INDIANAPOLIS —Who’s going to be the man in charge?
For the Indianapolis Colts, no other storyline this offseason is as important as the search for their 20th head coach in franchise history.
Once that person is hired, then all sorts of dominoes start to fall: filling out the coaching staff, figuring out your basic schemes on offense and defense, offseason workout schedules and approaches, etc.
So we’ll start from there and move our way down in our list of the Colts’ offseason storylines to follow in the coming days, weeks and months (see a comprehensive list of the key 2018 offseason dates by clicking here):
• New leader
Colts general manager Chris Ballard said whoever he hires to be the team’s next head coach, he wants it to be someone he can “partner” with. While Ballard and his personnel staff are responsible for bringing in the talent to fill out the roster, it’s up to the head coach and his staff to actually develop those players.
Depending on who the Colts hire, there could be all sorts of other fundamental changes to the football operation, and a lot of it has to do with the coordinators and assistant coaches put into place. Maybe the team will go with a different approach on offense? Perhaps the base defense will change from a 3-4 to a 4-3 front?
Also, teams with new head coaches are given a two-week head start on their offseason workout programs; the Colts will be eligible to begin their program April 2, compared to April 16 for those teams with returning head coaches.
So although league rules limit what all can be done and said during those workouts, they serve as a prime opportunity for the new coach to set his foundation and expectations for his players.
• Luck’s progression
It was almost a year ago now that quarterback Andrew Luck underwent surgery to his throwing shoulder. And despite hopes that he could return by the start of the 2017 regular season, Luck, who had returned to very limited work in practice, would eventually be shut down for the year in early November after experiencing some pain in that right shoulder.
Luck then spent nearly two full months rehabbing with a trainer in the Netherlands before returning just before the Colts’ Week 17 matchup against the Houston Texans, and said he’s feeling better each and every day.
The next step in his process, Luck said, is to get back to throwing the football, which he said late last month he hoped would come soon. As for the team’s offseason workouts, OTAs, minicamp and training camp, all of which begin in early-April, Luck said, “I plan on being ready for everything.”
So we’ll continue to keep an eye on the developments on Luck’s shoulder as we hear them.
• “With the third pick in the 2018 NFL Draft…”
For just the fourth time since 1994, the Colts have a top-three overall pick in the NFL Draft this year. As previously noted, in those three other instances, Indy has selected Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning and Luck, who was considered perhaps the greatest pro-ready quarterback to enter the draft in decades back in 2012.
As Colts owner Jim Irsay has said, Ballard has a bevy of options at his disposal when it comes to that third-overall pick this year — each one of them presenting extremely beneficial likely outcomes.
The Colts could simply use the pick on a likely instant starter and game changer for their offense or defense, or they could find a team desperate to find itself in the Top 3, make a trade and get all sorts of extra draft picks out of the deal — and good ones at that.
This will also be Ballard’s second draft with the Colts, so it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to infuse this roster with young talent. Last year he employed a “best player available” approach versus just drafting for specific needs, and it paid off as several rookies eventually took on major roles with the team in 2017. With competition at every position being the goal, look for that draft technique to stay the same in 2018.
• Free agency
The Colts head into this offseason with 14 players set to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 14. Along with selecting the team’s new head coach, Ballard and his personnel staff must decide which of those players they want to try to get re-signed for the 2018 season, and which of them they will let test free agency.
And there’s some big names on that list: guys like Frank Gore, Adam Vinatieri, Rashaan Melvin, Darius Butler, Donte Moncrief, Jon Bostic, Jack Mewhort and more.
But after utilizing a good majority of their free agency moves last offseason to begin reshaping the defense — signing guys like Bostic, outside linebackers Jon Simon and Jabaal Sheard and defensive linemen Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods — one would imagine Ballard will explore more options on the offensive side of the ball this time around.
With a reported cap space of $80 million or more, the Colts definitely have some resources to pad the roster, perhaps to add at the wide receiver position (where, as of now, T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers are the only primary producers returning) or along the offensive line, for example.
Those free agents, coupled with another strong draft class (and a new head coach and staff, of course) could really make a huge difference and could quickly start filling some gaps to get the Colts back to where they belong: in playoff contention.