INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.
Let's jump right into this week's questions:
Chris P. (Lake in the Hills, Ill.): "I'm sure most will think I'm crazy... but all this talk about wr being a weakness. We have TY and Zak. I'm a huge fan of Marcus Johnson. I think Daurice Fountain could be huge and we will see if Parris Campbell will live up to the hype. That's 5 receivers... sure we will add some for competition.... but don't see us being desperate... what do you think?? Thank you, sir"
Walker: I don't think you're crazy at all, Chris. Between guys like T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson, the return of Daurice Fountain from his injury, and then guys like Ashton Dulin and Chad Williams — and don't forget about Steve Ishmael, who also was placed on injured reserve before the start of the season — the Colts should once again have really good competition at the wide receiver position this offseason heading into training camp. But I also think it's fair to say that with everything I'm hearing about the depth at wide receiver in this year's draft class, and with the Colts needing to make considerable strides in their passing game in 2020, that adding more talented outside weapons (and competition) to the roster seems like it could very well be a priority. I think the Colts are going to have five or six really talented wide receivers on their roster heading into Week 1 of this next season; it's just way, way too early to begin trying to figure out who those guys will be.
David J. (Rockford, Ill): "What are the colts doing? Why all the talk of moving 7?"
Walker: If you actually listen to or read what Frank Reich and Chris Ballard said about Jacoby Brissett in their respective end-of-season press conferences, there is absolutely no talk of "moving" him. Brissett is under contract for the 2020 season, and he enters the offseason as the clear starter at the quarterback position. The main points made about Brissett were that he did some really good things in the 2019 season, but there are parts of his game as an individual player, as well as parts of the passing attack in general, that need improving. Ballard also fielded plenty of questions about the possibility of taking a quarterback in this year's NFL Draft, and while he's not going to say definitively one way or another whether the team is planning on doing that, he did say that if the team can make improvements at any position, including quarterback, it will do it. So you can obviously come to whatever conclusions you want about those statements, but Brissett isn't going anywhere.
Chris F. (Noblesville, Ind.): "The Colts were in obvious need of play makers at the WR position heading into the 2019 draft. It appears they will head into the 2020 draft with the same need. Looking back at the draft picks from 2019. Personally, I think passing up on WR's like DK Metcalf and AJ Brown is a black eye for the 2019 draft. DK Metcalf and AJ Brown are showing signs of elite play making ability. AJ Brown ends up in the hands of a team within the Colts division and this team basically knocked them out of the playoff hunt. Does GM Ballard regret not taking DK or AJ Brown when he had three opportunities to do this? "
Walker: Chris, with all due respect, I kind of glossed over the rest of your question once I saw the phrase "looking back." The 2019 NFL Draft class has played one season. And, yes, D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown both had impressive rookie years. But I'll steal your phrase for a second: "looking back," could anybody have predicted the injuries that would severely hamper the Colts' wide receiver corps in 2019? Had Devin Funchess not suffered a splintered collarbone in the very first game of the season, what kind of impact could he have made? Had T.Y. Hilton not suffered quad and calf injuries that caused him to miss six games (and play at less-than-100 percent in a couple others), how much better would the Colts have been at getting chunk passing plays? And, sticking with your theme, fellow 2019 draft pick Parris Campbell suffered not one, not two, not three but four significant injuries during his rookie season; literally every time he was showing signs of taking off and playing a larger role in the offense, he would go down with another hard-luck injury. So without the proper context, it's easy with hindsight to say, "Man, this offense could've really used those guys." But that's not the way it works. I just think it's a pointless exercise to look back at every immediately successful draft pick and lament the fact that your favorite team didn't select them; 30 other teams passed on those guys, too.
Nicholas C. (Toledo, Ohio): "Will the colts (hopefully) explore signing Jameis Winston and adding a big WR (Jeudy) in the 1st round? Jameis would make us an instant contender."
Walker: I'll be quick: I do not personally envision a scenario in which Jameis Winston is the Colts' quarterback in 2020.
LJ S. (Pompano Beach, Fla.): "(Fun Exercise). In celebration of the new decade, what 12 Colt players would you choose from each of 4 past franchise decades in Indy ('83-89; 90'-99, 20'-09, 10'-19 to formulate a game-day roster (48 players) for the start of the 2020 season? (A retired Colt fanatic far back enough to frequent Ameche's restaurant in Baltimore)"
Walker: A fun exercise, indeed, LJ — but you're also making me work! I'm sure I'll get called out for forgetting a few obvious selections, but here's where I'll throw in the caveat that I had to make some glaring omissions (definitely a few players from the great 2000s teams, or Anthony Castonzo at tackle, for example) to play by the rules of 12 from each decade in Indy (and some guys, like Marvin Harrison, obviously can count for more than one decade):
QB (2): Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck
RB (4): Eric Dickerson, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Albert Bentley
WR (5): Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton, Bill Brooks, Andre Rison
TE (3): Dallas Clark, Jack Doyle, Marcus Pollard
OL (8): Tarik Glenn (LT), Quenton Nelson (LG), Jeff Saturday (C), Ryan Diem (RG), Chris Hinton (RT), Ray Donaldson, Benn Utt, Randy Dixon
DL (8): Dwight Freeney (DE), Ellis Johnson (DT), Tony McCoy (DT), Robert Mathis (DE), Justin Houston, Jon Hand, Donnell Thompson, Bernard Whittington
LB (5): Darius Leonard (WILL), Gary Brackett (MIKE), Duane Bickett (SAM), Quentin Coryatt, Jeff Herrod
CB (5): Eugene Daniel, Vontae Davis, Kenny Moore II, Ray Buchanan, Darius Butler
S (5): Bob Sanders, Mike Prior, Jason Belser, Mike Adams, Antoine Bethea
K (1): Adam Vinatieri
P (1): Pat McAfee
LS (1): Bradford Banta
Eric S. (Wabash, Ind.): "With a lot of discussion going towards where the Colts need to change or get better this off-season, what are the two or three position groups that you think will be the strength of this group over the next year or two?"
Walker: If you're talking 2020 and 2021, I believe the Colts are set up really well along the offensive line, at running back and at linebacker. Even if Anthony Castonzo decides not to come back in 2020, four of your five starters along the offensive line are returning. Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins are all set to return for sure at running back at least through 2020, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if Mack eventually was signed to a contract extension. And at linebacker, the trio of Darius Leonard, Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke is back for 2020, and, like Mack, one might believe Walker is possibly in line for a contract extension at some point here in the not-so-distant future.
I'll add this, though: I am also still a believer that the Colts' secondary, both at cornerback and safety, can put things together with just a little bit better communication and execution — and with a little bit more consistent pass rush at times. The cornerback position, particularly, is about as fickle as it gets in the NFL; it really is a game-by-game evaluation. But as a group, I think there's still lots of talent and depth there.
Clayton P. (Somerset, Ky.): "With all the injuries to our offense of play makers did it ever cross your mind to play Hines at slot knowing play making ability?"
Walker: Nyheim Hines, according to Pro Football Focus, played 29 snaps in the slot in 2019, or just fewer than two per game. That ranked him tied for the eighth-most snaps lined up in the slot on the team. He lined up in the slot 43 times as a rookie in 2018. So just looking at those raw numbers, it seems as though, yes, Hines perhaps could've had a few more slot snaps here or there, but that's, of course, without having a detailed knowledge of every single game plan. I think this could be a nice topic to discuss with Frank Reich this offseason, perhaps at the owner's meetings in late-March, where we typically get about an hour to sit down and chat in depth about a ton of different topics like this one.
Ray E. (Beaverton, Ore.): "Love to read the Colts Mailbag - been reading it for years. Long time Colt fan dating back to the Baltimore days with John Unitas. My questions are: since the season is over - who's contracts are over after the 2019 season? Who do you think the colts will look to keep for next year? Who was signed to just one year contracts for 2019 & might be signed again that way? Thanks for this column of keeping all of us Colt fans involved. Ray from Oregon"
Walker: Thanks for reading, Ray! And I've got good news for you: we've already compiled all the Colts pending free agents for 2020 right here. If we're talking the 12 pending unrestricted free agents, a few names that stick out to me as guys that wouldn't surprise me if they returned would be tackle Anthony Castonzo (_if_ he doesn't retire instead), safety Clayton Geathers, wide receiver Chester Rogers and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. That's not to say the others don't stand a chance at returning; I just think some players, maybe more than others, are in a position to try to test the market and see where they stand. It should be interesting to see how this all plays out, for sure.
James H. (Pittsford, N.Y.): "A couple of questions: I am wondering why Cain was let go after hearing for a couple of years what a great prospect he was. What was the problem, if you are able to reveal that? Also, I haven't heard anything about the other young receiver, Fountain. What's with him? Is he still a prospect or have the Colts given up on him, like with Cain, after he had rehabbed his injury?
Finally, I am really wondering about Chad Kelly! There has been so much talk about signing a veteran and/or drafting a QB. I was wondering where Kelly fits into the plan. I know the Colts actavated him from the practice squad so they would not lose him. What's with Kelly? As always, I really appreciate you honest and candid responses. THANKS!"
Walker: It's probably best to just go back to Nov. 9, when the Colts waived Deon Cain, to try to get a proper perspective on why the move was made. At the time the team was 5-3, and in desperate need of some production at the wide receiver position, which had already seen Devin Funchess go on injured reserve Week 1, saw Parris Campbell fracture his hand the previous game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and already knew T.Y. Hilton was going to miss multiple weeks with a calf injury suffered in practice on Oct. 30. Those are your top three wide receivers. At the time, Cain had played in seven games with three starts and had caught just four passes for 52 yards, so in need of some more immediate production, the Colts decided to waive Cain and elevate Marcus Johnson to the active roster from the practice squad. Johnson would go on to play in eight games with six starts the rest of the way, logging 17 receptions for 277 yards and two touchdowns, and taking a little bit of the pressure off Zach Pascal, who had been performing admirably as the team's new de facto No. 1 receiver. Cain would be re-signed to the Colts' practice squad, but he was quickly signed to the Pittsburgh Steelers' active roster, and would, in all, catch nine passes for 124 yards between the Colts and Steelers.
And real quick on Daurice Fountain, just want to make this clear: he suffered a season-ending ankle injury late in training camp, and was on injured reserve the entire season. Because this happened before the start of the regular season, it wouldn't have been possible for the team to explore bringing him back to the active roster, or even back to practice, at any point. Fountain enters this offseason as a pending exclusive rights free agent, so he likely stands a good chance of returning and fighting for a spot once again heading into 2020.
And Chad Kelly heads into the offseason as one of three quarterbacks on the Colts' roster. If recent history is any indication — the Colts have kept four quarterbacks on their 90-man offseason roster the last two years under head coach Frank Reich — Kelly will likely get a shot to win a spot once again throughout this offseason and through training camp and the preseason.