The magic 8-ball may have read, “outlook not so good,” for the Indianapolis Colts franchise just 12 months ago. Andrew Luck hadn’t played — it wasn’t clear when or if he’d play again. And Indianapolis was one of the worst teams in the NFL.
But the Colts’ collapse brought new life to the franchise in interesting fashion. They maximized on Luck’s injury, and built for the possibility that he would return in 2018. They received the No. 3 pick in the 2018 draft, and then traded with the New York Jets, which netted the No. 6 pick and three second-round picks. The Colts focused on building through the draft, rather than in free agency. They had five picks in the top two rounds in last year’s draft. They signed just a few players, including tight end Eric Ebron and defensive tackle Denico Autry. Ebron leads the team in touchdowns. Autry leads the team in sacks. Meanwhile, the Colts let go running back Frank Gore and defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Those players have been easily replaced.
Heading into the 2019 offseason, the 8-ball will have a much more positive outlook on Indy. Their 2018 draft class has been even more productive than they could have hoped. Rookie linebacker Darrius Leonard leads the team and the league with an absurd 156 tackles. Rookie guard Quentin Nelson has been outstanding at guard, and is probably already one of the best at his position. And then there’s starting right tackle Braden Smith, rotational pass rusher Kemoko Turay and starting defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis. They’re all 2018 second-round picks. They’re all contributing in year one to a team which could make the playoffs and be danger in the wild card round.
General manager Chris Ballard is doing excellent work. And looking forward, the Colts are likely to get even better next season. They have $122 million in cap space, the most in the NFL, with the core of the team on contract until at least 2020. They can look outside the building as they figure out how to spend their absurd amount of cash. Receiver Golden Tate, defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence, Dee Ford, Trey Flowers, Jadeveon Clowney and Frank Clark, running backs Le’Veon Bell and Kareem Hunt, cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Landon Collins could all enter free agency. The Colts could be in play for any of them.
They can also go back to the draft for their continued rebuild. They won’t be picking high like last year, but they will still have three picks inside the top two rounds, including the Jets’ pick atop the second round.
The Colts are already better than most thought they’d be in 2018. And they have unfathomable room to grow in 2019, with an absurd amount of money and a solid amount of draft assets at their disposal.