By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)
The Indianapolis Colts went into the 2021 offseason as a team on the verge of contention. All of the early talk was on the team’s trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz to replace the retired Phillip Rivers in leading the offense. A bit further down the road, the team again made a splash by drafting Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye with the 21st pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which I consider a steal as he should have gone in the first half of the opening round.
However, while the team didn’t garner many other headlines aside from those two moments, they look to have improved quite a bit during this period, with many under-the-radar type moves pushing the Colts right to where they want to be. Let’s break down a few!
1) Signing veteran guard Chris Reed from the Carolina Panthers
When you think of overlooked Colts moves, your first thought should be Chris Reed.
After missing the first two weeks on the Covid-19 list in 2020, Reed played every single offensive snap from week three on for the Panthers. He was a big help in taking one of the league’s worst pass-protecting offensive lines in 2019 and pushing them towards the league average in that regard. According to PFF, in those 14 games, Reed allowed just one sack and was penalized just three times while holding down the left guard position.
After signing a one-year, $1.1 million dollar deal in April with the Colts, Reed comes to the team as the primary backup on the interior of the offensive line. With the teams 2020 fifth round pick Danny Pinter likely to take over the right guard position in 2022 should the team move on from Mark Glowinski, Reed is a perfect mentor for the time being, and should perform very well when put on the spot in times of need.
2) Re-signing running back Marlon Mack
Alright, this one might be more personal preference, but hear me out!
After drafting Jonathan Taylor with the 41st pick of the 2020 NFL draft, I was almost ready to see Mack out the door to open up room for Taylor to be a workhorse. When Mack went down in week one, I wasn’t as excited anymore. Why?
Because GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich sold me on the “dynamic duo” potential.
During the 2020 offseason, now Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni spoke to the media about how the team viewed Taylor and Mack as a “1-1 punch”. Many teams around the league have a good 1-2 punch, but the Colts saw what they had differently. They saw two dynamic backs as co-stars for the Colts backfield, with Taylor wearing down teams by pounding the rock and Mack wearing them out with his cuts and speed.
After Mack was lost for the season, Nyheim Hines stepped up as the primary backup to Jonathan Taylor. After totalling 862 yards and seven touchdowns on 152 touches (89 rushes, 63 catches), Hines returns as a dynamic chess piece for the offense.
Now, in 2021, we will finally get to witness the “1-1 punch” that had fans so excited, and we now know what we have in Nyheim Hines as an amazing third option. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised if the Colts are talked about as having the best running back stable in the league!
3) Letting defensive end Justin Houston walk
In his two seasons in Indy, Justin Houston quickly became a fan favorite for his pass-rushing qualities and leadership of the young defense. It came as a surprise to some, then, when the team didn’t re-sign the end to another short contract to return that player to Indy. (With Houston still available at the time of writing this, he might still return, though it’s unlikely).
However, it was time to move on. At 32 years old, the future Canton-hopeful Houston doesn’t have a lot left in the tank to offer. Despite getting 19.0 sacks in his two seasons with Indy, it was clear he was regressing, as he only tallied his 8.0 sacks on 12 QB Hits in 2020. By all means, that isn’t horrible, but it goes to show how he was becoming more of a clean-up pass rusher than the dominant force he once was.
With the team drafting the aforementioned Paye and Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo to man the end spots for the future in Indy, and with All-Pro defensive tackle Deforest Buckner breaking out with 26 QB hits in 2020, Houston was no longer a necessity up front for the team. While the fans will look back thankfully on his time in Indy, it was time for the two sides to move on, as Indy builds for its future and Houston looks for a ring for his mantle.
Despite a quiet offseason in Indy (as has become commonplace under Ballard), the Colts made many underrated moves to improve the roster. From depth on the offensive line, to attempt number two of having a dynamic rushing attack, and finally to letting an aging vet chase a championship, the team made moves for the future in 2021.
While we still have a few months before we can see how those moves paid off, the team looks better on paper now, and fans should be excited for what is to come in Indy!