEY: The Colts have an opportunity to rebuild this offseason

Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Hallett, photo courtesy
Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Hallett, photo courtesy

Dane Massey is a second-year Digital Sports Production major and writes for The Daily News. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

As the NFL offseason comes upon us, there have been a lot of questions as to how the Indianapolis Colts should go about their offseason. The Colts finished this season with a 4-12-1 record, a massive downfall from when they finished 11-5 just two years ago. It seems the team is on track to bring out the tools to start the full-scale rebuild in the near future, however, there is a chance Indianapolis could return to playoff contention in one offseason. 

However, before we look at how the Colts can pull off an off-season heist of the decade, we need to rewind the clock to see how the Colts got to this point. 

It is August 2019. The Colts were in high hopes coming off of a playoff appearance the year prior in Frank Reich’s first year as a head coach, and their starting quarterback Andrew Luck had just won Comeback Player of the Year. 

They were playing a preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Andrew Luck was standing on the sidelines cheering on his teammates, as the fans roared inside Lucas Oil Stadium with high hopes for another strong season. However, those hopes would go up in smoke as a bombshell announcement had quickly taken over the building like a virus. Andrew Luck had announced his retirement from the NFL, and the Colts, hopeful Luck would lead them to their first AFC South Championship since 2014, would be without a starting quarterback to start the 2019-2020 regular season.

Luck’s announcement would shock the NFL world to its core, and this bombshell would kickstart the quarterback carousel in Indianapolis. As the roster continued into a Super Bowl-caliber Ironclad, Indianapolis struggled to find a captain for the ship. Jacoby Brissett, Brian Hoyer, Philip Rivers, Carson Wentz and the latest, Matt Ryan. 

Going into this season, the expectation for the Colts was simple. Super Bowl or bust; and oh boy was it more than a bust, it was a disaster.

Head coach Frank Reich was fired in the middle of the season as the offense under Ryan had completely collapsed. Jeff Saturday came in as an interim head coach to try and stop the bleeding. Things looked promising for Saturday as in his first game as interim head coach, he came out with a victory in Las Vegas against the Raiders. However, things took a turn for the worse. Indianapolis would lose seven straight games to finish 4-12-1.

Rock bottom for the Colts came in a week 15 game against the Vikings. Indianapolis went into halftime up big on the NFC contenders, a 33-0 lead. No one expected what would happen next. Minnesota came roaring back on a 39-3 run in the second half to win the game for the Vikings in overtime. 

“It’s really almost impossible what happened,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in an interview with ESPN. “It was incredible how they played and how disappointing how poorly we played. We let them steal our lunch money.”

The largest comeback in NFL history. Matt Ryan has etched his name on the loser side of two of the largest comebacks in NFL history. The other came in Super Bowl 51 just a few years prior when he was the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons. Ryan and the Falcons blew a 25-point lead to give the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots their fifth Lombardi Trophy (in the Tom Brady era).

So that leads us to today. Indianapolis currently sits at one of the worst teams in the NFL with very little money to spend in free agency this year, however, there is still a certainty that the Colts could swing big this offseason and bring the franchise back to its winning ways.

The first step was finding a head coach and they found a man for the job. Just days after losing to Kansas City in Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Shane Steichen hopped on a plane to Indianapolis to be introduced as the next head coach of the Colts and many feel as though the Colts got their guy to captain the ship.

In the first moments of being introduced as the next head coach, Steichen thanked everyone he has been around while fighting through tears of joy, especially the Eagles team he was with just a few weeks ago.

“I would like to start by thanking Mr. Irsay for believing in me and giving me this opportunity and I look forward to working with [Irsay] and building something special here,” Steichen said. “Thank you to the Chargers organization… For a great eight years together. Thank you to the Eagles organization for the past two seasons. I will always be grateful for the memories and friendships that I will cherish forever…”

Steichen will have the task of putting together a roster to his liking and to start he has little room to work with despite the NFL salary cap increasing to $224.8 million this year. Sitting with about $1.9 million in spending money to start free agency, Steichen will have to make some tough decisions. The first decision was the one move most people saw coming and it saw an end of the Matt Ryan era in Indy (as short-lived as it was). The Colts cut the former Atlanta starter after just one season with him at the helm and with it, the Colts gained some breathing room to work with as they will save $17 million by cutting him and increasing their salary cap to about $19 million.

Despite the big move, Indianapolis will also lose a lot of players on the defensive end of the ball and on special teams; 11 out of the 15 free agents this offseason are from those two departments. 

Indianapolis will more than likely say goodbye to their wide receiver two this year in Parris Campbell, so they will possibly be in need of a wideout to complement Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce.

But the wild card will come in April when the Colts are on the clock. Indianapolis currently sits with the fourth overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft, and it is no secret that the Colts are going to take a quarterback with that pick, but the question is which one will Indianapolis take?

“I think accuracy, decision-making, and the ability to create are the three things that I look for in a quarterback,” Steichen said. “I think those all three things are all very important, but obviously above the neck, I think the players I have been around, Jalen Hurts, Justin Herbert, and Philip Rivers, they all have one thing in common and they are obsessed with their craft, and if you find that in a quarterback you’re probably gonna have some success.”

Then-offensive coordinator Shane Steichen (right) watching warmups before the Philadelphia Eagles played the Washington Commanders. Steichen was named the next head coach for the Indianapolis Colts on Feb. 14. All-Pro Reels, Flickr

This year’s NFL Draft features one of the most hyped-up quarterback draft classes in recent memory (possibly even more hyped since the 2021 class), as it features a whole lot of highly valued quarterback talent and the top three look like they could certainly make an impact on this Colts squad.

Alabama’s Bryce Young looks the most intriguing of the bunch stat-wise, as he has put together a legitimate resume. In his first year as a starter for the Crimson Tide, he was the best quarterback in the country and won the Manning Award on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy in 2021. Young was almost on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy a second time, but a shoulder injury would sideline him for a couple of weeks. Many scouts are worried about his size as he is only 5’10 and weighs 210 pounds, but what makes Bryce Young so special is his ability to throw out of the pocket, and with Steichen calling plays with Jalen Hurts under center (a player very similar to Young), Young might be the guy to trust making plays out of the pocket.

Florida’s Anthony Richardson was not viewed as a top-tier prospect after the college football season ended, but when the combine came around, Richardson’s draft stock boomed (some viewed him as the number one overall pick). He posted a 4.43 time in his 40-yard dash and set multiple records in the vertical jump (40.5 inches) and the broad jump (10 feet, 9 inches). Many are comparing Richardson to the next Cam Newton as his ability to use his legs is nothing but impressive.

Lastly, CJ Stroud has been seen as an underdog throughout his entire career. The Ohio State starter was a Heisman finalist twice while being behind Bryce Young in the 2021 voting. However, if the Colts are looking for a quarterback with laser accuracy, Stroud’s got just that. Not only that but his deep ball is one of the best out of any quarterback in the draft class. However, he is not as mobile as Young and Richardson and is seen more as a pocket passer, but when he is in the pocket he is a legit threat to any defense.

However, with their position, they will possibly have no choice in choosing a quarterback they want. Just recently, the Carolina Panthers struck a trade with the Chicago Bears to move up from number nine to the number one overall pick (a trade that Indianapolis was hyped up to make), which means that Carolina will get the first choice at those three quarterbacks.

Luckily, Indianapolis still has a chance to nail this year’s draft by selecting one of the three as you really can’t go wrong with either of them. Not only that but Indianapolis sits in a position where they are the only quarterback-needy team in the top ten right now. Las Vegas and Atlanta, two teams who sit behind the Colts needed quarterbacks but their problems seem to be solved as the Raiders signed former 49ers starter Jimmy Garoppolo and the Falcons look to stick with Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder at quarterback.

Also, although the number one pick seemed to be locked up for Carolina, there is speculation that they might trade the pick to acquire more draft capital (a move that Chicago made with them). According to Joe Pearson of the Athletic, "they could potentially trade down" if they end up liking more than one quarterback; which means that the Colts could strike gold if they wanted to make a bold move. The price will not be cheap, but they will have to give up less as they are only three spots away from the pick. A possible trade with Carolina could include the fourth overall pick, a future second, and possibly a player with a somewhat medium-sized salary cap. Now, it would be wise for the Colts to just stay put at four, so a trade like this is a bit of a long shot but it is certainly doable.

Now just hear it out here and again this is a long shot. If Steichen and the organization feel as though they are willing to do anything to get a franchise quarterback, then why not gamble for superstar quarterback Lamar Jackson? The 2019 MVP just got the nonexclusive franchise tag by the Ravens which means that he can still get offers from other teams, but if he were to agree to a deal with the Colts, Baltimore would have a chance to match that contract to rip him out of their grasps and go back to the Ravens; or if the Colts were not to match the contract and let him come to Indy, the Colts would have some issues in shaping their roster with his signing.

First off, they would have to give up two first-round picks in return for signing him according to the nonexclusive tag, however, not only that but Jackson has expressed that his value includes a fully guaranteed contract much larger than the one Deshaun Watson got from the Cleveland Browns last offseason ($230 million over five years), and with the Colts current cap situation, they would have to make some moves to clear up the cap space to sign him. However, with a superstar like Jackson, many felt like it would have been worth it if the Ravens didn’t place to tag on him so going after him would be tough and costly for Indianapolis. 

Indianapolis finished last year with their contention window slammed in their faces, however, they have shown promise that they can open that window again with Shane Steichen at the helm, and it is only a matter of time before Colts get back to their winning ways with a new regime at the helm.

Contact Dane Massey with comments at dtmassey@bsu.edu or on Twitter @danemassey22.

This story has been updated to reflect the accurate spelling of names.

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