INDIANAPOLIS – Quenton Nelson was all business, until it was time to talk business, that is.
After going through the first of three mandatory minicamp practices Tuesday, the Indianapolis Colts’ All-World guard remained on the practice field with a pair of teammates. They worked on using the proper technique to spring out of their stance, maximizing leverage and dealing with the hand-fighting offered by a defensive lineman.
Then, Nelson met with the media for the first time since the Colts’ epic collapse at the end of 2021 that cost them a playoff berth and left them with an indelible scar.
There were questions about his health, the health of the franchise and the status of an offensive line that must regroup following the offseason losses of guards Mark Glowinski and Chris Reed and left tackle Eric Fisher.
And then there was a business question.
It took Nelson perhaps 5 seconds to address/dismiss the topic, but it will remain an issue until it’s resolved with what likely will be a massive extension before the start of the regular season. The 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft is heading into the final year of his rookie contract – a $13.754 million base on the fifth-year option – and now’s the time to lock Nelson up for the long term.
“Look, Quenton’s a Colt,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said earlier this year. “Want him to be a Colt long term.
“We’re gonna want Quenton to be here. He’s that important.’’
So back to that business question.
How focused are you on an extension?
“I’m not focused on that. Thanks,’’ Nelson said.
The response was expected and about as Nelson-esque as it gets.
He’ll handle his business – getting a little bit better every day – and leave the financial issues to his agent and Ballard.
And rest assured, those financial issues could be significant.
Last offseason, Ballard signed three of his core players to extensions:
Darius Leonard: five years, $98.25 million with $33 million fully guaranteed at signing, according to overthecap.com. The $19.7 million per-year average made him the NFL’s highest-paid non-pass rushing linebacker.
Braden Smith: four years, $70 million, with $32 million fully guaranteed. His $17.5 million averaged ranks 4th among right tackles.
Nyheim Hines: three years, $18.6 million with $10.3 million fully guaranteed. The $6.2 million average ranks 12th among running backs, and the 11 ahead of the versatile Hines are their team’s feature back.
The Colts always have been committed to developing and rewarding their own – Grover Stewart, Ryan Kelly, Kenny Moore II, Rigoberto Sanchez, Luke Rhodes – and Nelson is next in line.
Nelson isn’t at one of the so-called premium position – quarterback, left tackle, edge rusher – but that doesn’t diminish his value to the franchise. He’s one of five players since 1970 to be named first-team All-Pro in each of his first three seasons, and earned second-team All-Pro recognition last season despite battling through a variety of injuries.
Ballard has mentioned what “he brings on a daily basis. Some players add value just by their influence. Who they are, what they are, what they are in the locker room, what they stand for.
“And Q means that.’’
The obvious issue is going to be arriving at an actual financial figure on Nelson’s value.
Joel Corry, a former agent and contributor to CBSSports.com, has an idea.
“If I’m him I want to be the highest-paid non-quarterback on the team . . . the first $20 million-a-year guard,’’ he said.
Corry noted that would be a huge jump from where the guard market currently sits.
Jacksonville signed Brandon Scherff, a five-time Pro Bowler with Washington, to a three-year, $49.5 million contract in March. That’s $16.5 million per season. Cleveland’s Joel Bitonio is next in line with a $16 million average.
“If I’m Nelson I’m a little disappointed in Scherff’s deal because he didn’t really move the bar. . . from 16 to 16.5,’’ Corry said. “I would have been hoping he would have put some distance between where Joe Boitoni is, but he really didn’t.
“That makes Nelson’s job a little harder.’’
Even so, the final extension number will be massive and could – should? — elevate Nelson above every other non-quarterback on the Colts’ roster.
“At a minimum,’’ Corry said, “you’ve got Braden Smith at 17.5. I know he’s a right tackle and that’s a different market than guards. But who’s the best offensive lineman on the team?
“That’s a rhetorical question.’’
Corry paused, then continued.
“I’m trying to crack 20,’’ he said. “You’ve got Leonard at 19.7 as the highest-paid non-quarterback.’’
Corry admitted egos often drive negotiations.
“Richard Sherman said a few years ago that the ultimate form of respect in the NFL is money,’’ he said. “You show respect through money.
“I don’t know if he gets to 20, but that’s what I would want. It’s gotta be above Braden Smith. (Nelson) is their best offensive lineman.’’
At some point, the Colts and Nelson should find common ground. Extensions for Leonard and Smith were finalized early in last summer’s training camp. Hines’ was done in early September.
Until then, Nelson will focus on the task at hand. And that’s getting better. Period.
“Everything is important,’’ he said. “Everything matters: treatment, film, the meetings, focusing on the basics, your technique and just trying to improve every single day and get a little bit better in the next couple of days is very important.’’
At this point, Nelson is as healthy as he’s been in a while.
“Yeah, I feel great. I feel really good,’’ he said. “Strong, healthy, just ready to go.
“Excited for camp. I’m not going in there with two surgeries.’’
Nelson had two surgeries last offseason – one was to address a back issue – and suffered a broken bone in his right foot on Aug. 2 as camp was just getting started. A high sprain to his right ankle would snap his streak of 51 consecutive regular-season starts in week 4 against Miami, and Nelson would eventually miss three games due to the ankle and another for COVID-19.
Was 2021 frustrating from a personal standpoint? He also missed practice time with a back issue.
“You just try to keep a positive mindset,’’ Nelson said. “Everyone in the NFL is fighting through something. Everyone’s hurt week-to-week. There’s no excuses. You are what you put on tape, and at the end of the day, that’s how I play, and it is what it is.
“But I can look at myself and know I gave my all getting treatment and all the time I spent on my body to try to get it right as much as I can during the whole season.’’
Nelson’s status on the team is undeniable, and he’s aware of asserting himself as a leader. He has developed a relationship with Peyton Manning and has used the former Colts’ icon and Hall of Fame quarterback as an invaluable resource.
“I don’t want to get into too much details with what Peyton and I talked about, but I trained in Denver my second offseason, and it just happened to be where he was training, and we built a relationship from there,’’ Nelson said. “He gave me his phone and said feel free to text me any time.
“It’s incredibly valuable. He’s a Hall of Famer and one of the best to ever do it. He’s won two Super Bowls and just being able to pick his brain is nice.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.