INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts are in foreign territory. It's a situation they've rarely been in over the past 25 years.
The Colts have some hope, but they'll head into the 2020 season with questions at kicker, a position of strength for so many years, after a disastrous season from future Hall of Famer Adam Vinatieri.
Vinatieri is headed to free agency at age 47, and while he told ESPN in December that he's not ready to say for sure that he'll retire after 24 years in the NFL, the odds aren't high that the Colts will re-sign him after he struggled with a knee injury and kicking the ball for most this season.
"We'll let him rehab his knee and see where he's at physically," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said.
Enter Chase McLaughlin.
The Colts signed the rookie before their Week 14 game at Tampa Bay in anticipation that Vinatieri would miss that game and possibly more. It officially became an audition for McLaughlin when Vinatieri was put on season-ending injured reserve on Dec. 9.
McLaughlin made all 11 of his extra point attempts and was 5-of-6 on field goal tries during his four games with Indianapolis.
"I can't say I didn't think about it," McLaughlin said about replacing the NFL's all-time leading scorer. "But again, honestly, every time you kick in a regular-season game, even preseason, it's important and every kick counts. I came in and tried to do the best I could and impress everyone here."
The Colts showed their faith in McLaughlin potentially being their next kicker when they gave him a one-year contract shortly after the season ended.
"We'll see. We liked him," Ballard said. "You come in and you have to follow Adam Vinatieri, you've got a little something to you. He's got a really calm demeanor; he's got a process that he goes through to kick. We like Chase."
The Colts looked at potential replacements for Vinatieri as early as the third week of the season after he went 1-of-3 on field goal attempts and 2-of-5 on extra point attempts in the first two games. They worked out a handful of kickers between Weeks 2 and 3 before deciding they would stick with Vinatieri.
Sticking with Vinatieri was the theme for the Colts until they couldn't anymore because of his knee injury. The loyalty hurt the Colts, who worked out 10 kickers this season, because Vinatieri missed a league-high 14 kicks, three of which were blocked, and two of the attempts -- on the road against the Chargers and Steelers -- cost Indianapolis games.
Ballard said at his season-ending news conference that he had no regrets keeping Vinatieri on the roster despite his kicking problems.
"I don't think the only reason we lost some close games was just because of Adam," Ballard said. "I think we can all look at plays in the game, in games that we lost, that costs us at those moments. It usually never comes down to one play. Do we need to be better making kicks? Absolutely. Adam would tell you that. Adam is very prideful. He would tell you he needed to be better. But do I regret us sticking with him? No. There's no guarantee.
"We worked out a ton of kickers. ... I kept asking our group, 'If we had Adam working out with this group of kickers that we brought in, who would we pick?' We would have picked Adam. I told Adam that. Every time I'd work guys out, I'd look at Adam and say, 'Adam, if I had to tell you who I had to take out of this group, I'm taking you.' Do I wish we would have produced more in that position? Yes, I do. But, saying that, I do not regret the decisions we made with Adam. Not at all."
The 23-year-old McLaughlin knows he's not a lock to be Vinatieri's replacement. This past season is proof, as he spent time with four different teams. He was on Minnesota's practice squad in Week 1 before signing with the Chargers for Weeks 5-8, San Francisco for Weeks 10-12 and the Colts for the final four weeks of the season. McLaughlin was 18-of-23 on field goal attempts and a perfect 26-of-26 on extra point attempts during his journey around the league this season.
"Getting so many different opportunities has been great," he said. "Getting to see how so many different teams were run has been good because I feel like I've been in the league for three years, even though it's only been one, because I've been to so many teams and had so many different experiences. ... Anytime you get an opportunity to play in the NFL it's an audition, but I try to make all the kicks I could and only good things could happen from there."