2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Players Indianapolis Colts Must Target

Matt MadsenCorrespondent IIFebruary 10, 2012

2012 NFL Free Agents: 5 Players Indianapolis Colts Must Target

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    The Indianapolis Colts were horrific in 2011.

    Yeah, that bad.

    After starting 0-13, they were able to finish 2-1 while still securing the No. 1 pick in the draft. Lucky, too—they really need it.

    While the Colts are expected to select Stanford standout Andrew Luck with that pick, they need to do much more than that this offseason. The Colts were terrible across the board, and the lack of talent was hard to watch.

    Fortunately, there are plenty of quality free agents set to hit the market. Traditionally the Colts have built through the NFL draft, believing in their system.

    However, with a new group of faces running the show, we could see the Colts pursuing some high-dollar free agents this offseason.

    Let's look at a few that could benefit them right away.

Jermichael Finley, Tight End

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    If Andrew Luck ends up on the Colts, imagine his smile when he sees Jermichael Finley.

    For those who don't know, Luck ran a tight end-heavy offense at Stanford, utilizing the big guys in both the air and ground games. The athleticism of a guy like Finley is the perfect fit for that type of system, and Luck would understand his versatility right out of the gate. After all, Finley is exactly like Luck's teammate Coby Fleener.

    Except taller, faster and better.

    The Green Bay Packers might be willing to let Finley walk after a so-so 2011 effort. He totaled only 55 catches, and recorded 14 drops, a league high for tight ends. He's only 25, so anything is possible. If he reaches free agency, the Colts should scoop this guy up to pair him with an aging (and increasingly injury-prone) Dallas Clark.

    Best alternative: John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks

Evan Mathis, Guard

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    After spending last year's first-round pick on Anthony Castonzo, the Colts were clearly hoping to upgrade an offensive line that has struggled in recent years. Castonzo started 12 games for the Colts, and did a decent job. But the Colts need to keep working on their deteriorated line.

    In 2011, Evan Mathis didn't allow a single sack. He opened up lanes big enough for trucks to run through, and LeSean McCoy and his stats will attest to that. Mathis has proven to be somewhat injury-prone in the past, but assuming he can continue his run of health, the Colts should definitely take a look at him.

    Best alternative: Mike Brisiel, Houston Texans

Shaun Hill, Quarterback

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    There were many factors that caused the Colts to finish 2-14 in 2011. The most obvious: quarterback play. The Colts were lulled into a false sense of security, thinking nothing could ever happen to Peyton Manning.

    Wrong.

    In this violent game we love, everyone is a target. The bottom line is, teams have to prepare for the worst-case scenario. The Colts didn't, and they suffered all year for it.

    Signing Shaun Hill would provide them a backup for incoming day-one starter, Andrew Luck. Should their prized rookie get hurt, he can provide the team with experience and a moderate amount of success. He's a backup for a reason, but he's one of the better backups available in the league.

    Best alternative: Byron Leftwich, Pittsburgh Steelers, or Josh McCown, Chicago Bears

Calais Campbell, Defensive End/Nose Tackle

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    With Chuck Pagano taking over as head coach of the Colts, and former San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to man the same position on the Colts, a defensive switch to the 3-4 scheme is likely.

    With the personnel the Colts currently have, that simply isn't going to work very well.

    The first step to changing schemes is getting new players to match that scheme. With Robert Mathis a free agent, it's not a bad time to sign a grade-A replacement that certainly knows the 3-4.

    With the ability to play defensive end or tackle in the 3-4, Campbell would provide the Colts with versatility they haven't had in years along the D-line. While he'll certainly come with a hefty price tag, it likely won't be too much more on a year-to-year basis than they would've had to pay Mathis to stay.

    Campbell is solid against the run, and just as good at collapsing the pocket on pass plays. He has been known to drop into coverage and is a nightmare in passing lanes with his 6'8" frame. Not to mention his penchant for blocking kicks.

    Best alternative: Red Bryant, Seattle Seahawks

Jarret Johnson, Outside Linebacker

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    Not a lot of guys could make a name for themselves while playing next to Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, but Johnson has done just that. One of the most underrated players in the NFL, Johnson is a huge reason the Baltimore Ravens defense was so successful in 2011, and Chuck Pagano was subsequently hired as the Colts head coach.

    Not only does Johnson know the 3-4 inside and out, but Pagano knows him. He's worked with him. He's seen what he can do and knows he will perform.

    The Colts have had a cycle of nobodies playing linebacker since Cato June and David Thornton both left in free agency. They haven't placed a priority on bringing in high-quality linebackers.

    And it's led to years of being run all over.

    Switching to a 3-4 will place a bigger emphasis on the linebackers, and Pagano knows that. He will look to shore up the defensive front seven in any way that he can. Recruiting Johnson could be a brilliant first step in turning around the "we're small and fast" culture that the Colts have allowed to developed on defense.

    A stout run-stuffer and solid coverage linebacker, Johnson really only has one weakness, and that's rushing the passer. Not to say he isn't capable, just that his success has been limited thus far.

    Johnson would be a welcome addition to a Colts team that needs a few lessons in tackling.

    Best alternative: Erin Henderson, Minnesota Vikings