A Colts starting safety for most of the past three seasons, Khari Willis informed the team he will retire from the NFL. Willis intends to pursue a ministry career, he said (via Instagram).
The Colts had excused Willis from their minicamp last week, and he had also missed their OTAs. Willis, who became eligible for a contract extension in January, will walk away from the league after just three seasons.
This represents a blow to the Colts’ defense. Willis, 26, had started 33 of the 39 career games he played. After breaking into Indianapolis’ starting lineup as a rookie, Willis was a first-string regular over the past two seasons. He intercepted four career passes, including two last season, and made 219 career tackles.
The Colts traded up for Willis in the 2019 fourth round, and he teamed with Julian Blackmon as the team’s primary safeties over the past two seasons. Blackmon missed 11 games last season, suffering an Achilles tear. Willis played through injury issues, but an IR stint and a COVID-19-related absence limited him to 11 games in 2021. Calf and knee trouble led Willis to IR last season. He missed time due to a concussion and broken ribs in 2020.
Indianapolis has been active at safety this offseason. The team traded up in the third round to select Maryland safety Nick Cross. That move came after the Colts signed longtime Eagles starter Rodney McLeod. Indianapolis also added ex-Kansas City backup safety Armani Watts earlier this year. Cross should be expected to team with Blackmon in the long-term, though Joel Erickson of the Indianapolis Star notes McLeod may get the call to start this season as Cross develops.