The Indianapolis Colts offensive line collapsed in 2022. It was one of the team’s strengths for years, but the unit struggled mightily last year, especially under head coach Frank Reich.
In light of the subpar season for the Indianapolis offensive line, Colts beat writer Nate Atkins argued that it’s time for the team to revamp its offensive front. One way to do that would be to make a change at center.
“The Colts can save nearly $8 million for next year and $12 million for 2024 by cutting Ryan Kelly, and they should consider it,” Atkins wrote. “They could transfer that money to right guard and then draft an athletic center they can use as a puller the way the Eagles have.
“Free agent guards who fit this model could include Isaac Seumalo, a great pass protector right from the Eagles’ system; or Ben Powers, who became a monster in the run game under Roman in Baltimore.”
Kelly made three straight Pro Bowls from 2019-21. He also earned a second-team All-Pro nomination in 2020.
But he was one of Indianapolis’ most disappointing players this past season.
Kelly’s Struggles During 2022 NFL Season
According to the Pro Football Focus player grades, Kelly was an elite center from 2018-20. PFFranked Kelly a Top 10 NFL center in 2018 and 2019. Then in 2020, PFFhad the Colts center rated 12th-best in the league (among centers who played 50% of his team’s offensive snaps).
But those player grades show that Kelly began to decline in 2021 despite making the Pro Bowl. PFF ranked Kelly 21st among 26 centers who lined up for half of his team’s offensive snaps in 2021.
He was average in 2022 according to PFF, finishing 16th out of 31 eligible centers.
The problem is the Colts aren’t paying Kelly to be average. He signed a four-year, $50 million extension that began in 2021. There’s two years remaining on that deal, which puts the Colts on the hook for $12.375 against the cap in 2023 and $14.625 million in 2024.
Ryan’s dead cap money, though, is just $4.5 million this year and then $2.25 million in 2024. That’s how the Colts can save $8 million this coming season and $12 million next year by cutting Kelly.
The Colts center is one of the longest-tenured players in Indianapolis. They drafted him at No. 18 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
But unless the team believes Kelly is due for a big bounce back in 2023, cutting him to save a significant chunk of change is practically a no-brainer.
Possible Draft Replacements for Kelly
Atkins mentioned some intriguing free agent guard possibilities for the Colts. Then to replace Kelly after spending the money at guard, Indianapolis will likely look to the draft.
The problem is, according to the experts, there aren’t many elite interior offensive linemen options in the upcoming draft. ESPN and PFF each have a different top center in the 2023 class, but neither is ranked above 41st overall.
Of course, the positive with that is the Colts won’t be targeting center in the first round anyway. Unless they conduct a trade back into the first round, the earliest Indianapolis will be looking at picking a center is No. 36 overall.
ESPN’s draft experts have ranked John Michael Schmitz as the 2023 class’ top center at No. 41 overall. PFF has Luke Wyler as the best center in this year’s class at No. 47.
PFF has Schmitz rated No. 52 overall. ESPN has Wyler at No. 68 but at guard.
Another center the Colts could consider drafting is Michigan’s Olusegun Oluwatimi. ESPN has him ranked No. 67 overall while PFF slotted him at No. 138.