INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts’ final on-field link to the Bill Polian era was severed Tuesday when left tackle Anthony Castonzo announced his retirement.
Castonzo was drafted out of Boston College with the 22nd overall pick in 2011 — as Polian’s final first-round selection — to protect Peyton Manning’s blindside, but he never wound up playing a game with the NFL legend.
Instead, Castonzo blocked for the likes of Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky, Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, Scott Tolzien, Jacoby Brissett and Philip Rivers over a 10-year career that included five playoff appearances, two AFC South titles and one touchdown reception.
“Kind of throughout the year as I was contemplating this decision, I’ve kind of already gone through that — looking back at what a crazy ride it has been and how different expectations are from how things actually go and how sometimes they are better than you think and sometimes they are worse than you think,” Castonzo said. “I think sometimes they are just different than you think. Obviously, I’ve dreamed about playing in the NFL since I was a little kid, and I said in my statement that I released that it was completely different than anything I could’ve imagined.
“Some of it was better, some of it was worse and — like I said — some of it was just different. It was definitely a wild ride.”
Castonzo entered the NFL in the wake of a lockout by owners and was deprived of rookie mini-camp and all the other usual spring on-field activities. He left the league during a pandemic that created much the same offseason chaos.
In between, the 6-foot-7, 307-pound offensive lineman was known for his calm consistency.
Castonzo had trouble keeping on weight. He had to break his breakfast up into several smaller meals just to ensure he was getting the insane amount of calories needed to maintain his bulk.
And he wasn’t sure he belonged at this level after his first training camp. Colts legend Dwight Freeney stole the rookie’s lunch money during his first practices, devastating Castonzo with his trademark spin move and an array of pass rush techniques.
It was enough to make the young man question his future.
“I swear, that’s one of the first things I thought about when I looked back on my career,” Castonzo said. “If you would have told me after training camp my rookie year that I was going to have a 10-year career, I would have laughed in your face. I would have been like, ‘I can’t block anybody in the NFL,’ because Dwight Freeney did that to me.”
He soon found not every NFL pass rusher was Dwight Freeney.
Castonzo never made an All-Pro team or a Pro Bowl appearance, but he became an unquestioned locker room leader and indispensable part of the offense. He made 144 career starts and missed just 16 regular season games in his career.
Head coach Frank Reich came to rely on the left tackle as an anchor who rarely needed to be helped, and that opened up so many other options for an offense that had three different starting quarterbacks over the past three seasons.
The respect was mutual, for the coaches, the franchise and the city he now calls home.
“I don’t think my career would have been as successful as it is or as long as it was if I didn’t get drafted to a place like Indianapolis that cares about its players, that really gives people the opportunity to be themselves and appreciates people who work,” Castonzo said. “It’s the same mentality in the city, just appreciating that blue-collar mentality of people who come to work every day. I felt really embraced by the city and came to love it a lot.”
The work for the franchise now turns to finding Castonzo’s replacement.
The Colts have the 21st pick in April’s draft and an estimated $60 million in salary-cap space, but the next left tackle could also come from within.
Three-time All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson filled in for Castonzo for one series against the Las Vegas Raiders in December, and he often picked the left tackle’s brain about playing on the outside. Castonzo believes Nelson has the skill set to play tackle if that’s the decision Indianapolis makes, and Reich said it’s among the options to be considered.
“(General manager) Chris (Ballard) and I have already had that conversation, obviously, when AC got hurt,” Reich said. “It was, like, ‘Hey, well, let’s take a look at Quenton. Maybe that’s a real option.’ … That would certainly be an option, but like every other decision you have to look at all options and consider all factors.”
Castonzo missed the final two games of the regular season with an ankle injury and began to seriously consider retirement again after it was determined he’d need surgery.
It was an option Castonzo also considered last offseason. But he said he’s happy he chose to come back then, and he’s at peace with his decision to walk away now.
He’s not sure what comes next on a personal level. There’s some vague idea about joining the front office in a player evaluation role at some future juncture, but for now Castonzo just wants to relax and enjoy the life football has afforded him.
“I feel extremely fortunate that I feel like I put everything I had for 10 years into the game and have really no regrets,” Castonzo said. “What has allowed me to be really at peace with this retirement is that I am going away and I have not a single regret that I can think of. So that has me in a real good place.”