INDIANAPOLIS -- The list started to grow almost immediately for the Indianapolis Colts.
Anthony Castonzo, the pillar on the edge at left tackle for 10 seasons? Retired.
Philip Rivers, the 39-year-old quarterback who helped lead the Colts back to the playoffs for just the second time since 2014? Also retired.
Nick Sirianni, the offensive coordinator who was coach Frank Reich’s right-hand man and good friend for the past three seasons? He’s now the coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Sirianni also took passing game specialist Kevin Patullo and defensive backs coach Jonathan Gannon with him to Philadelphia.
And there’s more.
The Colts could be losing free-agent receiver T.Y. Hilton, who, with Castonzo retired, is the longest-tenured player remaining on the roster.
The offseason is barely two weeks old for the Colts, and in that short time it’s become clear that the franchise is on its way to plenty of changes on its roster in what could be general manager Chris Ballard’s most critical free agency, trade and draft period since he took over the role four years ago.
Change is a given for NFL teams every offseason. What the Colts are about to endure, though, is that they’ve had change happen at arguably the two most important positions on the roster: quarterback and left tackle.
“Every year you’re going to try and get better,” new Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “You look at areas you lost players ... Quarterback is obviously a very important position. Left tackle is a very important position. We have to address those issues, but that’s a process that we’re going to be working on. Chris and his staff do a great job. Frank and I, we’ll put our heads together as an entire staff and put the best roster out there.”
The Colts should be used to be dealing with questions at quarterback. They had it in 2017 with Andrew Luck’s right shoulder. Had it in 2018 with regard to whether Luck could return to his pre-injury form. Again in 2019 when Luck retired two weeks prior to the start of regular season, following an offseason of dealing with injuries. Again in 2020, after Jacoby Brissett couldn’t hold down the starting position.
And here they are again.
The most intriguing part of the offseason quarterback sweepstakes will be what the Colts are willing to give up for the position.
The trade market will be buzzing over the next few months as the list of quarterbacks who could be available include Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, Deshaun Watson, and maybe even Aaron Rodgers. But the competition for these talented quarterbacks will be as tough as a receiver trying to get open against cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter recently tweeted that he thinks there’s only about 10 quarterbacks locked into starting jobs for next season. So it’s not like the Colts will be the only team looking to address their quarterback position, and potentially have their fifth Week 1 starter in as many seasons in 2021.
It'll be a high-stakes game of let's make a deal for every quarterback-starved team this offseason.
There are roughly 10 QBs locked into starting jobs for Opening Day of the 2021 NFL season. This is expected to be an unprecedented offseason of QB movement.
My Over/Under of teams changing QBs this off-season is 18. I’ll go with the over. pic.twitter.com/hOKVRaE3Pj
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 25, 2021
Ballard has made no secret about his love for stockpiling draft picks. He has used the draft to build a foundation of talent on the roster. But he’ll have to come off some of his picks -- possibly including the No. 21 pick in this year’s draft -- to get a quarterback.
The other part of the dilemma the Colts face is that they have to determine if any quarterback they pursue in free agency or trade is their starter for the present and the future.
Does Brady have a preference?
“Yes, but you can go in many different directions,” he said without tipping his hand. “You can go young, you can go with a veteran. We have to put our minds together. Figure out who’s out there, who we can get to put in this situation. Until we know who we can get, you can’t really make that decision yet.”
The Colts, like with Rivers, knew there was a good chance Castonzo would retire after he flirted with that idea after the 2019 season. But like with quarterback, there’s no clear heir apparent to take over that role.
Quenton Nelson is an in-house candidate, but it may be difficult to move him from guard to left tackle considering he recently joined running back Barry Sanders as the only players to be named to the All-Pro team in each their first three seasons in the NFL.
All the projected free-agent left tackles are in their 30s, with the exception of Jacksonville’s Cam Robinson. It’s hard to imagine Ballard spending -- likely having to overspend -- on a left tackle who is in his 30s.
That leaves Nelson or the draft as the top options at the moment.
Yes, Reich and Ballard are still together, but that's one of the few certainties for the Colts. Buckle up, it's going to be a hectic offseason for a roster with holes to fill and 15 free agents.
And it all starts at quarterback and left tackle.