INDIANAPOLIS — Welcome to the Monday after an NFL season ends, a tradition that this day meant breaking out packing boxes, exchanging signed Indianapolis Colts jerseys and then parting ways.
A day after the Colts clumsily closed a 7-9 season with a 38-20 loss at Jacksonville, it was time to put this year to bed and move on. Some players like linebacker Darius Leonard and tight end Jack Doyle spoke of the moment with sentimentality, knowing this particular locker room would never be the same again. Others, like offensive guard Quenton Nelson, looked forward to a better future, expressing eagerness and optimism about 2020.
“It’s an emotional time,” Doyle said. “That’s just the nature of the business. It stinks.”
Leonard and defensive end Justin Houston lamented how a team that underachieved in going 4-4 at home and lost six one-score games didn’t miss out on the playoffs as much as some might think. Several defenders were candid about needing to be better in 2020.
“I’m a little disappointed in me and myself,” said Houston, whose team-high 11 sacks were his highest total since a career-best 22 with Kansas City in 2014. “Personally, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to accomplish. But that’s life. Sometimes, it doesn’t go as planned.”
The same could be said for others, most notably a player missing from the farewell day, quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Much like his team, he struggled mightily in the second half of the season. Also a no-show in the locker room were kicker Adam Vinatieri and tight end Eric Ebron, who had disappointing years before being placed on injured reserve.
An offseason of debate and questions about the future of each of those players awaits. Expect the Colts to keep Brissett for another year because he signed a front-loaded, two-year, $22-million extension before 2019 and the team would realize no salary cap benefit by cutting him. But that doesn’t mean general manager Chris Ballard will stand pat on other options at the position.
Vinatieri’s replacement, rookie Chase McLaughlin, gave the Colts every reason to consider him for next season by making five of six field-goal attempts, including two from 50 yards, and converting all 11 extra points. Lest anyone forget, Vinatieri missed a career-high 14 kicks this season, including six extra points.
Another uncertainty is left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a mainstay since 2011. He spoke of the three options that await him in the offseason: Re-sign with the Colts, join another team or retire. In the wake of quarterback Andrew Luck’s unexpected retirement in August, there’s no mistaking the possibility of Castonzo’s third option.
“I’ve got some thinking to do,” he said. “That’s what it comes down to. It’s going to be a decision I make and I’ll have to live with it. There’s a lot of things to think about. I’ll figure it out.”
He said he actually had a meeting with Ballard as soon as he departed from the locker room.
When asked about the seriousness of suggesting retirement as an option, Castonzo said, “It is. That’s an option. Absolutely. It’s personal reasons. Personal means don’t ask (smiles).”
Last year, the first for head coach Frank Reich, the Colts inspired by rebounding from a 1-5 start to win nine of 10 and advance to the second round of the AFC playoffs. That made them a sexy preseason pick entering 2019.
Luck retired, and despite a promising 5-2 start to vault to the top of the AFC South Division, the reality inevitably sunk in that the Colts had to overcome too many shortcomings. It starts with a quarterback who holds the ball too long and doesn’t see the field well. But it also includes staying healthy around him to provide play-making targets. And although Houston proved he’s still got a lot left in the tank, as he promised in arriving last offseason from the Chiefs, the Colts defense needs a stronger overall pass rush and better cover guys.
As the players walked out of the locker room this day, some tried to suggest the Colts were still trending in a positive direction.
But in truth, this season didn’t offer enough proof of that.