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Offseason Preview: Colts likely to add to wide receiver corps

Feb. 6—INDIANAPOLIS — Much of the early talk surrounding the wide receiver position for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason will center around Michael Pittman Jr., with good reason.

The pending free agent set career highs in 2023 with 109 catches and 1,152 receiving yards, and it's hard to make a case the team is doing everything it can to make quarterback Anthony Richardson's second season successful without Pittman in the mix.

Both the player and the team seem open to an extension, but Pittman has made it clear he intends to see what's out there on the market. And general manager Chris Ballard, while acknowledging the team will work to make a deal happen, has admitted the process will not be simple.

"He was big for us," head coach Shane Steichen said. "What he did week in and week out, the numbers he put up, the consistency he played with, the toughness he played with — I've got a lot of respect for him as a football player. He's meant a lot to this organization and a lot to this city."

If Pittman does not return, the Colts will need to seek an immediate replacement in free agency or early in the draft.

But even if the star wide receiver is back — on a multi-year deal or through the use of the franchise tag — a wide receiver could be in play with the 15th overall selection in April's NFL Draft.

Depth was a concern at the position throughout 2023.

Rookie Josh Downs put up solid numbers with 68 catches for 771 yards — enjoying one of the best debuts ever for an Indianapolis receiver. But Alec Pierce's second season was a bit of a disappointment.

Envisioned as a deep threat in Steichen's offense, Pierce didn't get the opportunities that were expected during training camp. Part of that was the injury that sidelined Richardson — who was never afraid to throw the deep ball in college — and there were some obvious missed targets, especially late in the season.

No matter the cause, Pierce finished with 32 catches for 514 yards on 65 targets. All three categories represented drops from his promising rookie season (41 catches for 593 yards on 78 targets).

"Alec and I had a long talk," Ballard said. "The thing he does really well — and really why we drafted him — is getting down the field. That's what he's really good at. I think when we were able to use him in those situations, he was successful. I think we've got to continue to work on ways to let him do what he does well, and that's stretch the field.

"(He's) still a young player, (had a) solid year. (I) thought we probably could have — he's so unselfish. You're never going to hear him gripe or complain. He's going to do whatever the team requires him to do, but I do think there's more in there."

No wide receiver stepped forward as a fourth option.

The next most productive player at the position was Isaiah McKenzie, who caught just 11 passes for 82 yards and was suspended for the final three games of the regular season because of an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Ashton Dulin's return from an ACL injury could help the depth, and Juwann Winfree could be re-signed to compete for a depth spot.

Tyrie Cleveland, DJ Montgomery, Ethan Fernea, Terrell Bynum and converted running back Zavier Scott also are under contract and will participate in offseason training this spring.

But Ballard mentioned the need to add explosive players on both sides of the ball during his season-ending press conference, and this is a position that figures to receive a good deal of focus in that regard.

"I've got a pretty good handle on the NFL Draft, and we do think it's going to be pretty good with some explosive guys, and then (we're) working through free agency right now," Ballard said in January. "We're just kind of finishing it up. We do think there is going to be some opportunities to add some players to make us more explosive."