Colts have done a lot to improve roster, but there’s still work ahead

Colts
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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – So much has been done, but so much remains undone.

Welcome to the NFL’s offseason, a time used by some teams to tinker with formidable rosters and a time many turn to a major renovation.

The Indianapolis Colts reside somewhere in between.

A month into the new league year, Chris Ballard, Frank Reich and their support staff have:

  • handed the offensive reins to a 38-year old quarterback who tossed 20 interceptions last season, third-most in the league and tied for the second-most in his 16-year career with the Chargers. Welcome to Indy, Philip Rivers. The one-year, $25 million investment is clear evidence Ballard and Reich believe they’re getting the ’18 version of Rivers – 4,308 yards, 32 TDs, 12 interceptions, a 105.5 passer rating – and not a QB in significant physical decline.

It also reinforced everyone’s notion Jacoby Brissett wasn’t good enough to take the Colts where they want to go, although Reich tempered that assessment.

“It wasn’t so much about what Jacoby wasn’t doing,’’ he said. “It was about an opportunity to get someone who we feel is an elite quarterback who can help our team.

“This was a crazy, unique opportunity.’’

  • ensured continuity along the offensive line by signing left tackle Anthony Castonzo to a two-year, $33 million extension. Retirement, which Castonzo had been considering, will wait.

“That was such good news for us,’’ Reich said. “I mean at that position, I don’t take it for granted. As an offensive play caller and game planner . . . I don’t have to worry about chip-helping Anthony Castonzo.

“He can handle whoever is over there one-on-one. I can’t even begin to explain what a huge advantage that is schematically in the pass game.’’

  • added a foundational piece to their defense at the cost of the 13th overall pick in the April 23 draft and a four-year extension averaging $21 million per season. Welcome to Indy, DeForest Buckner.

Perhaps Ballard tipped his hand when he talked with the media at the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

He was asked his assessment of the quick rebuild staged by John Lynch with the 49ers in San Francisco. They were a 4-12 bunch in 2018 that reached the Super Bowl in February.

“Look, it wasn’t a secret,’’ Ballard said. “They were freaking good on the defensive line, up front and they could run the crap out of the football. So, I give them a lot of credit.’’

After securing Buckner, one of the league’s premier 3-technique tackles, Ballard signed his sidekick – Warren Central H.S. product Sheldon Day – to a one-year, $1.75 million free-agent contract.

Also, Margus Hunt was released and Jabaal Sheard remains unsigned.

  • restructured the depth chart at cornerback. Twelve months after giving Pierre Desir a three-year, $25 million contract, the Colts cut him. Injuries hampered his effectiveness last season. After creating a void at the position, Ballard filled it with a pair of 29-year old corners who share 147 starts. Xavier Rhodes is looking to regain his Pro Bowl form after two subpar seasons. Carrie brings the versatility to line up outside or be Kenny Moore II’s backup in the slot.

Financially speaking, the Colts achieved a two-for-one discount. Desir was to count $6.85 million against the cap. Rhodes’ one-year deal is worth $3.2 million while Carrie comes in with a one-year, $1.048 million deal.

Consider those among the early dominoes to fall as Ballard and Reich attempt to return the Colts to relevancy. They’ve missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.

“We are trying to win now,’’ Reich said. “It’s important to win now. Our fans want to know we are going to win now.’’

The next phase of the roster-reinforcing comes in 17 days with the NFL draft. The Colts sent the 13th overall pick to San Francisco for Buckner, but still possess seven overall picks. That includes Nos. 34 and 44 in round 2.

The recent moves addressed some areas of concern, but let’s not kid ourselves. There’s still work to be done.

Ballard still might be in the market for another veteran or two. He has roughly $24 million in cap space after a busy last month. One caveat: of that space, the Colts must budget approximately $6.5 million for their seven draft picks and normally set aside $5 million for in-season issues (injuries, signing replacements).

Among the items on the “To Do’’ list:

Quarterback

At best, Rivers and the Colts are in a two-year relationship. He’s working on a one-year deal, but made it clear things will be reassessed after the season.

“I’m taking it one year at a time,’’ Rivers said. “If I feel like I feel right now next year, then I’ll be excited to keep going.’’

Brissett also will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. There’s every reason to believe he’ll be elsewhere next season, and the Colts will seriously consider finding their QB of the future in the draft, likely with one of their second-rounders.

Maybe that’s Jordan Love. Or Jacob Eason. Or Jalen Hurts. Or Jake Fromm.

Rivers offers at least a one-year bridge to the franchise’s new QB1.

Wide receiver

OK, we get the message from Ballard when he continually points out some of us “obsess’’ over wideouts. Guilty as charged.

But the Colts didn’t invested $25 million in Rivers only to surround him with lackluster options in the passing game. T.Y. Hilton should be motivated to put an injury-plagued ’19 behind him. Same with Parrish Campbell. Zach Pascal remains a legitimate pass catcher, but more as a No. 3 or No. 4. Reece Fountain missed last season with a dislocated ankle, so he’s remains an unproven talent. Devin Funchess is in Green Bay and Chester Rogers wasn’t re-signed.

The draft is crazy-deep at wideout, and we’ll be surprised if Ballard doesn’t use whichever second-rounder isn’t earmarked for a QB to give Rivers a young, swift, playmaking receiver.

It’s anyone’s guess which of the prospects will slip into round 2. That group might include Clemson’s Tee Higgins, LSU’s Justin Jefferson, Baylor’s Denzel Mims, USC’s Michael Pittman Jr. and Arizona State’s Brandon Aiyuk.

Tight end

For Reich’s offense to operate at maximum efficiency, it needs a tight end capable of stretching the field. That’s not Jack Doyle, which isn’t meant to be a slap at the 2017 Pro Bowler. Eric Ebron took himself out of future considerations when he opted to go on IR with his ankle injuries in November, and that void needs filling.

Perhaps the Colts target someone such as Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet or Purdue’s Brycen Hopkins. Maybe they see Notre Dame’s Chase Claypool – he’s 6-4, 238 pounds – more as a “move’’ tight end than a wideout.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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