INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Status quo might rule.
Anthony Castonzo’s bombshell – he’s considering retirement, not re-upping for a 10th season – could wind up being one of those serious-but-temporary personal struggles a player entering this phase of his career deals with, discusses with friends and family, then returns to the grind.
Chris Ballard, after wondering where he’s going to find his next left tackle, instead exhales and makes Castonzo one of the highest-paid offensive linemen in NFL history. One of the NFL’s best units continues to grow.
Life goes on.
Or, maybe the Indianapolis Colts are facing Tarik Glenn 2.0.
For those with short memories, Glenn was the Colts’ starting left tackle from 1998-2006. He started 151 of 157 games at the position. He had been selected to three consecutive Pro Bowls and was instrumental in the ’06 playoff run that culminated in the 29-17 win over the Chicago Bears in Super Bowl XLI. He was 31, due to make a cool $4.5 million in ’07 and a lottery-level contract after that undoubtedly loomed.
And he walked away. Just like that.
As a member of the coaching staff told me, Glenn’s decision to retire shook everyone in the organization. There were no indications anything other than Glenn’s 11th season – and more – were coming. He was on hand for the team’s offseason workouts and everyone – everyone – anticipated business as usual as training camp neared.
Then, everything changed. In late July, Glenn informed owner Jim Irsay, team president Bill Polian and Tony Dungy of his decision. He still had a love for the game and cherished the camaraderie with his teammates, but that no longer was enough.
“After a lot of prayer and meditation, my wife and I decided that it was time to retire from playing football,’’ Glenn said at his retirement press conference. “Deep personal convictions are telling me that it’s time to transition into the next phase of my life. Even though my love for the game of football will always be there, my passion to play the game has diminished.
“I believe that my success in football was due to the passion that God has given me for the game. And it would not be fair to the team or the community for me to continue to play the game and not give it my all. I’m convinced it’s time for me to hang up the cleats.’’
It was clear from the moment the Colts selected Glenn with the 19th overall pick in the 1997 draft he was cut from a different cloth. He was a top-level left tackle, but football would be a means to an end. He never wanted to be defined by his profession.
Glenn and his wife, Maya, founded DREAM Alive, which assists at-risk youngsters. He’s currently the assistant director of Athletic Studies at UC Berkeley, his alma mater.
Glenn understood there was life after football, even when there still might be some football to be played.
Castonzo revealed he’s at a similar crossroads to the one Glenn faced.
“I love it here, for sure. It’s great,’’ he said while cleaning out his locker Dec. 30, the day after the Colts finished 7-9. “But I’ve got some decisions to make.’’
“That’s an option. Absolutely,’’ he said. “It’s personal reasons.
“Personal means ‘Don’t ask.’’’
Castonzo smiled, but no one should take his retirement talk lightly. It’s been on his mind and he shared those thoughts with some of his teammates.
There is no timeline for Castonzo’s decision, but we should expect it to be sooner rather than later.
Ballard hopes he’s not looking for a replacement.
“I hold Anthony Castonzo in high, high regard,’’ he said. “Since I walked in the door, Anthony Castonzo has played at a really high level at left tackle. I can’t believe people are just now starting to recognize it.
“Anthony and I will be in touch here over the next two or three weeks, and he’ll make a decision. If he decides to retire, then it’s our job to find an answer.’’
If the worst-case scenario becomes a reality, Ballard must turn to free agency or the draft to find a suitable replacement. There’s no viable option on the roster.
Free agency is unlikely. It’s rare for a top-tier left tackle to hit the market, and when he does, he carries a steep price tag. In 2018, Nate Solder relocated from New England to the New York Giants with a four-year, $62 million contract with $34.8 million guaranteed.
The draft probably represents a more likely avenue. Top tackles include Georgia’s Andrew Thomas, Alabama’s Alex Leatherwood and Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs.
In the pecking order of NFL personnel priorities, it’s quarterback, left tackle and pass rusher. We can argue whether left tackle and pass rusher should be flipped.
We’ve continually mentioned T.Y. Hilton’s value to the Colts, and the impact when they’ve been without him. The team is 1-10 when Hilton has been out with an injury.
Consider the Colts’ record when Castonzo’s been out: 2-10.
Reich is bullish on Castonzo.
“I think he had an unbelievable year and I think he’s the best left tackle in the league, I really do,’’ he said. “I think the guy’s a stud player. Just looking forward to hopefully getting him back.’’
When Castonzo met with Reich Dec. 30, Reich made his pitch.
“Just made no bones about it. ‘We want you as our left tackle. Going to respect you and your decision to think about what you want to think about. But there’s no one else we envision being our left tackle,’’’ Reich said.
Including the playoffs, Castonzo has started 140 of 152 games since being selected with the 22nd overall pick in 2011. He’s playing the best football of his career and for the first time was named a first alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Finding his replacement won’t be easy, which also was the case when Glenn walked away.
The Colts had prepared for Glenn’s eventual retirement, but it was with later-not-sooner intentions. Polian added tackle depth in the 2006 draft with fifth-rounder Michael Toudouze and sixth-rounder Charlie Johnson. In 2007, he traded up into the second round for Tony Ugoh. It cost him his ’08 first-round pick.
Ugoh wasn’t the answer. Over the next four seasons, the Colts’ left tackle rotation included Ugoh (27 starts), Johnson (36 starts) and Jeff Linkenbach (1 start). The team waived an injury-plagued Ugoh in September 2010.
Although Williams had settled in as the starting left tackle – 31 starts from 2009-10, including the Super Bowl XLIV loss to New Orleans – the Colts invested heavily in Castonzo in the 2011 draft.
Since Castonzo’s arrival, there’s been a need for fill-ins in only 12 games in nine seasons: Linkenbach (4), Joe Reitz (3), Joe Haeg (1) and Le’Raven Clark (4).
Again, Reich doesn’t attempt to disguise his appreciation for Castonzo’s presence and production. He allows any tweaks in the pass protection scheme to be directed elsewhere.
“We will give him chip-help every now and then,’’ Reich said, “but we don’t ever feel like we have to. We like to give him a breather every now and then. He is always going up against a great pass rusher usually week-in and week-out.
“The more you have to chip and thump guys as we say, the slower they are out into the route. So when you have a tackle like Castonzo, that means one guy who is out in the route faster providing pattern integrity and spacing that you need in the pass game to be effective and he provides you that.’’
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