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Colts keep defensive core together in committing to Zaire Franklin, Tyquan Lewis, Kenny Moore II and Grover Stewart

The Colts retained three of their longest-tenured players in free agency and signed another part of their defensive foundation to a contract extension this week. 

Kenny Moore II made his NFL debut in Week 1 of the 2017 season. Seven days later, Grover Stewart played his first game as a pro. A year later, Zaire Franklin arrived in Indianapolis. 

The odds were stacked against all three. Moore, an undrafted free agent, was claimed off waivers from the New England Patriots on roster cut-down day. Stewart was a fourth-round pick of the Colts from Albany State, an off-the-radar HBCU in Georgia. Franklin didn't get an invite to the NFL Combine or Senior Bowl and was the 235th player selected in the 2018 draft. 

These three players beat the long odds to stick in the NFL with the Colts. They beat longer odds to earn second contracts. And they beat even longer odds to earn third contracts, which they all signed on Wednesday. 

Another player who beat the odds to earn a contract extension this week is defensive end Tyquan Lewis. He was a high draft pick – a second-rounder in 2018 – but sustained patellar injuries, one to each leg, nearly one year apart in 2021 and 2022. Both times, the Colts brought him back. In 2023, Lewis played a full 17-game season and was disruptive as a versatile rotational defensive lineman, recording 44 total pressures – third-most on the team. 

"From my story to Ty Lew, to Grove and so on and so forth," Franklin said, mentioning Moore as well, "it's just a message ringing out throughout our organization that they take care of the guys that perform here as long as you contribute to winning."

Both Lewis and Moore explained how this core of players stayed together not just because of on-field production, but because of the kind of people the Colts work to build around as an organization. 

"The guys we re-signed and extended – those are some of the best young men some of us will ever meet in our lives," Lewis said. "I can't really explain how grateful I am for them as teammates. I think all of us have been teammates for six years almost – six or seven years. Just the core group of guys on the defense and everybody else, it's wonderful to see because we all know we're in our primes. We just have to take that next step. I feel like that's demanded of us as players too."

"I think if we brought that physical aspect and playmaking ability but didn't have the character, we wouldn't be here today," Moore said. "I just think all around they want locker room guys, they want guys that have that integrity and just do the right thing when nobody else is watching. I just think it speaks at a high volume of the guys that (general manager Chris Ballard's re-signing back."

The Colts had already put their faith into this group of players, committing to contract extensions to re-up them after their rookie deals. All four players rewarded the Colts for rewarding them, and there's something to be said for these guys being *better *after getting paid the first time. 

It's sort of a self-sustaining cycle of growth, when an organization believes in a player and a player believes in an organization. 

"I feel like everybody in the NFL is talented and good enough to make plays in this league. I think the guys that are able to really move that forward are the guys that are comfortable enough to be able to be themselves," Franklin said. "For a lot of guys, I think that belief that the organization believes in you, they want you there and they are willing to let you grow through small mistakes or difficulties you go through – I think that allows a lot of guys to grow.

"I think you see that in a lot of the guys that have re-signed or guys whose careers have continued to catapult the further they get into this, because sometimes you have to believe in your players to get the best out of them."

And all of these players saw the Colts as an organization that believes in them, before and after they signed these latest extensions. 

"It's a special bond that they've got with their players," Stewart said. "They like their players and the players love to be here too. Like I always tell people, this organization is family-oriented – it's somewhere you want to be."

The Colts also re-upped wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. and punter Rigoberto Sanchez this week, but this is a story focused on the defense. Keeping Stewart, Lewis, Franklin and Moore is a commitment to continuity on a defense allowed the fifth-most points per game (24.4) in the NFL in 2023 – but feels like it's on the right track under third-year defensive coordinator Gus Bradley. 

And for an otherwise youthful defense, keeping these productive veterans around was critical. Take, for example, what head coach Shane Steichen had to say about Stewart:

"The disruptiveness that Grover causes on the field, especially in the run game, is rare and pivotal to the success of our defense," Steichen said. "The physicality he plays with in the trenches sets the tone. It was important that we kept Grover here and I'm confident he will continue to develop as the years progress."

Steichen also described Moore as "vital" and Lewis as an "asset," while emphasizing the respect he has for Franklin on and off the field. These are not the kind of players good organizations let out of their buildings. They're the exact kind of players – veterans with still-untapped potential steeped in the organization's culture – a team like the Colts wants to reward. 

And now it's on this group to reward the Colts.

"It means a lot," Franklin said. "But I think at this point now – accolades aside, money aside – it's time for us to put some banners up now. It's time for us to accomplish something.

"We've got to leave here with something other than good memories."

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