He’s back! The Indianapolis Colts announced yesterday that they had agreed to a two-year contract extension with left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Castonzo was set to become a free agent this week. He had also stated that retirement was an option during his final media availability at the end of the season. General manager Chris Ballard told the press Castonzo would return at the combine last month, so yesterday’s announcement was imminent. Nonetheless, Colts fans can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the entire starting offensive line will return in 2020. How does Castonzo’s return impact the rest of the team moving forward? Let’s explore.
The 2019 Colts were the only team in the NFL to start the same five players up front in every game. Additionally, each starter logged over 1000 snaps. Continuity is one thing, but the line was both durable and highly productive. They were able to churn out the seventh-most rushing yards in the league, the ninth-fewest sacks, the 10th-most rushing touchdowns, and the 11th-most yards per rush attempt. Remember: all of this came with a paltry passing game in the second half of the season. Opponents crowded the box and knew that Indianapolis would run the ball. Plus, head coach Frank Reich simply likes to run the ball. Castonzo and his cohorts are highly important to the offense’s success and the team’s ability to win games.
After Ballard and Reich extolled Castonzo as a top-five tackle in the league, they are now paying him as one. The team did not release financial details in their announcement, though NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero indicated that it will be worth $33 million over the two years. That makes him the league’s highest-paid left tackle in 2020 in terms of annual salary. This figure will eat into some of the team’s $86 million in salary cap space, which was the second-most behind the Miami Dolphins. The new deal is only a non-binding agreement until the new league year starts on Wednesday, March 18. Concerns over coronavirus quarantines and ratifying a new collective bargaining agreement had hung over all league news, but it now appears to be clearing up in regards to free agency.
Beyond keeping the starting line together and spending some salary cap money, this move also lessens the onus on Ballard to replace a cornerstone player in this year’s draft. A two-year deal allows some cushion to address quarterback, defensive line, and wide receiver this spring, among other position groups. As long as the new league year starts on time, Ballard can build a more complete roster to support his quarterback. Knowing that a Pro Bowl-caliber left tackle will be protecting his blindside is a valuable selling point for any quarterback, be it a veteran free agent or a rookie draft pick.
Expect Ballard to still draft or sign a left tackle to groom for a year under Castonzo in 2020. Quarterback, left tackle, pass rusher, and cornerback are arguably the most important positions on a professional football team. Check the box on at least one of those positions for the immediate future.
Welcome back, A.C.!