INDIANAPOLIS — As the Indianapolis Colts enter a crucial offseason, one thing's for sure: the 2019 season, however you look at it, just wasn't good enough.
In fact, the team's 7-9 record, general manager Chris Ballard said, is "a stain that does not easily wash away."
The good news for the Colts? The NFL carousel doesn't stop; the next few months provides the team plenty of opportunities to make tweaks both to its schemes and to the roster itself to potentially get things back on the right track — and quick.
"What matters is what we do here going forward," Ballard said Jan. 2, in his end-of-season press conference. "How we handle it, how we respond to the adversity that we had this season and we move forward and we get it fixed.
"We've got to get better. We've got to improve," Ballard continued. "We've got to evaluate everything we're doing within our program and we've got to find the answers. That's our job and that's what we're going to do."
So with that in mind, what are some of the key offseason dates and events to keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months for the Colts? Here's your 2020 Colts offseason primer:
» Self-evaluation mode: The Colts have actually been in self-evaluation mode since their 2019 season ended, and this in-depth process should last through at least this week. Ballard and head coach Frank Reich are working hand-in-hand to evaluate every aspect of team — what is working, what isn't working, and everything in-between. The two will pour through the film of every game from the 2019 season together, get a feel for the flow of the season, and then start to come to some conclusions about potential changes to the roster, schemes, the coaching staff and anything else that can affect the team's success.
"It is a long evaluation," Reich said. "Everybody is held accountable; from the top down, we are all held accountable. Everything will get evaluated. There will be turnover. There always is in this league, but it is always to make the team better and we all embrace that. We know when we sign up to play in the big leagues, you better be able to handle that. We all can handle that — our players and coaches."
Once the self-evaluation mode is over, the Colts' coaching staff will get a much-deserved week off to "breathe after the season," Reich said.
"It's a long grind during the season, but we'll take a couple weeks here (to evaluate), and then we'll get a week off and get a little breath," he said.
» Senior Bowl (Jan. 19-Jan. 25): One of the more crucial scouting elements each year is the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala., which is billed as "football's premier senior showcase event" and "annually features the country's best senior collegiate football players and top NFL draft prospects." The Colts are especially invested in the Senior Bowl because it provides what Ballard describes as an "apples-to-apples" evaluation process; those participating from smaller schools and conferences get an opportunity to showcase how they compare to those from the major programs. Another key element: the North and South teams go through a week of practices run by actual NFL teams, and then, of course, they put it all together for the Senior Bowl game itself. Several current key Colts players, particularly on the defensive side of the ball — Darius Leonard, Kemoko Turay, Rock Ya-Sin, Khari Willis, Bobby Okereke and more — benefitted greatly from their performances at the Senior Bowl.
» NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 24-March 2): Held each year right here in Indianapolis, the NFL Scouting Combine is another crucial opportunity to closely evaluate the top prospects heading into the NFL Draft. The Combine, of course, features the on-field workouts — which, for the first time this year, will be televised in the afternoon and in primetime on Thursday, Friday and Saturday — but other key elements include the formal and informal prospect interviews, medical evaluations and official measurements. Ballard and Reich also typically speak to the media during the Combine.
» Start of free agency (March 16-18): The new league year, which officially kicks off at 4 p.m. March 18, always brings with it a few splashes league-wide thanks to the start of free agency. But the free agency process actually begins on March 16 with the start of the "legal tampering period" that allows teams to contact and enter contract negotiations with certified agents of players who will be unrestricted free agents once the new league year begins. Who are the Colts' pending free agents? Click here for the full official list.
» NFL annual meetings (March 29-April 1): NFL owners, general managers, head coaches and top league executives all gather towards the end of March; this year's meetings are being held in Palm Beach, Fla. These meetings are usually a key opportunity to discuss, and vote on, various rule changes and other critical league initiatives on and off the field. Colts owner Jim Irsay, as well as Ballard and Reich, also typically talk to reporters during the annual league meetings.
» Start of offseason workout program (April 20): Starting April 20, teams with returning head coaches may begin their offseason workout programs. Rookie minicamp is typically held two to three weeks after the start of the offseason workout program, while OTAs should get started in late-May and last through early-June. That's followed by mandatory minicamp in mid-June, which signals the official end of the offseason program.
» 2020 NFL Draft (April 23-25): This year's NFL Draft is being held in Las Vegas; Round 1 will be on April 23, Rounds 2-3 will be held on April 24 and Rounds 4-7 will be held on April 27. The Colts have the 13th-overall pick in this year's draft, and have eight picks overall across all seven rounds. Irsay, Ballard and Reich typically speak to reporters at various points throughout the three-day draft process.