Indianapolis Colts

Colts safety Khari Willis retires from NFL at 26

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - SEPTEMBER 13: Khari Willis #37 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on after a 20-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field on September 13, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Indianapolis Colts safety Khari Willis, 26, is retiring from the National Football League after just three seasons and will pursue a full-time career in ministry. 

Willis, who was a full-time starter in Indianapolis the past two seasons, missed six games in 2021 due to calf and groin injuries. The former fourth-round pick was set to enter the final year of his rookie contract in 2022, with his base salary set to jump from $850,000 to $2,540,000. 

Willis quickly earned a reputation in Indianapolis as a savvy leader in the Colts’ secondary, handling communication for the back end of the defense as early as late in his rookie season of 2019. 

Following Willis’ announcement Wednesday, Colts Head Coach Frank Reich shared the following statement: “We’re thankful and appreciative of Khari’s contributions to the Colts both on and off the field over the last three seasons. Khari’s character, leadership, and professionalism will be missed in our locker room as will his play on Sundays. I admire and respect his decision to transition into the next stage of his life and ministry and my prayers will always be with him.”

In 2020, Willis proved to be a potential long-term answer for the organization, making 14 starts and collecting 85 total tackles, the third-most on the team. Behind Quarterback Philip Rivers, the Colts won 11 games and nearly upset the Buffalo Bills on Wildcard Weekend. 

Willis’ rookie season was a success despite a heart-wrenching battle away from football. As WISH-TV Colts Insider Zak Keefer shared in a piece with The Athletic in May of 2020, Willis’ fathered twin boys who were born 13 weeks premature and each weighing under two pounds at birth. Willis spent every night for months at Peyton Manning’s Children’s Hospital before both were able to go home. 

Ahead of this stunning development, the Colts were busy at safety this offseason, drafting Maryland’s Nick Cross in the 3rd round of the 2022 NFL Draft, in addition to signing free-agent veterans Rodney McLeod and Armani Watts.