Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo is retiring from NFL

Joel A. Erickson
Indianapolis Star
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INDIANAPOLIS — Three days after the end of the season, the Colts suddenly have a massive hole to fill on the offensive line. 

Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, the final first-round pick of the Bill Polian era and a mainstay on the blind side for a decade, is retiring from football, the franchise announced on Tuesday.

Castonzo flirted with retirement for months last winter before ultimately deciding to return for his 10th season in Indianapolis, signing a two-year, $33 million deal. The big left tackle returned because he felt like he could still get to another level, and because he felt healthier than ever before. Castonzo played every one of the Colts' 1,092 offensive snaps in 2019. 

But his health did not hold in 2020. Castonzo missed the Browns game due to a rib injury, missed the first Texans game because of a sprained MCL, returned early from that injury and then suffered a freak injury in practice three weeks later when the ligament popped off of his ankle, ending his season after 12 games and 749 snaps. 

This time, the Colts did not have to wait for Castonzo's decision. 

“As a kid, it was my dream to play in the NFL. I played my first full season of tackle football in second grade. Now I have played my last," Castonzo said in a statement. "As I sit here now, after a 10-year NFL career, I am extremely proud of all the hard work and sacrifice that allowed me to evolve that dream into a goal, and ultimately into a reality unlike anything I could have even imagined."

Castonzo will speak to the media at 1 p.m.

Castonzo's loss leaves an enormous hole on the Indianapolis offensive line and in the locker room in general. 

Drafted in the first round out of Boston College in 2011, Castonzo started every one of the 144 regular-season games he played in Indianapolis and all eight playoff games, anchoring the left side better than most people realized. 

"I was an assistant coach with the Colts when Anthony was selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft," Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said in a statement. "From Day 1, I knew he would be a special player. Anthony has a brilliant mind, and he was a technician both on the field and in film study. He is a tremendous leader who put as much energy in making his teammates better as he did improving his own game. I’m thankful for the opportunity to watch him grow as a professional from the start of his career to the end."

For years, Castonzo was the only consistent member of the Colts offensive line tasked with protecting Andrew Luck, and then, when Indianapolis general manager Chris Ballard and Reich finally gave Castonzo and Ryan Kelly the help they needed, played at a Pro Bowl level in his final three seasons. 

Ultimately, Castonzo leaves an enormous legacy in Indianapolis. 

"The Colts have been blessed with many talented offensive linemen throughout our rich history, and Anthony Castonzo is among the best to represent the Horseshoe," Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay said. "For 10 seasons, Anthony consistently handled premier pass rushers at one of the toughest positions to play."

Even on a line with an All-Pro at left guard in Quenton Nelson, a Pro Bowl center in Ryan Kelly and one of the game's best right tackles in Braden Smith, the Colts still value the left tackle as the premier position on the offensive line, a fact backed up by how Indianapolis performed without Castonzo over the course of his career. 

Indianapolis was just 4-13 in the 17 games Castonzo missed in 10 seasons, and there are no easy answers to replacing a veteran like that, although the way Castonzo structured the two-year deal he signed in March of 2020 does open up some options for Ballard. 

None of the $16 million Castonzo was scheduled to earn in 2021 was guaranteed, which means the Colts get all of it back in salary-cap savings, which means Indianapolis will likely have at least something close to $70 million in cap space this offseason; the actual number is up in the air as the NFL tries to reckon with the financial implications of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Ballard and Reich will have to sift through the options: Sign a high-priced free agent, draft Castonzo's replacement or potentially move Nelson out of a spot where he's arguably the best in the NFL. 

But the Colts have months to figure out how to replace Castonzo. 

For the moment, the franchise is celebrating one of the key players. 

“Anthony was a pillar of this team for the last 10 seasons. He played one of the toughest positions in the game at an extremely high level for a long time," Ballard said in a statement. "We love AC and know he will thrive in the next stage of his life.”

Castonzo, a consummate Colt who said at the end of the 2019 season that he'd never play anywhere else, thanked the fans, general managers, coaches, staff members and the organization for his 10-year career, a career where he went from criticized to beloved over the course of his tenure in Indianapolis. 

The ultimate technician, Castonzo played for the love of football, and for the love of beating the guy across from him, and he did it well for a de

"I have given much to the game of football, but it has given me so much more," Castonzo said. "I close the book on the football chapter of my life gifted with memories and moments I wouldn’t trade for anything. So thank you, last but far from least, to football.”

Joel A. Erickson is a Colts insider at IndyStar. Follow him on Twitter: @JoelAErickson.

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