Colts 2023 free agent signings: Isaiah McKenzie fills key slot position

NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2023 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began on March 15 at 4 p.m. ET, which means free agent signings can now be made official. The first round of the 2023 NFL draft begins April 27 on ESPN.

The Indianapolis Colts face some pivotal decisions amid an important offseason for the franchise, and one of the biggest was already made as the Colts will part ways with quarterback Matt Ryan.

Here's a breakdown of every 2023 NFL free agent signing by the Indianapolis Colts, and how each will impact the upcoming season:

Isaiah McKenzie, wide receiver

McKenzie signed a one-year deal.

What it means: Signing McKenzie gives the Colts a slot receiving option to replace the departed Parris Campbell, who signed with the New York Giants last week. McKenzie isn't much of a big-play threat, but he offers the ability to convert tough plays in short-yardage situations and to be an underneath receiving threat in the middle of the field. McKenzie had a career-high 42 catches for 423 yards last season.

What's the risk: While McKenzie does address a need at slot receiver, he doesn't provide the kind of explosiveness on the outside that the Colts need more of. Indianapolis believes it can get more of that type of play 2022 second-round pick Alec Pierce, but it would help to have another deep threat to increase Pierce's one-on-one opportunities. Michael Pittman Jr. had a career-high 99 catches last season, but he isn't what anyone might consider a consistent deep threat.

Gardner Minshew, quarterback

Minshew signed a one-year deal.

What it means: Minshew won’t preclude the Colts from making additional quarterback moves, like drafting one with the fourth overall pick next month. But it does bolster the position a bit following a 2022 season when their quarterback depth proved to be quite poor. Minshew has started 32 games in his four previous seasons. He spent the past two seasons with new Colts coach Shane Steichen in Philadelphia, where the coach served as the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. Minshew will help bring familiarity with Steichen's scheme and concepts, which can help him assist with the growth of a potential rookie quarterback.

What's the risk: In the event a rookie quarterback isn’t quite ready to start the season this fall, it remains to be seen whether Minshew is a viable starter over a lengthy period. He showed some flashes in two starts in place of Jalen Hurts last season, but his 58% completion rate in 2022 won’t scare many opponents. Minshew also won’t have the same level of supporting cast in Indianapolis given the depth of talent the Eagles possessed last season. The best outcome for the Colts is for Minshew to be a true backup so that they are not reliant on him to play a bigger role.

Tony Brown, cornerback

Brown agreed to a one-year deal.

What it means: This move is a continuation of the Colts’ habit of valuing special teams contributors when it comes to offseason roster moves. Brown was a core player in the kicking game last season, playing on 72% of special teams snaps. Retaining Brown will be critical for new special teams coach Brian Mason, whose Notre Dame units were renowned for blocked kicks.

What's the risk: While Brown thrives on special teams, the Colts would be wise to find better options on defense. Brown played just nine defensive snaps for Indianapolis last season and has only played a substantial number of defensive snaps once in his four previous seasons (287 snaps as a rookie in Green Bay in 2018). The Colts need to shore up their cornerback depth after the decision to trade veteran Stephon Gilmore –- the NFL’s 2019 Defensive Player of the Year -– to the Dallas Cowboys.

Taven Bryan, defensive tackle

Bryan agreed to a one-year deal with the Colts.

What it means: The Colts have sought to rotate eight or more effective players along their defensive line, and Bryan fits that bill. Interior pass rush is a priority for the Colts, and Bryan can offer some of that. While he has been underwhelming when viewed in the context of his draft status (a former first-round pick), Bryan is 6-5, 291 pounds with quickness. He's the second defensive-line acquisition of the week for the Colts, following Samson Ebukam.

What's the risk: The Colts shouldn’t expect to lean on Bryan for anything more than depth. His original team, the Jaguars, moved on from him after four seasons despite drafting him 29th overall in 2018. Cleveland decided to move on after his lone season there in 2022. Can the Colts get more out of him alongside interior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart? Perhaps.

Ashton Dulin, wide receiver

Dulin agreed to a two-year deal with the Colts.

What it means: The Colts are bringing back Dulin after he registered a career-high 15 catches and 207 receiving yards in 2022. But mostly, this is a move based on Dulin’s upside. He has elite speed, and the Colts think he can become a consistent downfield threat if Indianapolis can resurrect its deep passing game. The Colts’ wide receiver depth was questionable entering free agency given the free agent status of Dulin and veteran Parris Campbell. Dulin’s re-signing is a key step toward addressing that depth and a move that gives the Colts another key piece on special teams given his kick-return ability.

What's the risk: The Colts were wise to re-sign Dulin, but this is more of a depth signing than one that addresses the talent level at the top of their wide receiver corps. The Colts proved last season that they had an adequate group of wide receivers, but they arguably lack the kind of elite game-breaker who creates consistent stress for defensive coaches. Whether they can acquire that kind of talent this offseason remains to be seen. Dulin slots in somewhere behind Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce on the depth chart.

Samson Ebukam, defensive end

The Colts agreed to a three-year deal with the former 49ers and Rams veteran.

What it means: The Colts landed a versatile edge player who is equally effective playing against the run and pass. This signing likely means the end of Yannick Ngakoue’s run in Indianapolis, with the veteran pass-rusher set to hit the free-agent market on Wednesday. While not as prolific a sack artist, Ebukam is considered more well-rounded and a player who displays impressive physicality. He’ll likely take one of the Colts’ two edge spots, across from third-year defensive end Kwity Paye. The Colts’ decision to retain Tyquan Lewis in recent days means they’ll likely deploy an edge rotation consisting mostly of Ebukam, Paye, Lewis and Dayo Odeyingbo.

What's the risk: The Colts don’t currently have an edge rusher who has produced more than six sacks in a single season. Ebukam himself has never generated more than five sacks in any one season. But he does produce a fair amount of pressure. His 20.9% pass-rush win rate last season was impressive and will allow him to affect quarterbacks even without getting sacks. But the Colts will need to prove that they can develop some closers among their pass-rushers if -– as expected -– they move on from Ngakoue. They are doing a fair amount of projection here, hoping that they can create a consistent pass rush with pass-rushers who haven’t always been consistent.

Matt Gay, kicker

The Colts and Gay agreed to a four-year, $22.5 million deal, according to his agent, Ness Mugrabi.

What it means: The Colts have had a ton of inconsistency at kicker ever since Adam Vinatieri's final season in 2019. The likely Hall of Famer struggled with injuries that season and had one of the worst seasons of his illustrious career. That was followed by the dramatic falloff of Rodrigo Blankenship last season, with the Colts cutting him after one week. Signing Gay brings stability to a key position. He converted 60 of 64 field goal attempts with the Rams the past two seasons (93.8%), making him one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL.

What's the risk: The Colts will not have as much cap flexibility if Gay's performance dramatically declines or falls short of expectations. Depending on the amount of guaranteed money wrapped up in the deal, it would prevent the Colts from being able to have the ability to move on from Gay without salary cap consequences. But this is still a low-risk, high-reward move for Indianapolis given its recent struggles with kicking consistency. The Colts have lost too many close games in recent years because of their field goal kicking. That might finally end with this move.

E.J. Speed, linebacker

The Colts have agreed to two-year deal to bring back Speed, according to a source.

What it means: Speed has started just six games in his four seasons and has never played more than 28% of the Colts’ defensive snaps in any single season. But the departure of Bobby Okereke, who will be joining the New York Giants on a lucrative $40 million deal, made retaining Speed much more of a priority. Speed has the ability to step in as the third linebacker behind Zaire Franklin and Shaquille Leonard -- the latter of whom the Colts are hoping returns from an injury-plagued 2022 season. Speed’s major contributions on special teams make him a key piece in the kicking game, too.

What's the risk: Speed played 85% of snaps on special teams last season, but he has never seen consistent action on defense. He did start five games in 2022 and posted a career-high 63 tackles. His rare speed was evident as he gained more playing time. But Speed’s inexperience also showed from time to time. And given Leonard's uneven progress during the past year, it’s always possible there are future complications in his road to recovery. In that scenario, Speed would represent a significant downgrade from Okereke. That would make a perceptible difference in the Colts’ defense.