NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The hope is that the quarterback position is taken care of for the Colts, as they’ve acquired Carson Wentz from the Philadelphia Eagles. But Wentz is just the start of what is arguably Chris Ballard’s most important offseason since becoming general manager of the Colts in the winter of 2017.
The Colts lost their starting left tackle of the past 10 seasons to retirement. Two of their top three sack leaders from last season are free agents. Their top cornerback from last season and top receiver for most of his time since entering the NFL 2012 are also free agents.
What the Colts have going for them is that they have the fourth-most salary-cap space in the NFL at more than $46 million. Now it’s a matter of whether Ballard will try to run with the big boys right from the start of free agency or stick with his usual plan of letting the first wave of free agency get started before potentially overspending.
Here's a breakdown of every 2021 NFL free-agent signing by the Indianapolis Colts, and how each will impact the upcoming season:
T.Y. Hilton, wide receiver
Hilton returns to the Colts on a one-year deal worth $10 million ($8 million guaranteed), according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
What it means: The Colts will have their No. 1 receiver back in the fold. Hilton, the only remaining Colts player from their heralded 2012 draft class that also featured Andrew Luck, led the team in receiving with 762 yards last season. His return means the Colts will have their top three receivers -- Hilton, Zach Pascal and Michael Pittman Jr. -- back from last season to help new starting quarterback Carson Wentz. Hilton, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, has 608 career receptions for 9,360 yards -- an average of 15.4 yards per catch -- and 50 touchdowns.
What's the risk: Hilton, 31, isn't as durable as he was earlier in his career. He missed only two games during his first six seasons in the league, but he's missed a total of nine games in the past three seasons. The injury problems, to no surprise, have led to production issues for him. Hilton has topped 1,000 yards receiving only once (2018) in the past four seasons after doing so four times in his first five seasons.
Xavier Rhodes, cornerback
Xavier Rhodes signed a one-year deal that could reach up to $6.5 million.
What it means: The Colts are bringing their best cornerback from the 2020 season back. Rhodes, a three-time Pro Bowler, gave up the second-lowest completion percentage of his career -- 51.9 -- last season. Losing Rhodes would have been significant blow to the Colts, especially since they still have a need at pass rusher and need to find a third starting linebacker after Anthony Walker signed with Cleveland. Rhodes had a redemption season in 2020, finishing with 42 tackles and two interceptions while starting all 16 games last season after Minnesota decided to go in a different direction with him after seven seasons in 2019. He has 12 interceptions in his eight-year career.
What's the risk: This is a very low risk, but high-reward situation for the Colts. Just like they did in 2020, the Colts are giving Rhodes a one-year deal. The deal will only cost them up to $6.5 million, which means Rhodes is playing at or better than the level he played at last season.
Marlon Mack, running back
The Colts are re-signing Mack to a one-year, $2 million deal, a source told ESPN.
What it means: Colts coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady could have the deepest backfield in the NFL. Mack, who led the Colts in rushing in 2018 and 2019, will team with Jonathan Taylor to give the Colts dynamic one-two punch if he's able to return to form following a torn Achilles. Then you throw in Nyheim Hines, who is a versatile back who can line up out wide, and Jordan Wilkins and the Colts can give defenses different looks on the ground while running behind one of the top offensive lines in the NFL.
What's the risk: For as quick and as explosive as Mack is, there's the uncertainty of how soon he'll be able to regain his form after he tore his Achilles in Week 1 against Jacksonville last season. Then there's also the other question of whether there are enough carries in the load backfield after Taylor, the team's second-round pick in 2020, rushed for more nearly 1,200 yards. Mack spent the 2018 and 2019 seasons as the team's primary back. Even though that can be looked at as a good problem to have.
T.J. Carrie, cornerbacks
Carrie returns to Indy on a one-year deal worth more than $2 million.
What it means: What seemed unlikely at the start of free agency ended up working out for the Colts. The re-signing of Carrie and Xavier Rhodes means the Colts will return their top three cornerbacks from last season, with Rock Ya-Sin being the third member of the group. Carrie had eight passes defended, two interceptions and a touchdown with Indianapolis in 2020.
What's the risk: Re-signing Carrie and Rhodes is more of a short-term than long-term fix for the Colts based off the amount of years they signed for. It will not be surprising one bit if the Colts use one of their six picks to select a cornerback in the draft. Carrie and Rhodes will both be 31 years old this season.
Al-Quadin Muhammad, defensive end
The Colts bring back Muhammad on a one-year, $3.4 million deal, according to Schefter.
What it means: That the Colts' strategy of letting their own players test the market and then re-signing them is working. Indy continues to keep players who are familiar with the system and will need no adjustment period. In Muhammad, the defense keeps a player who has some starting experience (eight games) and can be plugged right in as a rotational pass rusher. The staff loves him as a competitor.
What's the risk: At 25, there is more upside than down for Muhammad, who has shown flashes of being a three-down end. He could even be a candidate to start. If he does, $3.4 million is a bargain.
Chris Reed, guard
Reed joins the Colts on a one-year deal.
What it means: The Colts get a veteran who started 14 games for the Panthers last season and played well. According to Pro Football Focus, he allowed only one sack in 892 snaps. He has 23 career starts, so he provides good insurance should something happen to Quenton Nelson or Mark Glowinski at either guard spot.
What's the risk: Very low risk considering Reed played well last season. Keep in mind, though, the Panthers didn't think he played well enough to re-sign him as a starter.
Sean Davis, safety
Davis signed a one-year contract, terms not disclosed.
What it means: Added veteran depth at safety for the Colts. Davis, a second-round pick by Pittsburgh in 2016, was a starter for three seasons before a shoulder injury ended his 2019 season. After losing Tavon Wilson to San Francisco and with Malik Hooker testing the market, Indy needs competition here.
What's the risk: Despite 42 career starts, Davis hasn't been productive in forcing turnovers. While he has five career interceptions, he's had none the past two seasons and only one the past three. In addition, he has forced only one fumble in his career.
Joey Hunt, center
Hunt re-signs with the Colts. Terms not disclosed.
What it means: That the Colts brought back somebody with experience in the system to battle for the backup job behind Ryan Kelly. They also have somebody with starting experience should something happen to Kelly. Hunt had 11 starts in Seattle, including eight in 2019 when brought on to replace the injured starter.
What's the risk: Hunt played in one game last season and got only 10 snaps, so he's still got something to prove. He did prove in 2019 he is tough, battling through a stress fracture in his fibula the second half of the season, which earned praise from quarterback Russell Wilson.
Julien Davenport, offensive tackle
The Colts signed Davenport to a one-year deal.
What it means: That the Colts have added depth at left tackle, as Davenport has 28 career starts. He likely won't challenge Sam Tevi for starting time. He may not replace Elijah Nkansah as a backup, but he does provide competition at the spot.
What's the risk: That they got a player on the decline. After starting eight games for the Dolphins in 2019, he started only one in 2020 and played only 5% of the offensive snaps. In 2018 with the Texans, he allowed a league-high 67 pressures. Not exactly a player with the arrow pointed up.