INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s about being in – or waiting for – the right time and the right place.
So Dontrelle Inman waited. And waited. And waited some more.
After his contract with the Chicago Bears expired in February, the veteran receiver spent time on the West Coast, in Florida, in Atlanta. He had visits/workouts with the Indianapolis Colts and Dallas Cowboys.
“There was a lot of interest,’’ he said Wednesday, “but the market and the negotiations just fell through.
“It came down to negotiations, numbers, the business side of things.’’
It also came down to Inman finding the right place.
“Yeah,’’ he said. “just being the best fit.’’
As the weeks and months passed and the NFL season began to unfold, Inman insisted he never got overly nervous being on the outside looking in.
Remember: right time, right place.
“You put yourself in the wrong position and that could possibly be your last year of football,’’ he said. “You’ve got to think about it from the business aspect of it. What’s the end goal? Are you just going for the short-term goal, or a long-term goal.’’
“This was both,’’ he said.
As it turned out, the right time was Oct. 16. The right place was Indy.
With injuries piling up at the position – T.Y. Hilton had missed two games with chest/shoulder injuries, Marcus Johnson suffered a season-ending injury against the Jets, Ryan Grant was hobbled – general manager Chris Ballard reached out again. This time, Inman accepted his one-year offer at the veteran’s minimum (pro-rated to roughly $510,000).
And here are the Colts, preparing for Saturday’s AFC divisional matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium when 24 other teams are dealing with the offseason.
And here’s Inman, still catching passes from Andrew Luck when more than 1,400 other players already have cleaned out their lockers, and are sitting and watching.
“This,’’ he said, “is the best-case scenario. First year going to the playoffs, playing with a great quarterback.
“You can’t ask for much more than that.’’
Conversely, it’s hard to imagine the Colts getting more out of a midseason signing than they have with Inman.
They desperately needed someone capable of stepping in immediately and contributing at wideout. Inman had a firm grasp of the offense installed by Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni from his time with them in San Diego.
Five days after pulling on a Colts jersey for the first time, Inman started against Buffalo. He wasn’t targeted in the 37-5 blowout of the Bills, but was on the field for 42 of 66 offensive snaps. The next week at Oakland, he had six receptions for 52 yards, including 8- and 9-yard catches that converted third-down situations.
“We knew we were getting a polished product that really knew how to be a pro,’’ Sirianni said. “There’s a difference between knowing how to be a pro and being productive, too. And he’s both.
“That’s a good combination for any locker room to have.’’
Inman seemed to connect with Luck and his new teammates, from the outset. The outsider fit right in.
“A locker room gets a sense very quickly for any guy,’’ Luck said. “In a sense, there is always a jury out when a new guy comes and fairly quickly I think we see the real person.
“Dontrelle has just been a pro. He has been in this offense before. He started showing up at the right time in the right place. That’s music to a quarterback’s ears.’’
As it turns out, the beginning of the Colts’ dramatic turnaround coincides with Inman’s arrival. They’re 10-1 since he strolled into the locker room and offered Luck a reliable set of hands.
The bottom-line numbers are impossible to dismiss. In his 10 games – he missed the first road trip to Houston with a shoulder injury – Inman has emerged as the Colts’ No. 2 wideout behind T.Y. Hilton. He’s maximized 43 targets with 32 receptions, 357 yards and four TDs. Luck’s passer rating when targeting Inman: 129.7.
Inman has been especially noticeable as the games have gotten more important. He’s had a touchdown catch in three straight games as part of 13 receptions and 176 yards.
“It always feels good to make a difference,’’ he said. “It always feels good when you’re respected. That goes with anything in life: me as a player, you as a reporter, a teacher.
“You always want to be appreciated. You always want someone to care.’’
Too often, the NFL is a war of attrition. The better teams – the ones playing this time of the year – have been able to adjust when injuries threaten to sabotage the season.
Ballard and his personnel staff have excelled at finding the right player at the right time: safety Mike Mitchell; center Evan Boehm; defensive linemen Al-Quadin Muhammad and Jihad Ward; safety Corey Moore.
And Dontrelle Inman.
“That’s just been what’s so good about Chris Ballard and his staff (is) that they have found guys that we have been able to plug in and play,’’ Sirianni said. “I think the teams that are still playing . . . are saying, ‘Yeah, we lost him . . . but this guy stepped up and he’s played really well and he’s taken the slack off of this guy.’
“So I think it is necessary in the NFL just because it’s such a long season and it’s such a physical sport that injuries are just going to happen. You don’t want it to happen, you don’t think it’s going to happen, but inevitably it does.
“Are you going to have enough depth? Are you going to have enough guys that can step up and play the same caliber of football as the person they are replacing?’’
Right time. Right place. Right quarterback.
So, what happens when the Colts’ magical ride ends, ideally Feb. 3 in Atlanta, site of Super Bowl LIII? Once again, Inman will be an unrestricted free agent.
“I don’t worry about it,’’ he said. “That will take care of itself.’’
His sister texted him the other day.
“She was like, ‘Hey, I think they’re going to sign you,’’’ Inman said with a smile. “I told her, ‘Right now it’s about us trying to win a Super Bowl.’
“That’s all I’m dialed in on. Just trying to get that ring.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.