With Colts, it’s never too soon to look ahead to offseason


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA – OCTOBER 27: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass to Eric Ebron #85 of the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter in the game against the Denver Broncos at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 27, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s not that we don’t see value in Frank Reich’s approach: week-to-week, 1-0, remember? That’s the only way to attack the NFL’s 16-game grind. Look ahead and you’re looking for trouble.

So with 15 games down and one to go – Sunday afternoon at Jacksonville – nothing’s changed.

“For us as coaches, we’re preparing to win the game,’’ Reich said Monday afternoon. “For right now as a staff, we have to focus on preparing to beat Jacksonville.’’

That’s not to say Reich and his staff aren’t game-planning with at least some interest in 2020. They tweaked the offense a bit in Sunday’s 38-6 thrashing of Carolina – Jacoby Brissett worked out of the no-huddle at the game’s outset – and a few of the younger players saw more reps than usual. Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad, in his third season, was on the field for 50% of the snaps and made the most of the opportunity with three tackles, 2 sacks and two quarterback hits.

Reich and general manager Chris Ballard meet on a weekly basis to discus the present and the future. Generally speaking, Reich is driven by the short term while Ballard must balance today with so many tomorrows.

“And that’s the way it should be,’’ Reich said. “Chris does a great job of that, and I have to do everything I can do to do a great job of keeping the short-term vision. I honestly resist the temptation of going too deep into those (long-term) conversations.

“We have plenty of time to have those conversations when the season is over.’’

That’s totally understandable. It’s just that we don’t have to follow that short-term approach.

Here are a few bigger-picture issues looming when the offseason rolls around:

Who’s the QB?

Right now, it’s Brissett. But he’s done little over the last half of the season to stoke confidence in being the long-term answer at the franchise’s most influential position.

We’ve driven home the dramatic regression in Brissett’s performance. He was a 64.8% passer with 14 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 99.7 rating before spraining his left knee at Pittsburgh. In his last six games: 57.5% accuracy, four TDs, three interceptions, a 75.8 rating.

It’s not all been on Brissett, but there’s no question he’s been unable to silence the critics.

Owner Jim Irsay left the door option to all options during a recent interview with NFL Network when he insisted the Colts are taking Andrew Luck “at face value” regarding his retirement being permanent. His money quote: “So Chris Ballard and I and Frank Reich, we have to move forward. And we are with Jacoby and the next draft and thereafter.’’

It’s always risky when attempting to decipher Irsay’s comments. Was he indicating the Colts definitely will look for their QB of the future in the draft? He certainly didn’t come out and say the team is convinced Brissett isn’t that guy.

All three QBs are under contract for 2020: Brissett, Brian Hoyer and Chad Kelly. But it’s entirely possible Ballard will invest a high draft pick in a quarterback capable of being the long-term answer. How high? Good question. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Ballard it’s his reluctance to part with draft picks. The Colts are at 16th in the draft order, and that likely fluctuates depending on Sunday.

To move into the top 10 – or higher – for one of the top QBs will be expensive in terms of draft capital and would be as un-Ballard-like as it gets. Maybe there’s another QB he covets that won’t take too much, if any, upward mobility.

Maybe he stands pat, which would be a surprise.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason on this front, and it’s the most pressing issue facing the franchise. All other concerns pale in comparison to getting the QB situation right.

Final game?

By our tally, there are at least 10 Colts eligible for unrestricted free agency at the end of the season. A few should return. Most won’t.

If Ballard is seeking some advice – we’re very inexpensive – we would do whatever it takes to re-sign left tackle Anthony Castonzo. We’re not certain why that already hasn’t been done. If a multi-year deal isn’t agreed upon – a top-10 left tackle is worth approximately $12 million per season – the Colts could use the one-year franchise tag (roughly $14 million).

We also would re-sign defensive end Jabaal Sheard and offensive lineman Joe Haeg. After that . . .

It will be a stunner if the team extends an offer to Adam Vinatieri. He turns 47 on Dec. 28 and will be coming off major surgery on his left (plant) knee and the worst of his 24 seasons.

Eric Ebron? Please.

Other unrestricted free agents-to-be: Clayton Geathers, Devin Funchess, Donrelle Inman, Ross Travis, Le’Raven Clark.

Salary cap

For those keeping track at home, maneuverability under the salary cap won’t be an issue. According to overthecap.com, the Colts are projected to have about $137 million in cap space, which includes carryover from 2019.

It’s up to Ballard to determine how to use it, and there’s every reason to believe Irsay will give him the green light to be as active as he wants. That should include some type of new deal for Castonzo and maybe extensions for center Ryan Kelly and wideout T.Y. Hilton. The latter two are under contract through 2020. We also would consider given Marlon Mack an extension a year early.

That type of cap space, and owner, also could mean a few significant free-agent additions.

Who’s next?

Fourteen of the 16 opponents are set. Still to be determined is which teams from the AFC East (Buffalo or the New York Jets) and the AFC West (Denver or the Raiders) the Colts face based on where they finish in the AFC South standings. They finish second at 8-8 with a win at Jacksonville and a Tennessee loss at Houston. The Colts hold the tiebreaker with the Titans based on a better division record.

The home opponents: Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Minnesota and the AFC East.

The away opponents: Houston, Jacksonville, Tennessee, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit and the AFC West.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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