The offseason has already begun for the Indianapolis Colts as they look forward to the 2022 season.
After a collapse of epic proportions to miss the playoffs, the holes around the roster become much more magnified when the franchise is left out of the postseason.
One of the biggest holes on the roster is the left tackle position. Long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo retired following the 2020 season after 10 strong years. While the Colts took a band-aid approach for 2021, the team is still searching for his long-term replacement.
“The left tackle is what the left tackle is,” Colts general manager Chris Ballard admitted. “We short-term fixed it. We still have to be looking for a long-term solution there. And if we have to short-term fix it again because the long-term solution doesn’t show up, that’s what we’ll do.”
So as the 2022 offseason begins, let’s take a look at who could be anchoring the left side of the Colts’ highly talented offensive line next year.
The Colts signed Eric Fisher to a one-year deal after the 2021 NFL draft when he was released by the Kansas City Chiefs. Fisher tore his Achilles last January, but the Colts were not concerned with his medicals and liked his chances at recovery. Fisher had a previous relationship with Ballard from their days in Kansas City as well.
Fisher made a very quick recovery from his Achilles injury and was inserted into the starting lineup in Week 2. While Fisher was stellar in the running game opening up holes for Jonathan Taylor, he struggled mightily in pass protection. Fisher especially had trouble blocking speed rushers and allowing pressure, leading to his benching during Week 18 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The player Fisher was benched for was Matt Pryor. The Colts traded for Pryor with the Philadelphia Eagles before final training camp cuts as the backup tackle position looked dire. Pryor ended up being a valuable member of the Colts offensive line, starting five games and filling in at both left and right tackle.
Pryor may not have been flashy when he played, but he was consistent and did his job well in both the running game and pass protection. According to Pro Football Focus, Pryor was the fourth-highest graded player on the Colts at 76.5.
While both of these players are in-house options, both are set to become free agents in March. The more likely option to return is Pryor as he is younger, can play both tackle positions, and will most likely be cheaper than Fisher. It’s no guarantee Pryor would be the starter at left tackle if retained, but at worst he gives the Colts a high-end swing tackle option.
With left tackle being such a premium position in the NFL, a top left tackle rarely hits the open market in free agency. When they do happen to test free agency, they come with a very expensive price tag.
The Colts are expected to have over $41 million in salary-cap space this offseason per Over the Cap. It hasn’t been a matter of space with the Colts, it’s the willingness to spend heavily in free agency. Ballard has typically shied away from huge signings to players on the open market.
While the Colts signed Fisher in free agency last year for $8.38 million, his contract was not near the top for what left tackles demand. The top-five earning left tackles in the NFL have an average annual salary of $21.15 million per season. That’s big-time money.
If the Colts are looking to spend big money on the left tackle position, New Orleans Saints left tackle Terron Armstead is sure to command top-dollar on the open market. The 30-year old is a nine-year veteran and a three-time Pro Bowl selection. While Armstead has had some injury issues through the years, there is no denying his talent as a top left tackle when healthy.
Going a tier below Armstead in terms of price, Jacksonville Jaguars left tackle Cam Robinson is also set to hit free agency. Robinson was a second-round pick of the Jags in 2017 and has had some struggles during his five-year career. Robinson could still get quality starter money if he does not stay in Jacksonville and could see offers over $10 million per season. At only 26-years-old, would playing next to All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson help Robinson reach his potential?
The Colts could also look for a bargain option like they did with Fisher last season. Riley Reiff is a name to keep an eye on for Indy. While playing right tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals this past season, he has seven years of experience playing left tackle. This would not be a long-term fix as Reiff is already 33, but it could be an option on a cheaper contract if the Colts need another band-aid for the position.
The most likely path for the Colts to find their long-term solution at left tackle is through the draft. With the Colts forfeiting their first-round pick in the 2022 draft to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Carson Wentz trade, the Colts’ first pick will be in the second round at pick 47 overall.
The Colts’ philosophy under Ballard when it comes to the draft has been to not force things at a position, and instead take the best player available. This year’s tackle class, however, looks to be pretty deep with the ability to find starter quality players throughout the day two rounds. If a left tackle the Colts like falls to them at 47, don’t be surprised if they pull the trigger.
One of the left tackle prospects that sticks out as someone the Colts would love is Trevor Penning from Northern Iowa. At 6’7” and 322 pounds, he has the size and length that the Colts want in their left tackle. He’s also an incredible athlete with good speed, strength, and explosion for the position. The thing that sticks out the most on tape when watching Penning is the nastiness to his game as he finishes his opponents into the ground when he has the chance. Sounds like another Colts’ offensive lineman we know.
While Penning is a massive human being, he doesn’t have anything on the 6’9”, 380-pound monstrosity that is Daniel Faalele out of Minnesota. The First Team All-Big Ten tackle uses his size and length to his advantage as pass rushers have a hard time getting their hands on him and cannot go through him because of his size. He can also seal off defenders in the run game, creating big holes for the running back to speed through. He won’t wow you with his athletic traits, but can move very well for a man of his stature and will only continue to get better with more coaching.
Another left tackle prospect that stands out on film is Tyler Smith from Tulsa. While not as big as the previous two prospects at 6’6” and 335 pounds, Smith certainly possesses a toughness to him and plays through the whistle. He has very impressive strength, and it’s hard for defenders to get away from him once he has latched on. Some may see him as a guard or a right tackle, but Smith could certainly be a mauler at left tackle for the run-heavy Colts.
What to Expect from the Colts?
The Colts will have plenty of options with how they want to move forward with the left tackle position. Both short-term and long-term options look to be available this spring.
I would expect the Colts to bring back Matt Pryor to, at least compete, for the starting job. His play during the season helped earn him a chance at the left tackle spot. At worst, Pryor is a very good swing tackle option and can play on either side when called upon.
Outside of Pryor, I do not expect the Colts to spend heavily at tackle in free agency. With Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith already locked up to big contracts, and Nelson’s huge extension on the horizon, the Colts already have quite a bit of money tied up in their offensive line.
However, I think with it being such a deep draft for tackles, the Colts and Chris Ballard will pull the trigger on one of these prospects in April as they try to address the position long-term. The draft pick will compete with Pryor for the starting left tackle spot with the hopes that one can emerge as the solution for the position moving forward.
Have thoughts on what the Colts will do at left tackle this offseason? Drop a line in the comments below and let us know what you think!
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