INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – In the end, Anthony Castonzo’s decision swung on having unfinished business.
After nine seasons that taxed him physically and mentally to the max – you try going against some of the largest, most gifted athletes on the planet, each one hellbent on pulverizing your quarterback – he determined there was room for growth.
Castonzo emerged from his latest season as the Indianapolis Colts’ durable/dependable left tackle with as much of his health as possible following five months and 16 regular-season games.
Yet he wondered if there would be a 10th season.
He wondered if he already had given his best, reached the peak of his performance.
The question was real and inner discussion intense.
Do I think I can play better than that, or is that the best that I can play and it’s downhill from here?
If the answer was That’s all I’ve got?
“Then I probably would have decided to retire,’’ Castonzo said Tuesday, two days after agreeing to a two-year, $33 million extension that made him the NFL’s highest-paid left tackle.
However – and rest assured the Colts are thankful there was a however – Castonzo immersed himself in his normal offseason training regimen and determined there was more.
“I’ve got a lot better football and a lot more in me,’’ he said.
The more Castonzo talked, the more his passion seemed to ooze to the surface.
“I play football ‘cause I wanna dominate the people that I play against,’’ he said. “That’s where the joy of playing football comes from for me. Yeah, looking at it, if I would say, ‘I think I have the ability to do that,’ then that’s what I love about the game, and that’s why I wanna continue playing.
“I honestly think that (I’ve) kind of scratched the surface of it.’’
Castonzo admitted he experienced something of an “epiphany’’ that led him back to Indy.
“I was training and doing some of the same things that I had done last year around this time, and just how much better and how much smoother my movements were, how much more in-tune with my body I was than I was last year at this time,’’ he said. “And I was like seeing this potential for being able to go out on that field and put forth my best football coming up in year 10.
“I’m like, it’d be silly for me to not do it now. . . . I love the structure of playing football and being able to kind of work year-round and kind of just all those things just hit me. And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m not ready to hang it up, yet.’’’
He informed general manager Chris Ballard in mid-February, who in turn informed the local media of Castonzo’s decision during the NFL Scouting Combine.
Ballard’s reaction wasn’t a surprise.
“Brought a big ol’ smile to my face,’’ he said.
Castonzo’s new contract won’t be official until Wednesday at 4 p.m., and it’s the same for two free-agent moves arranged by Ballard. He has agreed on a five-year extension with defensive tackle DeForest Buckner that’s worth nearly $20 million per year over the life of the deal, and a one-year, $25 million contract with quarterback Philip Rivers.
Castonzo wouldn’t elaborate too much on the Colts’ new QB1.
“Regardless of who’s playing quarterback back there, the beautiful thing about playing tackle is that it does not change your job at all,’’ he said. “So regardless who’s back there I’m going to have to protect him and do my job, and that’s what I’m focused on.
“Regardless of what happens at the quarterback position, I would imagine that Chris and Frank (Reich) have a fantastic plan, as they always do.’’
Castonzo, who turns 32 in August, has missed only 12 of a possible 152 games, including the playoffs, since the Colts made him the 22nd overall pick in the 2011 draft. He’s never made the Pro Bowl, but Reich insisted his left tackle is coming off the best season of his career.
“The guy’s a stud,’’ he said.
Castonzo was the anchor of one of the NFL’s top offensive lines last season. The same group started all 16 games for the first time since 2000. Castonzo and right guard Mark Glowinski were on the field for all 1,077 offensive snaps. Right tackle Braden Smith missed one snap. All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson missed just 32 snaps. Center Ryan Kelly joined Nelson at the Pro Bowl.
Not surprisingly, Castonzo was quick to share his I’m-coming-back news with his o-line teammates.
“Yeah, I talked to everybody and we’re pumped to keep this same group together,’’ he said. “I mean, very rarely do you get to keep that continuity that we’ve had on the offensive line with five guys that can all play as well as we can. I mean, it’s exciting.
“I’d be remiss to say that the opportunity to play next to Quenton Nelson isn’t part of the reason why I’d love to continue playing because it really is a lot of fun, and playing with the whole group is fun and I think we want to stay together as long as possible.’’