Colts RT Braden Smith rendered ‘everything my body could,’ didn’t surrender a sack all year.

INDIANAPOLIS — Braden Smith tried to push through the pain, finish out the season and provide the final shove that got the Colts into the postseason.

Ultimately, his left knee would not let him.

Forty-five snaps into the season finale against the Texans, the knee got to the point of no return again, forcing Smith to watch from the sideline as the Colts’ last chance at an improbable playoff berth came up short.

“I gave everything my body could give,” Smith said. “I’ll always wish I could have done more.”

Smith will spend his offseason trying to make sure he does everything possible to return next season with the injury problems of 2023 in the rearview mirror.

The big right tackle has never been through a season like 2023, even though he missed five games with a foot injury in 2021. When Smith got hurt two years ago, he rehabilitated that injury, rejoined the lineup and stayed; this time, Smith missed four games due to hip and wrist injuries, then injured the knee two games later, forcing him back to the bench.

And while Smith declined to offer any details on his injury or his plan for the offseason, Colts general manager Chris Ballard said at the end of the season it was “50-50” on whether Smith would need offseason surgery to repair the knee.

“I’m going to go into this offseason and get my body healthy, do everything I can,” Smith said. “My hope is next year I come back full strength, as healthy as I can be.”

A healthy Smith remains one of the best right tackles in the NFL.

Smith did not give up a sack in 308 pass-blocking snaps, according to Sports Info Solutions, and the Colts averaged 4.63 yards per carry and 138 rushing yards per game in the nine games Smith played extensive snaps — he played just three against Tennessee before injuring his knee — and just 3.87 and 102.1 in the other eight games.

“Braden is important to our team,” Ballard said. “When he doesn’t play, it hurts us.”

Rookie swing tackle Blake Freeland played almost every snap when Smith was injured this season.

From a big-picture standpoint, the Colts did a good job of minimizing the impact of the drop-off from one player to another, but Freeland gave up six sacks in 394 snaps, in addition to struggling at times in the running game.

Smith, who was incredibly strong even during his college career at Auburn, has always been a mauler with plenty of power, so physically imposing that the rest of the Indianapolis offensive line calls him the “Polar Bear.”

Freeland has some work to do in that department.

“He got put in the fire,” Ballard said. “He’s got to get stronger. He knows it.”

The Colts would prefer to have Smith on the field.

Especially against the NFL’s pass rushers, when the difference between Smith and Freeland was easiest to see.

With Smith out against Cleveland, the Browns lined up Myles Garrett across from Freeland in a critical situation with the Colts offense backed up against its own end zone, and Garrett responded with a strip-sack for a Browns touchdown. Two months later, an injured Smith held Raiders superstar Maxx Crosby to zero sacks and just one quarterback hit in a game Indianapolis had to have to stay in the playoff mix.

To have him out there. … battling against one of the best players in the league, and I would say holding his own, he played really, really good football after a little bit of time off,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “It was huge for us, just as an offense, going out and executing, but I think it was huge for his teammates, just knowing that he’s pushing through a ton of difficult stuff, and that goes a long way in the huddle.”

Smith, who will be 28 next season, has two years remaining on the four-year, $72.4 million extension he signed in 2021, and he’ll carry a cap figure of $16.68 million next season, then $19.75 million in 2025.

The numbers are big, to be sure, but Indianapolis currently has a starting quarterback on a rookie deal in Anthony Richardson, and emerging left tackle Bernhard Raimann also has two years left on his rookie contract, leaving the Colts with plenty of cap space.

Most importantly, Smith is still one of the NFL’s best right tackles when he’s healthy, and he believes he’ll be able to return to the Colts at full strength for the start of next season.

“I’ve got a good plan for that,” Smith said. “I feel really confident in it, I’m excited about the future.”

Forced to the sideline by injury, Smith was frustrated, relying on his faith for perspective while he tried to get back in the lineup.

“That’s kind of the beauty of growing as a human being: You’re never done evolving, growing as a person,” Smith said. “I’ve found out a lot more about myself this year, really having to fight through adversity for myself personally. I definitely feel like I did some growing this year. I feel like that will pay dividends going into the future.”

The Colts can already imagine what those dividends might mean for the offense.

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