INDIANAPOLIS – It didn’t take long for Dontrelle Inman to feel at home in his return to the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center on Wednesday.
“T.Y. (Hilton) was yelling down the hallway. Jacoby’s (Brissett) been calling me since Week 4,” the newest Indianapolis Colts wide receiver said. “It was a lot of love. It was like I came back home with my family.”
It was a reunion long in the making.
For all the love in the air, Inman also spoke honestly about the business side of the NFL and his most recent experiences with it.
The 30-year-old receiver confirmed there was an offer on the table from the Colts in March and April. But he chose to explore his options on the free-agent market, and by the time he was ready to return to negotiations with Indianapolis, the team had moved on.
Even after veteran Devin Funchess signed during the opening week of free agency, the door remained open. Once Parris Campbell was drafted in the second round, however, a virtual “no vacancy” sign was hung on the wide receiver depth chart.
So Inman spent the preseason with the New England Patriots, then asked for his release and landed with the Los Angeles Chargers – the franchise with which he’s spent the majority of his seven-year professional career.
After four games that included eight catches for 132 yards, Inman was released back to the open market. That’s when the calls started to come from Brissett, as wide-spread speculation focused on a potential return to the Colts.
But Inman wasn’t mentally ready to make the move yet. The business side of the game left a few lingering bruises, and he wanted to clear his head before going back onto the field.
“You can have love for a person, but on the business side of things there’s no feelings,” Inman said. “There’s no emotions involved. They do what’s best for them at times, meaning the league and owners and GMs and the team, and players should start doing the same thing for them.
“Once players start to stand up and do what’s best for them, I think our league will grow. That’s what we’re honestly missing in the NFL.”
He said those words with no hint of animosity. He’s just stating the facts as he sees them.
It’s not even really coming from a personal point of view. It’s a big-picture observation.
Inman pointed to the big guaranteed contracts in the NBA and said those are a result of unity from the players. He sees things moving in the right direction with more and more money being guaranteed in the NFL, but there’s still work to be done.
While some players enjoy long-term financial security, for many others contracts are a year-to-year proposition. Or worse.
“It’s really week-to-week, honestly,” Inman said. “It’s definitely week-to-week. Nothing is guaranteed. Five percent of people get big contracts, and everybody else gets what’s left to fend for themselves.”
Inman admits he wasn’t certain whether he wanted to play again this season or wait for another opportunity in 2020.
Until he had that sorted out, he didn’t want to make any commitments.
But when the time came, Indianapolis was ready to welcome him with open arms.
“Another great veteran,” Hilton said. “He knows the offense. He knows (offensive coordinator) Nick (Sirianni) and (head coach) Frank (Reich) pretty well. So (he’s) another guy that we can just plug in and just go out there and play and make plays for us. He’ll help us out.”
That familiarity played a big role in Inman’s return.
His best pro season came with the Chargers in 2016 when he caught 58 passes for 810 yards and four touchdowns. Sirianni was his position coach, and Reich was the offensive coordinator.
Last year, in just nine games with the Colts, Inman caught 28 passes for 304 yards and three scores.
The Indianapolis coaches saw the same things in him then as they do now — strong hands, solid route running and a totally professional approach to the game.
“He’s still playing in this league because he still does the things that he does well,” Sirianni said. “He just continues to excel at the things he does well.”
That makes for a welcome addition to a receiving corps that has been racked by injuries. Hilton has missed six games with calf and quad injuries. Funchess has been out since breaking his clavicle in the season opener and is on injured reserve. And Campbell also was placed on injured reserve Monday with a broken foot.
Inman’s return comes with just three regular-season games remaining and the Colts’ playoff hopes on life support.
As always, there are no guarantees. He’s not signed beyond this season, and he came on board with no long-term expectations.
It’s just a chance to play the game he loves with people who care for him in a place that’s become comfortable for him.
“I really came back … to play football and have fun,” Inman said. “I don’t see anything outside of that. It’s just playing and enjoying the guys that (are) my friends on the team and just having fun.”
Hilton said a trip to injured reserve has never been a consideration, and he expects to play again this season.
The calf injury that has sidelined him for five of the previous six weeks is “feeling way better,” and he’s not ruling out the possibility of returning for Monday night’s game against the New Orleans Saints.
There are still conversations to be had with the medical staff, and he’s not yet certain whether he’ll be able to practice during the week.
But he’s tired of watching his teammates from the sideline.
“It’s very frustrating,” Hilton said. “You want to be out there with them. Man, it’s just tough watching. It’s something I’m not used to, so I’m doing everything I can to get back.
“So I’m going to continue doing that. If it’s this week, next week, the week after, I will give my all. Just trying to get back out there, really.”