Hilton’s return to the Colts could go a long way

It isn’t as if T.Y. Hilton will go broke playing for the Indianapolis Colts, but re-signing with his only pro team recently was more about loyalty and following his heart.

So Colts fans should be gratified the wide receiver decided to stick around, to sign a new contract to play another year in Indiana rather than change his zip code to a new pasture.

Hilton may not be Marvin Harrison or Reggie Wayne, but he has been an exceptional addition to the Colts since 2012. He has incurred aggravating injuries, but always bounces back. The Colts wanted him badly enough to pay $8 million guaranteed for 2021, and possibly $10 million based on incentives. It will be his 10th year wearing horseshoe decorations on his clothing.

This means management believes Hilton can still play, even if he will turn 32 during the next campaign. So although Hilton announced he had bigger money offers (the Baltimore Ravens very much wanted him) he wants to continue to make his home in Indy.

In professional sports it seems rare when we hear about athletes not bleeding their franchise for every possible penny.

“I wanted to stay here no matter what the cost was,” Hilton said of his desire to remain a Colt after he signed the new deal. “I gave up a lot of money to stay here and that’s what I wanted to do.”

Well, that came out a little bit wrong. He did not want to give up a lot of money. He was willing to do so.

Hilton has played through good years and endured through lean years in Indianapolis and he feels, can sense, the Colts are all in to win right now and can build on last year’s 11-5 record and playoff appearance.

Management, coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard, have been creative adapting to potentially ruinous circumstances. Andrew Luck retired abruptly, leaving a hole at quarterback. Reich’s personal relationship with future Hall of Famer Philip Rivers brought him to town, and that worked well last fall.

When Rivers decided he was too old to continue and retired, the Colts did not wail and tear their garments. They plunged into the market and turned up another seemingly good answer at QB by dealing for Carson Wentz. It is too soon to determine if this was a brilliant move, but on paper it looks like a savvy one, providing a critical remedy to a potential problem.

Those who spend their labor and energy evaluating such things have decreed Indianapolis’ acquisition of Wentz the best personnel move of the off-season. Hilton must have thought so, too. His signing is an endorsement he believes the club is moving towards a championship and an indication he wants to be part of what happens.

Hilton said it was his choice to ink only a one-year deal and could have signed for multiple years elsewhere. Making it sound a little bit like being a high school star sought after by colleges, Hilton said he enjoyed the free-agent recruitment process of the NFL. Since Hilton attended Florida International University, he may not have been chased hard by big-time suitors before.

At 5-foot-10 and 180-plus pounds, Hilton is not an out-sized receiver, like those big-boy tight ends who bruise their way into the secondary. He slithers into open territory.

Hilton has 608 career receptions and is closing in on 10,000 yards gained on those grabs with 9,360. Last season, he caught 56 passes, five for touchdowns. Twice, in 2013 and 2014, Hilton caught as many as 82 passes in a season.

He was at his best in the second half of last season after missing the last chunk of the 2019 season. In one key victory over the Texans, Hilton caught eight balls for 110 yards. In some games it almost seemed as if opponents forgot how to cover him. Hilton was open early and open late and the ball found him.

Signing for a single season hints this may be Hilton’s last one, and he said that might well be true, but is not a certainty. What mattered to him most in signing this contract, Hilton said, was that he was still a Colt. He likes the image of being a one-team guy for an entire career, identified only with one franchise. Old school.

“It’s very special,” Hilton said. “Not many guys can say they did that. I love it here.”

And the Colts love him back, still respecting T.Y. Hilton as the kind of weapon that can help lead them to a Super Bowl.

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