As ESPN.com's Mike Wells nots, the Colts' long-term planning started well before the team was eliminated from the playoff race with their Week 15 loss in New Orleans.
The Colts have been trying to build their roster since Chris Ballard was hired as general manager in the winter of 2017, and they will have some major decisions to make about some of their potential free agents this winter. A few players under contract are at crossroads as well.
First on that list is Jacoby Brissett
The quarterback is signed through 2020, with a cap figure of $21.5 million next season but no dead-cap money, so the Colts could cut Brissett with no salary-cap penalty. According to Wells, it would be shocking if the Colts cut ties with their starting quarterback, but you can expect them to add competition through one of three avenues: Trade, free agency and the draft.
The Colts have had all season to examine whether Brissett can be their franchise leader.
The answer, as of now, is no.
His play got worse as the season progressed. The reason behind it can’t be fully excused by injuries to Eric Ebron
and T.Y. Hilton
Brissett is currently on a three-game skid during which he hasn’t completed more than 53 percent of his pass attempts. Brissett ranks 30th in the NFL
in passing yards per game (198.6) and 25th in completion percentage (61.6).
Which brings us to Ebron.
Talent isn't a question. Ebron had a career season in 2018, catching 66 passes for 750 yards and 13 touchdowns and earning his first Pro Bowl appearance. But Wells reminded readers that Ebron took several significant steps back this season. He had issues with dropped passes, with three in the first half against Oakland in Week 4. He lacked consistency, despite meeting with head coach Frank Reich about having a bigger role in the offense.
Ebron capped off his disappointing year when he surprised the team by saying he needed to have ankle surgery days after a Week 12 loss to Houston.
Ebron said on social media that the Colts knew about his ankle problems all season, but the Colts said otherwise.
The tight end’s decision to suddenly shut down didn’t sit well with the team and Wells believes it will likely be one of several reasons he won't return in 2020.
Meanwhile, the Colts don’t have much to go on from this season with unrestricted free-agent to-be Devin Funchess
A clavicle injury against the Chargers in Week 1 ended his first year with the Colts before it really began. Receiver is definitely a position of need for the Colts in the offseason, especially a bigger receiver such as Funchess. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Colts circled back to Funchess on another possible one-year deal later in the free-agency period if he hasn’t signed with another team and the Colts want to add more competition at receiver.
And finally. ... Adam Vinatieri
is also an unrestricted free agent.
Vinatieri isn’t shutting the door yet on a 25th NFL season, but Wells correctly suggests the Colts' loyalty to the NFL’s all-time leading scorer cost them games this season. They can’t let the same thing happen next season. If Vinatieri wants to continue to play, the Colts need to thank him for everything he has done for the franchise in his 14 seasons and let him pursue his career elsewhere. He was 17-of-25 on field goals and 22-of-28 on extra points this season.
, whom the Colts signed after Vinatieri was injured, is essentially auditioning to be his replacement. McLaughlin is 3-of-4 on field goals and 9-of-9 on extra points.
As for this week?
ESPN.com's Jim McCormick concedes it would be understandable if you bristled at the idea of leveraging Brissett in lineups this week given his lack of touchdown production of late.
But consider that the Jaguars are one of just nine teams since Week 10 allowing at least 20 fantasy points per game in ESPN standard scoring to enemy QBs. The matchup also includes facing a Jacksonville pass rush that has evaporated of late, with Jacksonville posting the sixth-worst pressure rate (per dropback) against opposing quarterbacks since Week 12.
When left unpressured in the pocket, meanwhile, Brissett has completed 70.3 percent of his passes with a 2.8 touchdown-to-interception ratio on such "clean" dropbacks.
And who will help him?
Hilton was held to 26 yards on four targets in the victory over the Panthers this past Sunday. Per ESPN's Mike Clay, Hilton played 68 percent of the snaps through three quarters prior to sitting out most of the fourth quarter of a blowout win. Hilton has now fallen short of 27 yards in each of his past three games and hasn't scored a touchdown since October.
Hilton is, of course, still the Colts' No. 1 offensive weapon, so there's some value in that.
In case you missed it, Hilton was sidelined when these teams played in Week 11.
As Clay notes, Jacksonville's A.J. Bouye has shadowed Mike Evans
, Keenan Allen
, Tyrell Williams
(briefly) and Julio Jones
since that point, so we should expect him to travel with Hilton this week.
Despite playing in the same division since 2013, Clay reports these two have only faced off on 27 pass plays, with Hilton posting a 1-10-0 receiving line on three targets on those snaps. Nonetheless, we can actually upgrade Hilton here with Bouye struggling badly as of late.
Bouye is allowing 0.43 fantasy points per coverage snap, which is better than only DeAndre Baker among 64 projected starters at perimeter corner this week.