INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard spent all of last spring and summer praising the potential of cornerback Kenny Moore II to anyone within ear shot.
It seemed an odd choice at the time.
The second-year defender was best known by much of the fan base for a pair of costly special teams penalties early in his career. And there was no pedigree to speak of.
Moore is undersized at 5-foot-9, went undrafted in 2017 out of Valdosta State and was cut at the end of that summer by the New England Patriots.
But, as so often is the case, Ballard saw something in the now 23-year-old many others missed.
Moore repaid his faith with a breakout season in 2018. He tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions out of the slot, broke up 11 passes and even made time for 1.5 sacks during the regular season. In the two playoff games, Moore added three sacks and another pick.
On Thursday, the Colts rewarded him with a four-year contract extension reportedly worth $36 million that will make him the highest paid slot cornerback in the league.
The deal came as a surprise to Moore and his agent, and it left the defender speechless.
“Even before the deal, I was already grateful,” Moore said. “Just each and every day that I come in the office, it’s a blessed day. I was shocked, but there’s better days ahead.”
The franchise clearly agrees.
Moore is positioned as a leader in what is suddenly a stacked cornerback room.
Fellow starter Pierre Desir also received a rich three-year contract to return as a free agent following his own breakout campaign, and Indianapolis further invested in the position by selecting Temple's Rock Ya-Sin with its first draft pick at No. 34 overall.
A pair of other second-rounders — Quincy Wilson (2017) and Jalen Collins (2015) — also figure into the competition.
Moore's stands out because of his versatility and his consistency.
Thursday's final mini-camp practice lasted just 25 minutes and was conducted without helmets. But Moore still was the hardest running defensive back in individual drills.
Just as he is every other day.
“He is a consummate pro,” head coach Frank Reich said. “Really, it’s not only a high level of play, but it’s the consistency of play. That’s really what I think he embodies. We saw his playmaking ability last year — on the ball, sack, blitzer. But really just the way he brings that every day out in practice. And then out in the community, he’s just, he’s a leader. We love him.”
The feeling is mutual.
Moore appreciates the chance Ballard took, claiming him off waivers just before the start of the regular season two years ago. He's repeatedly repaid that leap of faith through hard work.
Now, Ballard is sending a message to the rest of the roster with Moore's extension.
This is what the Colts hold dear. Earn your roster spot every day, and the rewards will be waiting.
Early this spring, long before the extension made even a ripple in media circles, Moore was asked how he planned to follow up his career year.
His answer was predictable, and an indicator of just why Indianapolis was so willing to tie its future to No. 23.
“I’m keeping the same drive,” Moore said. “It’s like a clean slate, you know? I don’t go off what happened last year. It’s a new season, a new league. I’m just trying to be a better 2-3.”
Special teamers Rigoberto Sanchez and Luke Rhodes also received four-year contract extensions this spring. Like Moore, they were surprised because the team had them under roster control for more than one year.
And, like Moore, they are undrafted free agents who have carved out an important role through their own hard work and self sacrifice.
“It’s just a big blessing to come in here an undrafted guy and to work your tail off and then get rewarded,” Sanchez said.
FARE THEE WELL
Reich had some words of encoragement — and caution — for his players as they broke the huddle at the end of Thursday's practice.
The team will reconvene in late July at Westfield's Grand Park for the start of training camp.
The head coach wants them to take a week to rest and then get back to work. He relies on director of sports performance Rusty Jones and head strength and conditioning coach Richard Howell to provide the details.
“Rusty and Rich and their staff do a great job,” Reich said. “We have very specific plans for the guys. We kind of make them a little playbook for these four weeks, and just we really want to be detailed on that. We really think we can gain a competitive advantage in these four weeks. Because self motivated players win the day. That’s how you get better. We feel like over that four-week period of working out, we can gain an edge on 31 other teams if we take care of business.”
Indianapolis signed defensive end Obum Gwacham on Thursday and waived defensive tackle Chunky Clements.
Gwacham was one of nine veterans who took part in this week's three-day minicamp on a tryout basis. A sixth-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2015, he's played in 15 career games with the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints.