Colts Defender Announces Abrupt Retirement at Age 26

Frank Reich

Getty Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich saw one of his starting defenders suddenly announce his retirement on June 15.

As minicamp closed for the Indianapolis Colts, the team appeared to have all the pieces in place for an elite defense during 2022.

But now, one of those pieces has suddenly retired.

Safety Khari Willis, 26, a fourth-round pick during the 2019 draft, surprisingly announced his retirement from the NFL on June 15.

Willis revealed on Instagram his retirement news and his plan to pursue a career in ministry.

“With much prayer and deliberation, I have elected to officially retire from the NFL as I endeavor to devote the remainder of my life to further advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Willis wrote on Instagram.

Willis will retire from the NFL after three seasons. He recorded 219 combined tackles, including seven tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, 3.5 sacks and four interceptions in 39 career games.

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Colts React to Willis’ Retirement

After Willis announced his retirement on Instagram, Colts head coach Frank Reich released a statement.

“We’re thankful and appreciative of Khari’s contributions to the Colts both on and off the field over the last three seasons,” Reich said, according to WISH TV. “Khari’s character, leadership and professionalism will be missed in our locker room as will his play on Sundays. I admire and respect his decision to transition into the next stage of his life and ministry, and my prayers will always be with him.”

Willis was set to enter the final year of his rookie contract this fall, which would have awarded him a $1.69 million raise.

How the Colts Replace Willis

The timing of Willis’ retirement is not ideal from the Colts’ perspective. The draft has obviously passed, and a majority of the league’s top free agents have signed with new teams.

Furthermore, whoever replaces Willis will not have the opportunity to receive first-team repetitions until training camp in July. The Colts finished OTAs and then mandatory minicamp on June 9.

It’s very likely that Willis’ replacement is currently on the Colts roster. After already making two selections in the third round of the 2022 draft, Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard acquired another Day 2 pick to draft Maryland safety Nick Cross at No. 96 overall.

Cross wasn’t expected to compete for a starting job immediately, but the assumption was that he would work into a starting role with the Colts eventually.

“A high-risk, high-reward playmaker with speed, quickness and toughness, Cross is a thumper with enough versatility to man a few different safety spots in the secondary,” wrote NFL analyst Bucky Brooks of

This offseason, the Colts also signed veteran safeties Rodney McLeod and Armani Watts. McLeod started on the Philadelphia Eagles defense that won the Super Bowl in February 2018. Watts has been a career special teams player, but he also won a Super Bowl with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Colts insider Joel A. Erickson reported that Willis’ retirement opens up $2.54 million in salary cap space for the Colts this upcoming season. With that money, Indianapolis could have approximately $13 million in cap room to add another safety if one interests the team in free agency.

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