INDIANAPOLIS — Perhaps Chris Ballard tipped his hand with free-agent-to-be Clayton Geathers back on Jan. 14 in his end-of-the-season press conference.
“I love everything Clayton Geathers stands for,” the Colts’ general manager told reporters that day.
Accordingly, it turned out, Ballard didn't let Geathers linger on the open market too long.
The Colts announced today that they have re-signed Geathers, ensuring the team’s top strong safety’s return for the 2019 season.
Geathers, 26, has been one of the Colts’ top overall defensive playmakers in recent seasons, but injury issues have, at times, limited his impact.
A fourth-round selection by the Colts in the 2015 NFL Draft, Geathers has played in 41 games with 24 starts, and has compiled 180 tackles (135 solo), 3.0 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
But Geathers has also missed 23 games over the past four seasons with various injury issues. In 2016, he was off to a tremendous first half of the season before suffering a season-ending neck injury in the team’s ninth game of the year; the resulting surgical procedure led to Geathers playing just five games the following year.
Geathers then underwent knee surgery following the 2017 season and missed all of last year's offseason workout program and most of training camp. He returned in time for the start of the regular season, but was listed with a knee injury on the team’s weekly injury report for all but four games.
Geathers also dealt with elbow and neck injuries in 2018, while he also suffered a concussion back in Week 5. He overcame those issues to play in 12 games (all starts) last season, compiling a career-best 86 tackles (59 solo; one for a loss) with three passes defensed, two quarterback hits and one forced fumble.
But through it all, Geathers continued to gain respect and trust from Ballard and head coach Frank Reich.
“I watched (the) guy every week fight his tail off to get ready to play,” Ballard said.
"He has been toughing it out big time," Reich said of Geathers on Dec. 19. "I can’t say enough about that. Even when he is playing, he is just playing at a very high level. It is just something about when Clayton is out there it just gives us an emotional life. That guy is a leader in every way – just the physicality and the toughness. He is big time for us."
That trust from the GM on down — not to mention the fact that a young Colts team in 2018 won nine of 10 games down the stretch to earn a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons — put Indianapolis at the top of Geathers' list as he was set to become a free agent for the first time in his career.
"Everybody's growing up, everybody's learning the game. Just coming together, that's all we did this year and it's just gonna get better from here,” Geathers told Colts.com on Jan. 13. “Everybody wants to be apart of that, including myself."
Geathers’ signing means the Colts will have both of their starting safeties from 2018 back in the fold in 2019.
Both Geathers and free safety Malik Hooker battled through various injury issues before and during the 2018 season, but both are expected to have a clear bill of health this offseason. George Odum is also set to return for his second NFL season in 2019, while Isaiah Johnson and Rolan Milligan will get a chance to compete on the 90-man offseason roster.
Another key safety who could return in 2019 is Matthias Farley, a restricted free agent who was tendered by the Colts on March 11. Farley is yet to sign his tender, however.