The Indianapolis Colts simply had to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the worst team in the NFL, to make it into the playoffs. But it was clear from the start that it was not going to be their day. As they failed to make the playoffs, it’s time to assess where the Colts should go from here.
Circus in Jacksonville
Indianapolis has relied on its turnover-heavy defense and running game to win games throughout the year, and both failed to show today. Trevor Lawrence, the former number one overall pick who had struggled thus far, had a career day against the Colts. He threw 23 completions for 223 yards and two touchdowns, including the dagger to Marvin Jones to extend the lead to 20 points late in the third. On the other side, Jonathan Taylor failed to reach 100 yards for only the sixth time this season, leading Indianapolis to turn away from their identity and rely on Carson Wentz to win the game.
When the Colts sent a conditional first-round pick to Philadelphia in March, it was under the assumption that Wentz would return to his MVP caliber form of 2018. Or at least close to it. After an up-and-down season, Wentz had an abysmal day through the air. He was 17-29 for 185 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He also lost a fumble on a strip-sack that led to a Jaguars’ field goal. Time and time again, Wentz failed to find the open receiver, and when he did, it was often misthrown. When it was all said and done, the Colts lost 26-11, but even that feels closer than the game actually was.
Following the game, Frank Reich stated “I think (Carson) is our quarterback. I think we’re all going to learn and grow from this year. You know, how to utilize every player that we have to the fullest. I think there were a lot of bright moments for Carson.” Not exactly the most ringing endorsement for the Colts’ prize 2021 offseason move.
Where do they go from here?
The Colts have many questions to be answered this upcoming offseason. But none bigger than the question at quarterback. Carson Wentz is still under contract for the next two seasons, but the Colts do have an out if they really wanted. If Wentz were to be cut or traded this offseason, Indianapolis would eat $15 million in dead cap. So odds are that Wentz will be in blue and white throughout next year at the minimum.
But could the Colts pull an Eagles and bring in competition? Absolutely. And they should. Without a first-round pick, their best bet would be a developmental prospect in the second round. In a weaker quarterback class, there could be some options available. Desmond Ridder and Sam Howell could be intriguing names to watch if they were to slip into the second round. Or a mid-round flier on a prospect like Bailey Zappe could be in the cards.
There are also some intriguing names in the free agent market. Andy Dalton could give you a low-to-middle-tier game manager. Marcus Mariota could resurrect his career and bring dynamic athleticism to the position. Or bring in Jacoby Brissett who has experience in the Colts offense, and brought similar statistics to Wentz’s 2021 season. No matter which direction they go in, Wentz needs someone to push him to succeed. Or take over if Wentz fails to rise to the occasion.
The rest of the roster needs work as well. Left tackle is an enormous need as Eric Fisher failed to amount to much and will be hitting the market this spring. If Ballard wants to make a splash, Terron Armstead is a name that Colts’ fans should watch closely as free agency begins in Spring.
Sticking on the offensive side of the ball, the Colts need to surround Wentz, or whoever is under center, with more talent. Michael Pittman Jr. had over 1,000 receiving yards, but no one else topped 400. If Wentz is to succeed in the future, Indianapolis needs to find a dynamic receiver to pair with Pittman. Draft prospects like George Pickens, David Bell, or Alec Pierce would all be immediate upgrades to the Colts’ receiving corps.
Defensively, the Colts need to upgrade at both edge rusher and cornerback. The Colts had only 33 sacks this season and it was evident in some of their bigger games. Matt Eberfleus is not known for his blitz packages, and this puts more pressure on the defensive line to win their battles. Kwity Paye had a mediocre rookie season and showed flashes in the process, but Indy is desperate to find a young player to pair opposite him.
Rock Ya-Sin had his best season in coverage, but Xavier Rhodes had an up-and-down season as he battled through injuries. Isaiah Rodgers showed promise but needs to continue to develop before becoming a starting NFL cornerback. Could the Colts back up the brinks truck for J.C. Jackson? Or will they hope to hit on a mid-round draft prospect like Darion Kendrick, Josh Jobe, or Mykael Wright?
This off-season will be make or break for Chris Ballard and company. Will he attack the quarterback position after Wentz’s struggles? Or will he be aggressive to surround Wentz with as much talent as possible? After a disappointing 2021-2022 season, the Colts’ offseason direction will be telling for where they believe this team can go and how quickly they can get there.