Star wide receiver T.Y. Hilton returns to Colts on 1-year deal

Jim Ayello
Indianapolis Star
View Comments

T.Y. Hilton is getting his wish. He remains on track to be an Indianapolis Colt for life. One of the greatest wide receivers in franchise history has agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract with the Colts, according to the Katz Bros., his agency, extending his already fabulous nine-year run in Indianapolis. 

Hilton will get $8 million guaranteed with $2 million available in incentives. 

Since before training camp of the 2020 season, Hilton had expressed a desire to sign one final contract with the Colts before retirement. 

"I want to be here," the Colts' star wide receiver said. "But (an extension) takes two sides. That’s up to Mr. (Jim) Irsay and (general manager) Chris (Ballard) to get the job done. For me, I want to be a Colt." 

Publicly, the Colts echoed Hilton’s desire of forging an extended union. In fact, all three of the Colts’ top decision-makers, from owner Jim Irsay, to Ballard to coach Frank Reich have repeated than refrain. 

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (13) runs for a touchdown past Houston Texans cornerback Phillip Gaines (29) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, in Houston.

“I’m not going to lie, the discussions we’ve had … I think we’re all hoping and optimistic that there is a way that T.Y. can end his career as a Colt,” Reich said recently. 

When it came down to working out the details of a new contract for the now 31-year-old wide receiver, the two sides took some time to hash out an agreement, but ultimately they figured out a way to do what all parties involved wanted: keep Hilton in Indianapolis. 

Hilton returns to the Colts to catch passes from yet another new starting quarterback. In 2018, he caught passes from Andrew Luck; in 2019 it was Jacoby Brissett; in 2020 Philip Rivers; and now it will be Carson Wentz. 

If he develops a quick rapport with Wentz -- something that was a bit of a struggle with Rivers last year following an abbreviated training camp and no preseason -- he has a chance to enter rarefied air in Colts history. 

The four-time Pro Bowler is on the brink of becoming just the third Colts receiver ever to reach 10,000 receiving yards. Entering the 2021 season, he sits at 9,360 yards, trailing only Marvin Harrison (14,580) and Reggie Wayne (14,345). Hilton's also fourth in franchise history in receptions (608) but needs only 23 more to surpass Colts ring of honor member Raymond Berry (630). 

Insider:Where Colts could be looking to add in second wave of free agency

More:Xavier Rhodes re-signs with Colts in free agency

Putting history aside for a moment, it will be fascinating to see how Hilton's role in the offense evolves in the coming years -- if at all. Throughout most of his career, he has been the focal point of the Colts passing attack, no matter the coach or quarterback. That could remain the same until he retires, but the Colts also love their young pass-catchers (Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell and restricted free agent Zach Pascal) and could start to try to get them more heavily involved. 

In fact, that seemed to be the way things were headed in 2020. Even though Hilton led the Colts in targets -- something he has done in all but two of his NFL seasons -- he didn't see as much action as he was accustomed. If that trend continues, don't expect Hilton to be upset about. Even during a down year in 2020 (56 catches, 762 yards, five touchdowns), Hilton didn't complain about a lack of involvement. That didn't go unnoticed by the Colts. 

“The thing that I would really want people to know, is just what a great teammate this guy is,” coach Frank Reich said this season. “He is not just a superstar player, but as this year has gone on and his numbers have not been huge, the way he has approached practices, the way he has approached meetings, how he has celebrated his teammates’ success even when he wasn’t getting the ball … it was first-rate in every way.”

There’s no arguing Hilton's production has waned the past two seasons -- his first two playing in his 30s. Dealing with a few more injuries than he had during the early part of his career, Hilton produced fewer yards (1,263) in his past 25 games than he did in 14 games in 2018 (1,270).

Still, it’s not exactly Hilton’s fault he played with sub-standard quarterback play in 2019 and in a 2020 offense that preferred to spread the ball around. Hilton's 6.2 targets per game in 2020 were his lowest since his rookie season. In the six games he was targeted more than 6 times, he averaged 67.5 yards per game and scored four touchdowns. Spread over a 16-game season, that’s a 1,080-yard, 10-touchdown pace. So how much have his skills really deteriorated? Maybe not as much as his statistics might suggest. 

"T.Y. can still play," Ballard said in January. "Whether it’s at the level it was four or five years ago, we all, as you get older, you’ve got to find different ways, but T.Y. is smart, instinctive, knows how to get open and he still has value."

Clearly this wasn't just lip service. Ballard put the Colts' money where his, his coach's and his team owner's mouthes were, and brought Hilton back to Indianapolis. 

Follow IndyStar Colts Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter: @jimayello.     

View Comments