INDIANAPOLIS – One of the longest-tenured Indianapolis Colts has no desire to play elsewhere, but sees the finish line.
“I want to be a Colt for life,’’ T.Y. Hilton said Wednesday during a Zoom conference call.
He’s heading into his ninth season with the franchise that selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft and the final year of the $65 million extension he signed in August 2015.
Hilton revealed Wednesday he and the Colts had preliminary extension talks before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NFL to put much of its business on pause.
“Whenever things pick back up,’’ he said on a Zoom conference call, “hopefully we can get something done. If not, it’s up to Mr. Irsay and Chris (Ballard).
“I want to be here.’’
If an extension occurs this offseason or prior to Hilton hitting free agency next offseason, it’ll offer a definitive timeline – an end point – for his career.
“Whatever I sign for my next contract, that’ll be when I hang it up,’’ he said. “Whether it’s two years, three years, four years, whatever it is, whatever I sign for my next contract, that’ll be it for me.’’
Hilton is due a $14.542 million base salary in 2020. If the Colts still view him as a top-10 wideout, an extension probably would average at least $16 million per season. The likely keys: the length of an extension and the guaranteed money.
Two issues could conspire against Hilton: he turns 31 in November and is coming off two injury-impacted seasons. He battled through two high sprains to his right ankle over the final two months of 2018 and missed a career-high six games last season with a torn calf muscle.
It must be noted injuries had been foreign to Hilton. He’s missed just 10 of 128 regular-season games.
Even so, might the Colts view 2020 as a prove-it season for their four-time Pro Bowler?
“My work speaks for itself,’’ Hilton said. “When I’m out there, I know what I can do. These last two years I’ve been a little banged up.
“This year, if they want me to prove it, I’ll prove it. But I think everybody would want me here. I want to be here.’’
Nickel back Kenny Moore II was asked if he considered Hilton a 30-year old wideout on the downside of his career, or a Pro Bowl-level talent?
“Pro Bowl, no doubt,’’ he said. “T.Y.’s the best receiver that I’ve ever gone against.’’
Coordinator Nick Sirianni anticipates “a great bounce back’’ season.
“I expect the 2018 version of him,’’ he said.
Despite missing two games and rarely practicing over the final six weeks, including the postseason, because of the severe ankle sprain, Hilton finished with 1,270 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 16.7 yards per catch and had four games with at least 125 yards.
“If T.Y. stays healthy through the year,’’ Sirianni said, “there is no doubt in my mind that that’s what we’ll see because he’s highly competitive, highly intelligent, and he’s going to take advantage of his opportunities.
“He’s definitely still the main piece of this offense. T.Y. Hilton is who this pass offense runs through. He’s our guy. He’s our lead dog. He’s our alpha dog.’’
That’s a role Hilton embraces. And that’s why last season was so difficult for him. He refused to go on IR even after aggravating the torn calf and felt helpless as the Colts saw their 5-2 start disintegrate into a 2-7 finish.
After tearing the calf during an Oct. 30 practice leading up to a road trip to Pittsburgh – he described it as “kinda flukey’’ – Hilton had just 13 catches for 141 yards in his final five games. He finally got close to 100% for the season finale at Jacksonville and had three catches for 72 yards, but it was too little, too late.
Hilton endured career lows with 45 receptions, 501 yards and 11.1 yards per catch. For the first time in his career, he failed to post a 100-yard game or a 40-yard reception.
“I kinda let my teammates down last year being hurt,’’ he said. “My motivation is to get back to where I was, and that’s being on top of the game.’’
Hilton is working out twice a day in South Florida, intent on returning to a Pro Bowl-caliber level “so I don’t let my teammates down.’’
The Colts have spent the offseason injecting life into a pass offense that ranked near the bottom of the NFL a year ago in most significant categories. It averaged just 194.3 yards per game, 6.5 yards per attempt and 10.8 yards per completion. The Colts generated only 38 pass plays that gained at least 20 yards, tied for 2nd-fewest in the league. They finished with three completions of 40-plus yards. Only the Chicago Bears, with two, had fewer. Kansas City turned in 18.
Enter second-round draft pick Michael Pittman Jr. The 6-4, 223-pound wideout is expected to be a formidable sidekick for Hilton.
Perhaps more importantly, enter Philip Rivers. The 38-year old QB is expected to bring an aggressive, productive right arm to the offense.
Hilton and Rivers are building their relationship during the virtual offseason – “I feel like I’ve gotten to know him,’’ Hilton said – and that will expand when players are allowed to report to the Colts’ West 56th Street complex at some point.
“Whenever things start to open up,’’ Hilton said, “I’m pretty sure we’ll get together and get our timing down.’’
Teaming up with Rivers, he added, “could be special. The way I’m training, the way I’m doing, the way my body’s feeling and Philip doing his thing . . . I feel like it’s going to be an All-Pro year for me.’’
Sirianni isn’t betting against Hilton and Rivers being “special.’’
He was the Chargers’ receivers coach in 2017 when Rivers directed the NFL’s No. 1-ranked pass offense. Rivers averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, tied for 4th in the league. Tyrell Williams averaged 16.9 yards per catch, 5th in the league, one notch ahead of Travis Benjamin (16.7).
“What did Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin have? They had speed,’’ Sirianni said. “They had flat-out speed. T.Y. Hilton has flat-out speed.
“That makes me excited, and I can just picture some of these plays. I can just picture this post that Travis ran against Cleveland. Game 1 against cover-4 and Philip dropped it right in there to him for a 70-yard gain to start the game. I just envision T.Y. doing that. I think about Tyrell running this over route – plays that are in our offense – and Philip putting it right on the money and Tyrell being able to run with it.
“I’m just super excited and see the parallels that we’ve had with other players – that Philip’s had with other players – that really will fit some of the things that T.Y. can do.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.