INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo talked to reporters on Tuesday, fresh off signing a two-year contract extension to stay with the team through the 2021 season. What were the top takeaways from the conversation?
» Staying healthy throughout the 2019 season was a huge factor for Castonzo's return: Castonzo has always been a dependable part of the Colts' offensive lineup since he was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, missing just a handful of games over that time. But he had always been affected by nagging injuries, particularly with pain in his knees, that would at times affect his offseason training and his in-game performance.
But last offseason, Castonzo worked on a plan with Rusty Jones, the Colts' Director of Sports Performance, that saw him strengthen his hamstrings, which, in effect, would remove the nagging pain from his knees and allowed him to play injury-free for the first time in his career. The end result was what general manager Chris Ballard, head coach Frank Reich and Castonzo considered to be the best season of his career.
Now able to solely focus on improving his craft at tackle, Castonzo said the decision to come back to Indy was an easy one to make.
"After having a healthy season, I kinda looked back on the season and I said, 'Do I think that that is the best that I'm going to be able to play?' Having been healthy and gotten through the season, kind of looking at it like, 'Do I think I can play better than that, or is that the best that I think I can play?' If I had come away from that saying I think it's the best that I can play and it's downhill from here, then I probably would have decided to retire," Castonzo said. "But after doing some offseason training and kind of getting going and thinking about things, I think that I've got a lot of better football and a lot more in me. So I decided that I want to keep playing. And I love the Colts and I love football, so I think that decision (had) absolutely nothing kind of swaying me in the other direction."
» A two-year contract made the most sense to everybody involved: While Ballard acknowledged last month that Castonzo's situation would probably be considered more "year-to-year" moving forward, the two sides ultimately agreed on a two-year contract, keeping him in Indianapolis through at least the 2021 season.
Castonzo was so dead set on staying with the Colts organization that had he signed a one-year deal instead, he said he would've just signed another one at this time next year.
"As we discussed it — I talked to Chris (Ballard), and talking to my agent, talking to everybody, it's just about how good I am feeling, and the fact that if I'm playing football, it's gonna be for the Colts, and I wanted to commit to the Colts, and that's why the two-year (contract) kind of made sense," Castonzo said. "At the end of the day, after this year, if I was going to be a free agent again I'd end up signing with the Colts again, so it's just kind of like, 'Why do it year-to-year when we could just do a two-year (deal) and kind of take it from there?'"
» Castonzo thinks his best football is ahead of him: Selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2019 for the first time in his nine-year NFL career, Castonzo would end up turning in one of the best overall performances by any left tackle — or any offensive lineman, for that matter — in the entire league.
He ranked as Pro Football Focus' ninth-best offensive linemen in the NFL; his pass-blocking grade of 81.3 was 13th best among all qualifying offensive linemen, and sixth among tackles, while his 70.2 run-blocking grade ranked 23rd among linemen and eighth among tackles.
In total, Castonzo allowed just three sacks and five quarterback pressures all season, according to PFF, which named him to its 2019 All-Pro team as a second-team selection at left tackle.
The scary part is Castonzo thinks he's just scratching the surface, even as he enters his age-32 season in 2020.
"People say, 'Work smarter, not harder,' but when you kind of combine both of them and you're able to work harder and smarter, you can do a lot," Castonzo said of his offseason approach. "So I've become pretty excited about the kind of prospects of getting better and better as I get later on in my career here.
"I feel like at times, yes, that I think I played some of the best games that I've played in the NFL," Castonzo continued, referencing the 2019 season. "And I think I'm always my harshest critic, and I think I've got a lot of room to grow still, and I think that that room to grow, it's realistic to think that I can cover that ground and that I can grow into be the player that I truly have potential to be."
» Castonzo is excited about the entire Indy starting offensive line returning for a third straight season: Last year, the Colts were the only team in the NFL to have the same five offensive linemen start all 16 games.
That's the result of hard work on and off the field, a quality training staff — and a little bit of good fortune.
But the unit, which ranked as PFF's No. 3-overall offensive line in 2019, still has work to do together, and getting Castonzo officially back in the fold was the final box to check heading into the offseason.
"I've talked to everybody, and we're pumped to keep this same group together," Castonzo said. "I mean, very rarely do you get to keep that continuity that we've had on the offensive line with five guys that can all play as well as we can. I mean, it's exciting."
Then there's the dominating presence to Castonzo's right that also played a factor in his decision to return: two-time All-Pro left guard, Quenton Nelson.
"I'd be remiss to say that the opportunity to play next to Quenton Nelson isn't part of the reason why I'd love to continue playing," Castonzo said. "Because it really is a lot of fun, and playing with the whole group is fun, and I think we want to stay together as long as possible."