First priority for Colts’ GM Chris Ballard: re-signing (some of) his own

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 14: Chester Rogers #80 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the Denver Broncos during the first half at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 14, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s never the same. And it won’t be next season.

There was unquestioned chemistry and camaraderie as the Indianapolis Colts worked their way through an uncertain training camp, a rocky start to the season, an inspiring closing kick that earned a return to the postseason for the first time since 2014 and an abrupt ending in Kansas City.

Frank Reich offered affirmation as he walked triumphantly off the field following the Colts’ 21-7 first-round playoff win at Houston.

The Horseshoe is back, baby! The Horseshoe is back!

But it won’t be back en masse in April when Reich addresses his 2019 roster for the start of the team’s offseason conditioning program. The NFL is all about change and player movement. It challenges teams to build a winning environment while dealing with the inevitable personnel turnover.

“You look around the locker room and you see the foundation,’’ Andrew Luck said. “It’s a positive, bright outlook.’’

Reich has witnessed the nomadic nature of the NFL during his three-plus decades career as a player and coach. He played with four teams and coached with another four.

He clearly appreciated what went into last season in terms of intangibles, but understands things won’t be the same moving forward.

“There is a side of me that how close we got as a team this year, it was just ‘Hey, give me all these guys back,’’’ he said. “I love these guys and these guys are good football players and we won a lot of games this year.

“But you also know the harsh reality of this business is we are going to fight and scratch to get better. Some guys are going to leave for ‘better opportunities’ and then there is just the natural turnover of a roster. It’s hard.’’

The building of a roster – or tweaking of it – primarily is a four-part process: re-signing your own, veteran free agency, the draft, the rush to sign undrafted collegians.

The first domino to fall is determining which of your own free-agents-to-be should be retained.

General manager Chris Ballard has taken a wrecking ball to the roster he inherited in January 2017. Only 13 players remains from the ’16 roster. He’s been selectively-active in veteran free agency and cashed in with 19 selections in the last two drafts.

But he’s also kept a few Colts from hitting the open market: Jack Doyle, Robert Turbin and Darius Butler in 2017; Adam Vinatieri, Pierre Desir and Jack Mewhort last offseason.

In the next two months, Ballard and his personnel staff must determine which of their own are worth retaining. The list includes 15 players who will be unrestricted in early March and another nine who will be restricted.

He hasn’t asked for input, but we’ll offer it anyway. A look at some of the more significant pending free agents:

PK ADAM VINATIERI (unrestricted)

Age: 46

Experience: 23 seasons, 353 regular-season games; NFL career leader in scoring (2,600 points) and field goals (582)

Comment: This goes into the let’s-not-over-think-things category. The team wants Vinatieri back, Vinatieri wants to return for a 24th season. If the Colts weren’t on an obvious uptick, that probably wouldn’t be the case. But it is, and Vinatieri still is driven to be part of a championship-caliber organization. Despite the two hiccups in Kansas City, he’s shown little if any decline: 23-of-27 on field-goal attempts last season, 169-of-190 (88.9 percent) over the last six seasons, including 27-of-35 (77.1 percent) on attempts of at least 50 yards.

Prediction: Vinatieri returns on a 1-year deal worth approximately $3.5 million.

S CLAYTON GEATHERS (unrestricted)

Age: 26

Experience: 4 seasons, 41 games, 24 starts

Comment: This figures to draw an interesting internal debate. No one should question Geathers’ value on the field. He’s proven to be a back-end enforcer who also is used as a pseudo-linebacker close to the line of scrimmage. But Geathers has missed 22 games over the last three seasons with a variety of injuries, including a neck issue that required surgery and a concussion.

Prediction: Ballard removed any doubt regarding his affinity for Geathers. He singled him last week when recalling the locker room scene following the loss to the Chiefs. “I got emotional with Clayton after the game because I love him. I do,’’ he said. “I love everything Clayton Geathers stands for. I watched a guy every week fight his tail off to get ready to play.’’

Bring him back.

WR DONTRELLE INMAN (unrestricted)

Age: 29

Experience: 5 seasons, 58 games, 34 starts

Comment: It might be easy to dismiss a mid-October roster addition until you consider Inman’s impact. In 11 games, he established himself as Luck’s no-doubt No. 2 wideout option behind T.Y. Hilton. His stats: 47 targets, 36 receptions, 412 yards, four TDs. Luck had a 130.8 rating when targeting Inman.

Prediction: This seems like another no-brainer for Ballard. At this point in his career, Inman would be hard-pressed to find a more advantageous situation.

Bring him back.

G MARK GLOWINSKI (unrestricted)

Age: 26

Experience: 4 seasons, 47 games, 28 starts

Comment: Anyone remember when we were all projecting roster cuts in late August? Glowinski wasn’t exactly a lock to make the final 53. Yet when veteran Matt Slauson suffered his season-ending back injury in early October, it was Glowinski who stepped in at right guard. He brought another physical presence and another dose of nastiness to the unit.

Prediction: Unless Glowinski believes he can command a bigger payday on the open market, it makes sense to re-sign him and maintain continuity on the offensive line that’s been missing.

WR CHESTER ROGERS (restricted)

Age: 25

Experience: 3 seasons, 41 games, 16 starts

Comment: We’ve gone back-and-forth on Roger’s value, and that’s a result of his inconsistent play. After experiencing a rash of drops early, he seemed to get his act together as the season unfolded. Rogers enjoyed by far the best season of his career: 53 receptions, 485 yards, two TDs.

Prediction: The appropriate one-year restricted tender would be worth approximately $2 million.

Bring him back.

S MATTHIAS FARLEY (restricted)

Age: 26

Experience: 3 seasons, 37 games, 16 starts

Comment: Farley was something of an afterthought as the Colts overcame their false start and reached the playoffs. He was placed on IR Oct. 12 while dealing with hamstring, shoulder, groin and wrist injuries. Prior to that, Farley was an invaluable component in the secondary. He could offer front-line play – he started 15 games in 2017 – or serve as a backup or in sub packages. He’s had three interceptions the last two seasons.

Prediction: Bring him back. He’s a quality player and an influential presence in the locker room.

CB PIERRE DESIR (unrestricted)

Age: 28

Experience: 5 seasons, 49 games, 25 starts

Comment: Ballard needs to upgrade the cornerback room, but that doesn’t mean jettisoning Desir. He was one of the GM’s wavier-wire acquisitions in ’17, and has developed into a viable corner. Desir as at his best in the Colts’ final two games against Houston when he was instrumental in limiting All-World wideout DeAndre Hopkins to 9 catches, 73 yards and one TD on 20 targets.

Prediction: Bring him back.

C EVAN BOEHM (restricted)

Age: 25

Experience: 3 seasons, 42 games, 12 starts

Comment: Signed off the Rams’ practice squad Oct. 8, Boehm replaced Ryan Kelly in the starting lineup Dec. 2 at Jacksonville. He’s not on Kelly’s level, but Boehm is more than capable of being a top-level backup.

Prediction: Bring him back.

WR RYAN GRANT (unrestricted)

Age: 28

Experience: 5 seasons, 78 games, 25 starts

Comment: As the season unfolded, Grant became less of a factor. Injuries limited his practice time, and a toe injury kept him out of the two playoff games. In his first five games, Grant had 24 catches for 246 yards and one TD. Over his final nine games, he managed 11 catches and 88 yards.

Prediction: Good luck on the open market.

G MATT SLAUSON (unrestricted)

Age: 32

Experience: 10 seasons, 116 games, 113 starts

Comment: Slauson was everything Ballard anticipated when he signed him to a 1-year, $3 million contract until Slauson suffered a season-ending back injury in week 5 at New England. Reich so valued Slauson’s leadership that he kept him around as a hands-on coaching aide the rest of the season.

Prediction: If Ballard is guided by his heart, he brings back Slauson. If he sticks to his roster-building blueprint, he looks for a younger version of Slauson. Maybe there’s a future for Slauson on Reich’s coaching staff.

A recap:

Unrestricted free agents: PK Adam Vinatieri, G Matt Slauson, G Mark Glowinski, S Clayton Geathers, CB Pierre Desir, WR Dontrelle Inman, S Mike Mitchell, LB Najee Goode, DL Margus Hunt, DL Al Woods, TE Ryan Hewitt, WR Ryan Grant, S J.J. Wilcox, OT J’Marcus Webb, DE Geneo Grissom.

Restricted free agents: WR Chester Rogers, C Evan Boehm, S Matthias Farley, LS Luke Rhodes, CB Chris Milton, S Corey Moore, TE Ross Travis, C Josh Andrews, RB Jonathan Williams.

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