The Daily Reformer
INDIANAPOLIS – An overriding question remains with T.Y. Hilton: how much longer?
Last offseason, the Indianapolis Colts’ cornerstone wideout was heading into the final year of his contract and figured his next deal would be his last. Ideally, it would be a multi-year deal and enable him to finish his career with the franchise that selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft.
Hilton is back for a 10th season, but the one-year nature of the contract leaves his post-2021 future in doubt. He seriously considered a multi-year offer from the Baltimore Ravens, but constant input from former teammate/long-time friend Reggie Wayne – “Reggie helped me a lot . . . he’s a big bro to me’’ – and owner Jim Irsay convinced him to return to Indy.
Also, Hilton’s decision to re-sign with the Colts speaks volumes about his connection to the team and city. Indy’s one-year contract has $8 million in guarantees and could reach $10 million if incentives are reached.
The Ravens’ multi-year offer included $16 million in guarantees, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
“I could have took it but I didn’t want to,’’ Hilton said Thursday on a Zoom conference call. “Then the one-year deal came with Indy and it made sense for me.
“After this one year I’ll re-evaluate everything, see how my body’s feeling. If I want to keep going, I keep going. If not, I hang it up.’’
However, Hilton then said his health probably won’t be the overriding factor. He turns 32 in November, and family matters might intercede.
“My retirement won’t depend on me,’’ he said. “It will depend on if I’m ready to start watching my kids play.’’
Until that time, one of the franchise’s most popular and productive players will attempt to regain the form that not too long ago had him among the NFL’s true difference-makers.
To that end, Hilton is eager to hook up with quarterback Carson Wentz, who was acquired in a February trade with the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ve been in constant contact since Wentz became a Colt and Hilton was considering his free-agent options.
“He just wants to be able to play football with me,’’ Hilton said. “We just constantly texting. He was always there throughout free agency, ‘Man, hope we can get you here. I want you to stay here. I want to be able to throw passes to you.’
“I look forward to it and it should be fun.’’
The optimism in Hilton’s voice and smile on his face could be traced to one of his assessments of the 6-5, 237-pound Wentz.
“He has some Andrew Luck traits, man,’’ he said.
Not only does Wentz have a big arm, but similar to Luck also brings mobility to the position. He has the ability to escape initial pressure and extend plays that result in either a positive scramble or a crushing play in the pass game.
“He’s a special talent,’’ Hilton said.
It has the potential of being an ideal match-up, he added.
“Just his ability to extend plays and my ability to beat a defender during the play and after the play,’’ Hilton said. “The DBs don’t like to cover for that long. Once you break away from them and the quarterback is able to extend the play, you’re wide open and it’s a big play.
“For me and him, it’s going to be special. It’s going to be great. We look forward to it. He can really push me to the next (level).’’
That level was on weekly display when Hilton and Luck were a pitch-and-catch tandem. In five of Hilton’s nine seasons, Luck was his QB1 (injuries limited Luck to seven starts in 2015).
- In those five Luck-powered seasons, Hilton averaged 79 yards per game and 15.8 yards per catch in 76 games.
- In the other four seasons, Hilton’s averages dipped to 58.8 and 14.8, respectively.
- Since Luck’s sudden retirement in August 2019, Hilton has been unable to keep it going with Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers. After generating a career-best 22 receptions that gained at least 20 yards including six that topped 40 in ’18, Luck’s last season, the big-play nature of his game waned. The last two seasons have seen Hilton post just 17 receptions of at least 20 yards, including only three that went for at least 40.
- Hilton’s three receptions of at least 40 yards since ’19 covered 50, 41 and 41. In Luck’s final season, his game-wrecking contributions included catches of 68, 60 and 55.
Frank Reich’s offense thrives on chunk plays, and that could return with the addition of Wentz and re-signing of Hilton. In his three best seasons in Philly (2017-19), Wentz averaged 7.2 yards per attempt and 11.2 yards per completion. He had 81 touchdowns and 21 interceptions.
Hilton sees things coming together for a franchise that’s coming off an 11-5 season that saw it earn a wild-card playoff berth and push the Buffalo Bills to the brink before falling 27-24 in the first round of the playoffs.
“This team is special, man,’’ he said. “We’ve got the talent. We’ve got the team to do it. We’ve just gotta continue to do what the coaches ask us to do and continue to play our game.
“As long as we play our game we can beat anybody on any given day.’’
Finishing where it began?
We’ll see what happens beyond 2021, but Hilton is in position to finish what he started and join a select group.
If he plays his entire career in Indy, he’ll follow the lead of a handful of prominent players who spent their entire career with the Colts, including Marvin Harrison, Wayne, Robert Mathis, Tarik Glenn and Gary Brackett.
“It’s very special,’’ Hilton said. “Not many guys can say they did that. For me to be able to get that chance means a lot. I love it here.
“The moment I had the chance to sign back here it was only right.’’
Hilton ranks in the top-5 in several career receiving categories with the Colts: 4th in receptions (608), 3rd in yards (9,360), tied-4th in touchdowns (50), 5th in yards from scrimmage (9,415) and 3rd in 100-yard games (34). He has 12 games with at least 150 yards, most in franchise history.
Connecting with Luck
Along with getting constant input from Wayne during the free-agent process, Hilton kept in touch with Luck. They remain tight.
“It was good,’’ Hilton said. “He’s just enjoying his vacation. He’s just very happy for me being able to sign back with Indy. He told me if I needed anything he’s there for me, a phone call away.’’
Hilton paused and smiled.
“I’ve probably got to stop calling for a little bit,’’ he said. “He might make me want to retire.
Hilton added Luck is on “permanent’’ vacation.
“He’s having the time of his life,’’ he said. “He’s kind of making me jealous.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.