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Indianapolis Colts Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

Collin McColloughNFL Deputy EditorFebruary 13, 2012

Indianapolis Colts Free Agency: Tracking 2012 Signings, Targets and Rumors

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    After a tumultuous 2011-12 season that saw the Indianapolis Colts go 2-14, owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson have a monumental task ahead of them in rebuilding the Colts organization.

    Thankfully, keeping up with these changes is easy in the context of this offseason tracker.

    We'll begin by reviewing the team's salary cap situation, then we'll analyze Indy's most glaring roster holes.  From there, we'll list the teams current free agents, determine their average annual dollar value and project whether or not the Colts will offer them new deals or let them walk.

    Of course, the Colts still need to consider free agents beyond their own organization, so we'll also take a look at the Colts' potential cap situation after re-signings, which free agents are available that best fit the Colts' roster and what contracts the Colts could offer to these free-agent targets.

    Finally, we'll take a look at holes the Colts will still need to fill through the draft, and analyze the best 2012 NFL draft prospect fits for Indy's roster.

Tracking Free-Agent Signings, Re-Signings and Roster Moves

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    Mar. 9, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Colts have released Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Curtis Painter and Melvin Bullitt.

    Mar. 7, 2012: The Colts have officially released Peyton Manning. He will be a free agent and able to sign with any team as early as this afternoon.

    Mar. 6, 2012: ESPN is reporting that the Colts will release Peyton Manning tomorrow morning.

    Mar. 5, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts have reached a tentative long-term deal with DE Robert Mathis, in lieu of franchising the star pass-rusher.  Terms are not yet available, but expected to be generous.

    [UPDATE]: The Colts will indeed tag Mathis, but only to buy time to work out a long-term deal with him.  The franchise tag is not expected to stick.

    Feb. 14, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts signed DE Brandon Peguese, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles.  Like Hickman, the 6'1", 230-pound former defensive end projects to switch to OLB in the Colts' new defensive scheme.  Peguese was released by the Eagles prior to the start of the 2011-12 regular season.

    He doesn't figure to be more than a camp body for the Colts.  The direction of the Colts' recent offseason signings points toward the fact that Indy is trying to beef up its defensive front seven for new head coach Chuck Pagano and new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.

    Feb. 9, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts re-signed SS Mike Newton.  Newton spent time on the Colts' 2011-12 roster, totaling just four tackles.  If Newton makes the 2012-13 squad, the former Buffalo Bills safety is either Indy's most phenomenally improved player, or the Colts have some serious depth-chart concerns at the safety position.

    Feb. 9, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts signed DE Justin Hickman, formerly of the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, to a two-year deal (financial terms not yet disclosed).  The 6'2", 265-pound DE will most likely slide over to play OLB for the Colts, giving the Colts a significantly larger body at the position than their roster currently features.  

    Hickman was a terror in the CFL last year, tying for the lead league with 13 sacks, and will at least have the opportunity to make his case for the Colts' 2012 roster in training camp this year.

    Feb. 7, 2012: The Indianapolis Colts signed OLB Jerrell Freeman, formerly of the CFL's Saskatchewan Roughriders, to a free-agent deal.  Terms have not yet been disclosed, but Freeman appears to be a training-camp body with some potential to shine in the preseason.  Given his NFL anonymity, it would take a truly explosive camp and preseason for Freeman to factor into the Colts' 2012 plans.

Salary Cap Status

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    Colts' 2012 Cap Room

    According to Spotrac, the popular sports contract-tracking website, the Colts currently have $87,337,538 worth of contracts that will count against the 2012 NFL salary cap.  If you figure an arbitrary, calculated-for-inflation $5 million bump to project the 2012 NFL salary cap number at $125 million (from last year's $120 million), that leaves the Colts roughly $33 million under the cap.

    Normally, that number would be good news.  But with a plethora of free-agency decisions to make—including whether or not to re-sign Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, or which defensive free agents to target for a likely schematic shift to 3-4 personnel—and draft class featuring the top pick still unsigned, $33 million can disappear with relative haste.

    Problematic Cap Hits

    This figure notably features a few problematic salaries—notably Peyton Manning's $17 million and Dwight Freeney's astronomical $19,035,000 hit—which both figure to be either renegotiated or outright erased from the books before the season begins.

    Also problematic are the cap hits for Dallas Clark and Gary Brackett.  Clark, who has struggled to stay healthy the past two seasons and was ineffective even when healthy in 2011-12, is due $7.3 million.  Brackett, who missed almost all of 2011-12 with a shoulder injury and is the leading candidate to get left in the dust by the Colts' transition to a 3-4 defense, is due $7.4 million.

    Jim Irsay will need give serious thought as to whether each is worth that amount of money, while also considering the potential savings (or lack thereof) involved in cutting either.

    Mar. 9, 2012: Adam Schefter of ESPN is reporting that the Colts have released Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Curtis Painter and Melvin Bullitt.

    Value Contracts

    The Colts face several tough financial decisions in 2012, but still have some players under contract for pennies on the dollar, relatively speaking.  Austin Collie, who can be one of the league's top slot receivers given a competent NFL quarterback to throw him the ball, is only due $674,388 in 2012.

    Indy is also getting great value out of Pat Angerer ($825,000), who was at least in the Pro Bowl conversation last year, as well as Pat McAfee ($579,500) and Jerraud Powers ($733,750).

    The Peyton Manning Situation

    Indy's biggest question obviously revolves around the roster status of Peyton Manning.  Due a $28 million team option bonus on March 8, the Colts will need to come to a quick decision in regards to their long-time franchise QB, lest they be stuck paying a multimillion-dollar tab on a player whose 2012 availability is still in serious question.

    The Colts must either cut Manning (prior to the March 8 deadline) or pay the bonus and commit to keeping him around.  Some fans have suggested the Colts trade Manning for draft picks, but the option bonus makes Manning nearly untradeable.  Even if the two sides were to push back the option-bonus due date, Manning would more greatly benefit from getting to choose his own destination in 2012 via free agency versus being traded to the Colts' best-fit trading partner, making this negotiation a cut-or-shut-up affair with no realistic trade option.

    Given the mass confusion and collection of conflicting medical reports, it's difficult to speculate one way or the other on Manning.  But look for the Colts to draft Andrew Luck (Stanford) regardless.  The Colts need a future at the QB position regardless of Manning's availability, and can afford one either way.  

    Even if Manning is retained at his $17 million cap hit and his contract is not renegotiated to allow Indy more breathing room, Luck's 2012 cap hit only projects to be around $5 million.  Both QBs would essentially account for 18 percent of the Colts' 2012 salary base.

    UPDATE Mar. 7, 2012: The Colts have officially released Peyton Manning. He will be a free agent and able to sign with any team as early as this afternoon.

    Other Major Cap Questions

    Indy will likely need to commit to one of Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon in free agency, but probably not both.  Each will likely demand an annual average between $8-10 million per year, and with the Colts reportedly looking to spend more money on defense and distribute the wealth more evenly than they have in recent years, it doesn't look like Irsay will seek to retain both of his starting wideouts from 2011-12.

    Though he's unlikely to be cut, the Colts still should question to true worth of Joseph Addai, who is a fantastic option for the Colts offense when healthy, but too often dinged up to justify his $4.76 million cap hit.  If Addai can't stay healthy in 2012, don't be surprised if the Colts look to part ways come next season.

Last Year's Holes

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    Where to begin?

    With Peyton Manning sidelined and a string of untimely injuries, the Colts' roster quickly entered train-wreck territory in 2011-12.  Offensively, the Colts ranked 28th in points per game and 30th in yards per game.  Defensively, they didn't perform much better, ranking 28th in scoring defense and 25th in total yards allowed per game.

    There's a reason they have the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

    Offense

    On offense, assuming the gaping hole at QB regrettably occupied by a combination of Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky in 2011 is replaced with some assortment of Andrew Luck (likely) and/or Peyton Manning (far less likely) in 2012, the biggest holes are along the interior offensive line and scattered along the receiver depth chart.

    Interior Offensive Line

    Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana figure to be the Colts' bookend offensive tackles moving forward, and Joe Reitz appears to be a solid starter at guard.  The decline, and possible retirement, of center Jeff Saturday looms large over the Colts line, though, as does the lack of talent at the remaining guard position.  

    Theoretically, Mike Pollak should be in line to replace Saturday at center or start at the remaining guard position, but Pollak has been a major disappointment since being selected in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft and may have played his way off the roster in 2011-12.  The Colts will likely need to replace Saturday, and find an immediate starter to plug in at right guard.

    Wide Receiver

    The receiving ranks also figure to be thinned by free agency and 2011-12 film review.  Reggie Wayne projects to be one of the top receivers on the market and may very well be priced out of the Colts' range.  Indy's starting flanker, Pierre Garcon, is also a free agent, though seems much more likely to receive a contract offer from the Colts than his veteran counterpart.  

    Assuming one of the two is re-signed, that still leaves Austin Collie and Blair White as the only two receivers with any NFL experience that are currently under contract.

    Tight End

    Factor in the fact that Jacob Tamme is a free agent as well, and Dallas Clark is coming off a disappointing season while being due a whopping $7.3 million in 2012, and the Colts will certainly have some difficult decisions to make when prioritizing the re-signing or retention of their receiving options.

    Defense

    On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts will likely seek to spark a 3-4-oriented renovation while still retaining players they feel can translate well to the new scheme, or offer enough overall talent to justify their roster status while the team makes the transition.  

    Don't be surprised if the Colts still run a base 4-3 defense in 2012, even if their rival Houston Texans did offer hope for the validity of an overnight schematic switch after Wade Phillips single-handedly overhauled Houston's defensive scheme in 2011-12.  The Colts likely still have too many holes, and need too many pieces, for a successful 3-4 to be crafted out of a single offseason.

    More than likely, the Colts will run a base 4-3 with some 3-4 looks, at least at the beginning of new head coach Chuck Pagano's tenure.

    Calculating for this schematic change, the Colts' biggest needs are at nose tackle, cornerback and 5-technique defensive end.  Secondary needs include safety and inside linebacker.

    Nose Tackle

    No matter who the Colts stuck at DT in their Larry Coyer-led 4-3 defense last year, they were thoroughly mauled.  Fili Moala, Antonio Johnson, Dan Muir—it didn't matter.  The lone bright spot was rookie Drake Nevis, who only flashed promise before exiting the season with a mysterious back injury.  

    The Colts do not currently have a capable nose tackle on their roster, and will need to add one via free agency or the draft in order to line up in any 3-4 looks.

    Cornerback

    Jim Caldwell and Bill Polian were, in part, ousted due to their tendency to play musical chairs at certain positions without finding any real answers and while showcasing a plethora of poor personnel evaluations.  In 2010-11, the game was played along the offensive line.  Last year, it was played at the CB position.  

    After most would agree Justin Tryon earned a starting role opposite Jerraud Powers following the conclusion of the 2010-11 season, Jacob Lacey mysteriously leap-frogged Tryon on the depth chart and was listed as a "DNP-Performance" within weeks.  In response, the Colts cut Tryon—a move most in Indy still haven't quite figured out—and proceeded to elevate an embarrassing procession of players such as Terrance Johnson, Kevin Thomas and Chris Rucker into starting positions.

    None proved to be up to the challenge.  There remains no reason to believe any ever will be.  The Colts need a corner to start opposite Powers in 2012, preferably one adept at bump-and-run coverage.

    Defensive End

    If Jamaal Anderson is re-signed, he can likely hold his own at 3-4 DE.  But when you look at the other guys who project to DE in a 3-4 look—Moala, Johnson, Nevis—you don't see a lot of talent outside of perhaps Nevis.  

    The Colts are seeking to bulk up and become the bully, instead of yielding so many yards in the ground game as they traditionally have in recent years.  Look for Indy to identify a 5-tech anchor in free agency or the draft, and install him along the defensive line for 2012.

Listing the Colts' 2012 Free Agents

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    Spotrac lists the following Colts players as unrestricted free agents (UFAs), meaning unless the Colts negotiate a deal in advance of free agency's start date, any NFL team has the ability to offer these players a contract:

    DE Jamaal Anderson

    DE Tyler Brayton

    OT Ryan Diem

    DT Eric Foster

    WR Pierre Garcon

    WR Anthony Gonzalez

    DE Robert Mathis Update: The Indianapolis Colts have reached a tentative long-term deal with DE Robert Mathis, in lieu of franchising the star pass-rusher. 

    C Jeff Saturday

    TE Jacob Tamme

    WR Reggie Wayne

    LB Philip Wheeler

    The following players are listed as restricted free agents (RFAs), meaning that the Colts can offer them a one-year tender which any other team must match with draft picks:

    CB Jacob Lacey

    OT Michael Toudouze

    In determining compensation for matched qualifying offers, a $2.562 million tender must be matched with first- and third-round draft picks from any other team in pursuit, a $2.017 million tender is good for first-round compensation, a $1.417 million tender constitutes a second-round tender and the lowest base tender of $927,000 constitutes matching the RFA's original draft pick (i.e. if the player was selected in the third round, the pursuing team must offer a third-round pick in exchange).  

    Any team matching or holding on to the qualifying offer must pay that number as the player's base salary for that season.

Determining Contract Value and Worth for Every Indy Free Agent

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    Say what you want about the Colts' 2011-12 season, but their 2012 free agents are hardly bereft of talent.  This is a group that features one of the league's top veteran WRs in Reggie Wayne, one of the league's top pass-rushers in Robert Mathis and several promising young players in Pierre Garcon, Jacob Tamme and Philip Wheeler, the latter of whom was never a great fit in the Colts' conservative 4-3 defense but may translate very well to a 3-4 edge-rush role.

    Projecting contract worth, of course, isn't an exact science.  But using some common sense, you would have to assume Jim Irsay and Ryan Grigson would need to come up with the following numbers to retain each of the Colts' free agents (values calculated at annual amounts):

    Jamaal Anderson: $3 million (estimated)

    Anderson is the rare Colts free agent that a) improved his stock in Indy's disastrous 2-14 season and b) also figures to project well to a 3-4 defense.  The former Atlanta Falcons bust anchored the edge brilliantly for the Colts in 2011-12 and recorded the team's lone field-goal block.  He still doesn't have quite the quickness you'd like to see in a pass-rush role, but as a 3-4 defensive end, Anderson would hold up just fine and prove more than capable of setting a hard edge, freeing up linebackers and defending the run.  

    The Colts valued Anderson at $1.3 million in 2011-12, but look for that number to more than double in 2012-13.  In fact, I may even be undervaluing his worth.

    Tyler Brayton: $900,000 (estimated)

    Brayton isn't going to make any more money for a 2012 roster than he did in a 2011-12 season that saw him play an uncomfortable tweener role that was too small and weak for defensive tackle or a 5-tech end, but too slow and athletically limited to offer any edge-rush ability from a traditional defensive end spot.  

    As Brayton's 2011-12 base salary was $810,000, we can safely assume he won't eclipse the $900,000 mark.

    Ryan Diem: $1 million (estimated)

    Like Anthony Gonzalez, Ryan Diem would truly be lucky to sniff $1 million here, and like Jeff Saturday, Diem very well may be on the road to retirement.  These add up to a $1 million ceiling for an Indy bookend who spent much of his career protecting a QB who may never play again.  

    That the Colts used their first two draft picks on offensive tackles last year tells you that Diem's time is likely up in Indy, and won't be highly valued anywhere else.  Some may point to the fact that he was arguably the best guard the Colts had in 2011-12, but that was only because he played over Mike Pollak.  Don't mistake marginal superiority for actual talent.

    Eric Foster: $900,000 (estimated)

    Foster actually made $1.2 million in 2011-12, but saw his season end early after suffering a horrific ankle injury vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.  At 6'2", 265, Foster was already on the smaller end of the NFL's defensive tackle spectrum.  His game was primarily predicated on speed and quickness, the ability to get a quick burst and beat his blocker on a swim move.  

    Assuming Foster even returns for the 2012-13 season, he certainly won't eclipse the $1 million mark given the severity of his injury and its projected effect on the strength of his game.

    Pierre Garcon: $8 million (estimated)

    Last year, the Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent WR Sidney Rice to a five-year, $41 million contract.  The New York Jets signed WR Santonio Holmes to a five-year, $50 million deal.  If you figure the annual average for a top, young, free-agent WR is somewhere between $8-10 million, that's what I fully expect Garcon to demand in 2012-13.  

    We'll estimate this on the lower end of that spectrum, as even though Garcon performed extremely well in spite of Indy's QB play last year, there are still questions about his hands and consistency.  I would expect Garcon to receive an offer in the five-year, $40-45 million range.

    Anthony Gonzalez: $1.5 million (estimated)

    Given his inability to stay healthy, Gonzalez would honestly be lucky to even sniff a million here.  But because of his age (coming off his rookie contract) and promise (showed extremely well when healthy in 2007 and 2008), don't be surprised if some team bites the bullet and takes a chance on the oft-maligned wideout.  

    Gonzalez fits well into any offensive system, as he can play both slot and wideout, and as most Indy reporters would admit, probably suffered just as much from the wrath of Bill Polian and Colts management as he did from actual injuries.

    Robert Mathis: Update: The Indianapolis Colts have reached a tentative long-term deal with DE Robert Mathis, in lieu of franchising the star pass-rusher. 

    Jeff Saturday: $3 million (estimated)

    It's hard to imagine the Colts' longtime anchor averaging anything close to the $4-5 million per year he averaged on his last deal, given his decline in play and increase in birthday candles.  More than likely, contract worth is a moot point, though, as the Colts have reportedly already reached out to Saturday about a front-office role, so you would have to assume the end of his playing career is nigh.  

    If Saturday does return to NFL action, look for his team to simply offer a one-year deal at a respectable, but not ridiculous, $3 million.

    Jacob Tamme: $3.75 million (estimated)

    Dallas Clark's understudy has proven that he can be an effective receiver in this league, so his 2012 contract will probably be in line with Todd Heap's two-year, $5.5 million offer from the Arizona Cardinals last year (Heap's deal limited by his injury history, Tamme's limited by the fact that he's a solid, but not dynamic, TE).  

    I've elevated Tamme's worth somewhat because of the New England Patriots' success using Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in a two-TE offense.  As the NFL has proven time and time again to be a copycat league, more teams will be looking for bodies to send down the seam, and Tamme fits the bill.  A four-year, $15 million contract wouldn't be absurd for the former Kentucky Wildcat.

    Reggie Wayne: $9.5 million (estimated)

    As one of the top receivers on the market, Wayne will get his payday.  I project that number to be slightly less than the contract Holmes received from the Jets last year, as though Wayne is a more proven player than Holmes, he is also on the downside of his career.  

    If I already figured Garcon at $8 million, it makes sense to lift Wayne about $2 million above that average.  Look for Wayne to at least score a four-year, $40 million deal, though given the fact he's one of the most prominent free agents on the market, don't be surprised if someone bids out of whack with his market value and lifts that offer closer to the $50 million range.

    Philip Wheeler: $1.5 million (estimated)

    Wheeler falls in the tricky territory of coming off a decently strong contract year, but still showing on film as too inconsistent to entice many 4-3 teams.  Coming out of Georgia Tech, he was likely always a better fit in a 3-4 scheme, but as his entire pro body of work has been at OLB in a 4-3 defense, don't look for 3-4 teams to be in any hurry to open their wallets.  

    At best, Wheeler is a three-year, $6 million player.  But don't be surprised if he enjoys some relative success in a 3-4 scheme and ends up as one of the better value signings in the 2012 NFL free-agency class.

    You can also look for the Colts to tender their RFAs as such:

    Jacob Lacey: One-year, $1.417 million (second-round tender, estimated)

    The Colts are in a difficult position when it comes to Lacey.  Jerraud Powers is the only true starter on their roster, as it stands now.  Kevin Thomas has shown nothing to lead you to believe he's a NFL starter, Terrance Johnson was a disaster on the outside all year long and Chris Rucker, though still a work in progress, didn't exactly enjoy a stellar 2011-12 season either.  

    Barring major moves in the draft and free agency, the Colts may be forced into tendering Lacey.  As Lacey was an undrafted free agent, offering him the lowest-base $927,000 qualifying offer would be inviting another team to match the offer with pocket change, so a second-round tender makes the most sense for preserving some semblance of order and familiarity amongst the Colts' CB ranks this year.

    Michael Toudouze: One-year, $927,000 (estimated)

    Toudouze is not worth anything above the lowest possible qualifying offer, but it makes sense for the Colts to bring him in as a camp body this summer.  Worst case, he eats snaps in a few meaningless preseason games.

Projecting Which Free Agents the Colts Will Re-Sign, Which Will Walk

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    The Colts certainly have some tough decisions on their hands over these next few weeks.  It starts with Peyton Manning, of course, whose $28 million option bonus comes into effect on March 8 if the veteran QB remains on Indy's roster at that time.  

    Jim Irsay could still negotiate with Manning and agent Tom Condon to push that deadline back and possibly restructure the deal in the process.  But more than likely, the Colts will either be forced to release Manning in lieu of paying that monster bonus, or swallow the hit and pray he's healthy enough to play in 2012.  In any case, he's not likely to be traded, as his receiving team would be forced to inherit that bonus pay.

    Once the Colts manage to get beyond the Manning dilemma without alienating any fans, though, they will still need to figure out how guys like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis, Pierre Garcon and Jeff Saturday—all fan favorites—fit into the picture in 2012.  Here's a hint: Not all of them will.

    Let's take a look at projected re-signing decisions the Colts will make:

    Jamaal Anderson: Re-signed

    I would be fairly shocked if the Colts did not re-sign Anderson, who proved to be quite the hustle player for a team lacking much grit or hustle in 2011-12.  Anderson provides the Colts with a useful, talented member of a defensive line rotation whether the Colts line up in a 4-3 or 3-4 look.  

    He's not the type of player who will show up on many highlight reels, but he'll do the dirty work and put in the effort needed for the defense to be successful on any given play.

    Estimated contract: Four years, $14 million

    Tyler Brayton: Released

    Brayton showed nothing in 2011-12 to demonstrate his worth to this year's Colts.  Though he was put in a bad position, often playing defensive tackle in the absence of both Eric Foster and Drake Nevis, he just didn't make enough plays to earn a second contract with the Colts.  More often than not, the offensive line managed to completely seal him out of the play and open up sizable lanes for opposing running backs.  

    Brayton might be a value signing somewhere, but it likely isn't in Indianapolis.

    Ryan Diem: Released/retired

    Diem likely stayed with the Colts a season or two too long as is.  Indy certainly owes a tip of the proverbial hat to a man who provided such a reliable anchoring presence for so many years, but Diem's ability has taken a nosedive in recent years, and he has only remained in a starting role by the grace of Bill Polian's offensive line-scouting ineptitude.  

    The Colts simply can't afford another season with Diem at either guard or tackle—not if they want Andrew Luck to have half a chance of enjoying a long NFL career, or Manning to actually manage a comeback.

    Eric Foster: Released

    Foster would make for a great comeback story, but considering the injuries he suffered and the Colts' transition to what will likely be a larger defensive line, the odds are just to great to envision Foster returning to the lineup.  Quite frankly, Foster will be fortunate to play another NFL game.

    Pierre Garcon: Re-signed

    Ryan Grigson and Jim Irsay will be sweating this one to the very end, but when all is said and done, you have to think they pony up for Garcon.  Sure, it's a bit of a risky investment given the inconsistent play Garcon has shown at times.  But Garcon was also one of the few bright spots on a woeful 2011-12 roster, and showed he could make plays no matter who was throwing the ball to him.

    Garcon fell only 53 yards short of a 1,000-yard season with the NFL's worst combination of quarterbacks at the helm.  Put Manning or Luck under center, and you'd have to imagine Garcon is a dynamic, 1,000-yard kind of player.  

    Irsay must also consider the fact that Garcon still has upside—unrealized potential.  If he ever puts it all together, he could easily be one of the league's more dynamic players—a speedier Anquan Boldin, essentially.

    Estimated contract: Five years, $45 million

    Anthony Gonzalez: Released

    Gonzo's horseshoe days are over, plain and simple.  After all the knee, ankle, groin and hand injuries, after all the healthy scratches, you just can't envision Gonzo in speed blue, even if departed GM-in-everything-but-title Polian was his primary detractor.  

    I highly doubt that Gonzalez's NFL career is over, though, so look for other teams to take a look.  

    Robert Mathis: Update: The Indianapolis Colts have reached a tentative long-term deal with DE Robert Mathis, in lieu of franchising the star pass-rusher. 

    Jeff Saturday: Released/retired

    Look for Saturday to call it a career this offseason and possibly join the Colts front office.  Though his play wasn't exactly wretched in 2011-12, it was hardly exemplary either.  Saturday has been in a state of decline for a few seasons now, and the Indy front office only has themselves to blame for not having already identified his successor.

    Jacob Tamme: Released

    Between footing the bill for Mathis and Garcon, the Colts likely won't have enough money to extend Tamme without sacrificing their free agency or draft strategy.  This wouldn't surprise many Colts fans, but it's worth noting that he's probably not as easily expendable as most assume.  

    Dallas Clark hasn't exactly been the bastion of good health or consistent play these past two years, and the Colts offense needs a capable receiver at TE in order to properly function.  If Tamme does go, don't be shocked if the Colts target a TE in the 2012 NFL draft.

    Reggie Wayne: Released

    This will, by far, be the hardest decision the Colts make this offseason.  Wayne is still an elite receiver.  Wayne is still a central figure in the Indianapolis community.  But the reality is, Wayne is probably the most expendable of the Colts' big three free agents.  He's getting up there in years, his contract demands will be high for what Indy can afford and the Colts may be looking to go more run-heavy anyway, leaving a veteran WR like Wayne on the other side of the fence.  

    Wayne will make his bank this offseason, but not with the Colts.  Look for a team in need of a veteran WR presence—I'm looking at you, Jacksonville Jaguars—to make a play for Wayne.  Or look for the New England Patriots to sign him just to spite Indy. 

    Philip Wheeler: Re-signed

    This may constitute my most surprising re-signing, but I would like to see what Wheeler can do in Greg Manusky's defense.  He seems like an ideal rotation linebacker, someone who can really take advantage of numbers and pressure the QB.  

    Of all pending Colts free agents, he might actually project best to a 3-4 defense.  Given the fact he won't command much coin, I believe Grigson has to give him a chance.

    Estimated contract: Two years, $5 million

Available Cap Space After Re-Signings

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    Available Cap Space (projected): $8 million

    Given the previous cap projection of $125 million, and the Colts' current cap number of $87.3 million, the Colts will have about $33 million to spread around this offseason, pending any further cuts.

    The previous free-agent re-signings would average out to a total of roughly $25 million against the cap for 2012 (purely averaging out contracts, not assuming anything is back or front-loaded), leaving the Colts with roughly $8 million to spend on the draft and free agency.

    Caveats

    Realistically, of course, these contracts would be weighed variably.  In other words, though Pierre Garcon might average $9 million per year on a new deal, or Robert Mathis $10 million, much of that money could be backloaded to allow for softer cap hits in 2012.  Additionally, there's still a good chance the Colts could drop Peyton Manning from their books, and it wouldn't be surprising to see management ask Dwight Freeney to restructure his monster deal either.

    UPDATE Mar. 7, 2012: The Colts have officially released Peyton Manning. He will be a free agent and able to sign with any team as early as this afternoon.

    No matter how you slice it, barring some major roster changes, the Colts likely won't be in terrific position to be strong players in 2012 NFL free agency beyond re-signing their own.  A best-case scenario probably sees them sign a couple mid-level players and then move on to focusing on the 2012 NFL draft.

Biggest Needs After Re-Signings

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    No matter which combination of players the Colts choose to re-sign, they'll have a number of holes to fill through free agency and the 2012 NFL draft.

    Offense

    Interior Offensive Line

    The Colts would still need to add some road-grader types along the interior line in order to win the battle at the line, and introduce a more punishing rushing attack.

    Wide Receiver

    Depth is the name of the game.  The Colts only carried five wide receivers into the 2011-12 season and project to lose at least two of them.  They will need to add players to fill out the roster and provide viable injury-replacement solutions to the featured players they choose to keep.

    Defense

    Defensive Line

    On defense, the Colts need to toughen up their front seven first and foremost.  If the move to a 3-4 really is imminent, that means immediately identifying a solid nose tackle and doing whatever it takes to land him.  If the Colts can find a nose tackle and a solid 5-technique DE, they will be in good shape to restock the rest of their defensive roster as they move closer to the preseason.

    Cornerback/Safety

    Defensive back is certainly a high priority as well.  Melvin Bullitt is due to return from a season-ending shoulder injury, but given chronic issues with his shoulder, simply cannot be relied upon to be a starting safety for the Colts in 2012.  

    Indy would do well to set its sights on another safety to play opposite ironman Antoine Bethea, as well as find another starter who can complement Jerraud Powers.  If the Colts find themselves in a position where they are relying on Jacob Lacey to hold his own in man coverage, or jam receivers at the line, their defense will find itself in serious trouble.

    Special Teams

    On the special teams front, the Colts just need talent anywhere they can find it outside of the punter and kicker positions.  Most NFL fans who don't follow the Colts on a regular basis would be shocked to learn how lacking and utterly inept their special teams coverage units are.  This is a team that routinely allows big returns, routinely finds itself penalized for dumb mistakes and hasn't fielded a capable returner since a 2006-07 Terrence Wilkins retread.  

    Under Bill Polian, the Colts never valued special teams players.  They took a Darrell Reid or Matt Giordano where they could find one.  Look for Ryan Grigson to build the Colts along a more even plateau and work to identify players that can help the Colts win the field-position battle for the first time in years.

Identifying Potential Free Agents the Colts Could Sign

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    Nose Tackle

    Again, the Colts will likely need to concentrate on the nose tackle position, so don't be surprised if they take a look at both New York Jets NT Sione Pouha and San Diego Chargers NT Antonio Garay.  Of the two, Garay is more likely to be in the Colts' price range, or be available in the first place.

    Wide Receiver

    As the Colts aim to round out their receiving corps, they're more apt to look toward the draft—potentially pairing Andrew Luck with a young target he can grow with—than anywhere else.  But if they do look toward free agency, don't be surprised to see Indy kick the tires on Patrick Crayton, Donnie Avery, Devin Aromashodu, Roscoe Parrish and Domenik Hixon.  

    None of these would be sexy signings by any means, but all would provide depth and special teams help.

    Offensive Line

    Along the offensive line, the Colts should aggressively target a replacement for Saturday.  Chris Myers, Nick Hardwick and Dan Connolly all make sense, though will all be priority re-signings for their own respective teams.  Offensive guard allows Indy a few more choices, and is probably the most likely position to be replaced via free agency.  

    At this position, I see the Colts looking at Evan Mathis, Carl Nicks, Jake Scott, Ben Grubbs, Montrae Holland and Bobbie Williams.

    Defensive End

    At the 5-tech, Calais Campbell would be a dream signing for the Colts, though not likely to fall in their price range.  Cory Redding is likely the same story, so the Colts might have to settle for game tape on a guy like Kendall Langford.

    Cornerback

    The cornerback crop is deceivingly thin as it's overly top-heavy.  Still, if the Colts are looking to get physical, don't be shocked if they call about Cortland Finnegan, even though the Tennessee Titans aren't likely to let him walk.  Similarly, Kansas City's Brandon Carr is an intriguing player in Pagano's new-look defense.

    Safety

    Finally, 2012 features a relatively deep crop of safeties.  Folks might be quick to jump to obvious names like Atari Bigby or LaRon Landry, but I'm more interested in Mike Adams, who would project to be a great fit in the Colts defense.  Purely for special teams purposes, Tom Zbikowski and James Ihedigbo should spark some interest.  

    Brodney Pool rounds out the wild card of the group (is he worth a gamble? Has he just been a bad fit with the Jets?) and Indy should do all they can to avoid guys like Reggie Nelson, Sean Considine and Courtney Greene.

Projecting Contract Values for Colts' Free-Agent Targets

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    To review, the following players likely fit the mold of what the Colts are looking for, and would be smart additions to the team:

    NT Sione Pouha (New York Jets)

    NT Antonio Garay (San Diego Chargers)

    WR Patrick Crayton (San Diego Chargers)

    WR Donnie Avery (Tennessee Titans)

    WR Devin Aromashodu (Chicago Bears)

    WR Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo Bills)

    WR Domenik Hixon (New York Giants)

    C Chris Myers (Houston Texans)

    C Nick Hardwick (San Diego Chargers)

    C Dan Connolly (New England Patriots)

    G Evan Mathis (Philadelphia Eagles)

    G Carl Nicks (New Orleans Saints)

    G Jake Scott (Tennessee Titans)

    G Ben Grubbs (Baltimore Ravens)

    G Montrae Holland (Dallas Cowboys)

    G Bobbie Williams (Cincinnati Bengals)

    DE Calais Campbell (Arizona Cardinals)

    DE Cory Redding (Baltimore Ravens)

    DE Kendall Langford (Miami Dolphins)

    CB Cortland Finnegan (Tennessee Titans)

    CB Brandon Carr (Kansas City Chiefs)

    S Mike Adams (Cleveland Browns)

    S Tom Zbikowski (Baltimore Ravens)

    S James Ihedigbo (New England Patriots)

    Of course, not all of these targets will be realistically available.  We can safely assume that the Jets will seek to keep Pouha, the Texans will do their best to retain Myers, the Chargers will safeguard Hardwick, the Ravens will make a generous offer to Grubbs, the Cardinals will keep Campbell on a short leash, etc.  

    But in terms of spending caps, we could see the Colts offer the following contracts:

    DT Antonio Garay: Three years, $12 million

    Garay is currently finishing out a two-year, $1.3 million contract with the Chargers.  Why does the number jump up to $12 million here then?  Simple: necessity.  

    The Colts need a nose tackle.  Garay is one of the few capable available nose tackles that will price himself in their stratosphere.  I see him easily making the jump to $4 million per year here, if not $5 million per year.  He's a bit inconsistent for top-flight DT money, but he'll make solid money because the Colts need a big body familiar with the concepts Greg Manusky and Chuck Pagano will install.  That's Garay.

    WR Roscoe Parrish: Two years, $5 million

    I would like to see the Colts target Patrick Crayton here—who truly is one of the NFL's most underrated depth-chart fixtures—but Parrish makes more sense for a transitioning Colts roster.  He would be an instant upgrade at returner and round out the receiver depth chart.  It's hard to imagine Parrish coming with much of a price tag, too, which makes him an ideal depth-chart (specifically, special teams) add for the Colts.

    G Ben Grubbs: Five years, $30 million

    Steve Hutchinson, the NFL's top-paid guard (in terms of average annual salary), averages about $7 million per year on his seven-year, $49 million deal.  Look for Grubbs to ask for numbers approaching that, and look for Pagano to make a run at this road-grader who battled against Pagano's Baltimore defense every day in practice.  

    Grubbs would be a huge upgrade to Indy's offensive line.  Unfortunately, Baltimore will probably offer this deal before Indianapolis gets a chance.  Still, it's worth noting Pagano would likely make an aggressive run at Grubbs should he hit the open market.

    DE Kendall Langford: Three years, $10 million

    I'm not sure Langford would agree to this contract, as he may be one of the most surprisingly inflated free agents on the market this year, but this would be along the lines of the deal the Colts would most likely offer, possibly going up to a $12 million total offer.  

    In any case, Langford would provide a nice temporary solution at the DE spot opposite Jamaal Anderson, at least until the Colts could find a better talent.  Again, this might be on the low end of potential offers Langford could receive, but the Colts aren't going any higher on this deal.

    CB Brandon Carr: Four years, $28 million

    Unfortunately for the Colts, who desperately need talent in their secondary, cornerback is one of the most overvalued positions in the NFL.  In reality, they're best served by unearthing talent in the draft.  But if they do go the free-agent route, look for them to get Brandon Carr's agent on the other end of the line.  

    Using St. Louis Rams CB Ron Bartell's four-year, $25 million deal as a reference point here, Carr will likely demand something in the $6-7 million-per-year range.  This might even be a low estimate for him.  The Colts would be hard pressed to make both this deal and the deal with Grubbs, but don't be shocked if they make an attempt at either.

    S Mike Adams: Three years, $6 million

    Adams is finishing out a three-year, $4.1 million contract for the Cleveland Browns.  I'm not quite sure he's played well enough to elevate his total worth far beyond $2 million per year, and I'm not sure the Colts—with so many other needs to fill—would value a safety far beyond this offer.  But if the stars align, this could be a deal worth discussing.

Analyzing the Colts' Draft Strategy, Positions of Need

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    If you doubt for one moment that the Indianapolis Colts will select Andrew Luck with the first pick of the 2012 NFL draft, you may as well also continue believing that the tooth fairy is real, or that Half-Life 3 will ever be released.

    The Colts need Luck—even if Peyton Manning miraculously returns healthy and ready to play in 2012.  Why?  Because 2011-12 proved that the Colts need a backup plan at QB anyway, and more than anything, the Colts just need a future at the position.  A future for the team, for the franchise.

    That future is Luck.

    Without a franchise QB, the Colts offense—well, any offense, really—is atrocious.  In terms of ball security, decision-making and big-play ability, they're the visual equivalent of a Black Eyed Peas album—they make swallowing a hand grenade seem like a healthy alternative.  

    Beyond Luck, though, the Colts just need talent—lots of it.  

    While they're relatively safe and/or stocked at the RB and LB positions, they could use help or depth almost everywhere else.  The one thing they can't do, as alluded to in the previous statement, is draft another RB.  Between Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and Delone Carter, the Colts were able to manage a surprisingly respectable (though hardly intimidating) run attack in 2011-12, averaging 4.2 yards per carry, good for 15th in the league.

    Theoretically, with competent QB play, that number should go up without any additional help.  And if it doesn't, then the problem is most likely with the offensive line, not the RB corps.

    The Colts should primarily use the draft to stock talent at positions they won't otherwise be able to target in free agency, either because of a shallow talent pool or cap limitations.  As mentioned in the previous slide, this most likely applies to the CB and offensive guard positions.

    After the Colts select Luck, look for the team to begin assembling talent in the defensive backfield and along the interior offensive and defensive lines in the early rounds of the draft.  As the draft progresses, the Colts will likely seek to flesh out their talent in the receiving corps and along special teams coverage and return units.

Draft Names to Keep an Eye On

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    If we assume Andrew Luck is a given, and we should, we can skip the QB position and move on to the other holes the Colts need to fill.

    Nose Tackle

    At nose tackle, the conversation is largely down to Dontari Poe (Memphis) and Alameda Ta'amu (Washington).  As I've already mocked Ta'amu to the Colts, I would hate to betray that projection now.  

    Ta'amu makes sense as a heavy 3-4 anchor who can hold his ground and occupy multiply blockers, freeing up the linebackers behind him.  Poe would also be a solid selection, though is admittedly a bit raw and untested, which doesn't speak well to his odds of stepping in and being an immediate solution.

    Offensive Guard

    The Colts could target any number of guards in the draft, but Cordy Glenn (Georgia) and Brandon Washington (Miami) make the most sense in any transition that puts a brighter spotlight on the running game.  Look for those two to sit relatively high on the Colts' draft board.

    Center

    Center isn't a focal point of this draft class, but two very talent players in Peter Konz (Wisconsin) and Ben Jones (Georgia) sit at the top of the board.  Konz would be a great pick for any team, and a terrific pick for the Colts, though it's unlikely that he sticks around long enough for their second pick.  

    Keep an eye on Jones, then, and players like Mike Brewster (Ohio State) and Philip Blake (Baylor) who could rise as we get closer to April.

    Cornerback

    Indy shouldn't have any shortage of options when it comes to finding defensive back talent in this draft, especially in the CB ranks.  CBs such as Janoris Jenkins (North Alabama), Stephon Gilmore (South Carolina), Chase Minnifield (Virginia), Alfonzo Dennard (Nebraska) and Brandon Boykin (Georgia) could be on the board for the Colts' second-round pick, and each would be an instant starter in the Colts defense.  

    Look for them to target Gilmore, Minnifield and Dennard in particular.  Further (though not much) down the board, Virginia's Jayron Hosley and Boston College's Donnie Fletcher could provide intriguing mid-round options.

    Safety

    In terms of impact safeties, we're pretty much just talking Mark Barron (Alabama) and Markelle Martin (Oklahoma State) right now.  Both would be tremendous additions to the Colts' roster.  But don't be surprised if the 2012 NFL scouting combine and school-specific pro days precipitate some huge draft-stock increases for guys like Brandon Taylor (LSU) and Trenton Robinson (Michigan State).  

    Taylor in particular would be a great fit in a Colts uniform.

    Wide Receiver

    At WR and TE, assuming Jacob Tamme departs, the Colts should save their selections for the draft's middle and late rounds, assuming a huge talent doesn't miraculously fall into their laps.  Names the Colts could target include Nick Toon (Wisconsin), B.J. Cunningham (Michigan State), Dwight Jones (North Carolina) and A.J. Jenkins (Illinois).  If Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles' medical report doesn't come back with too many red flags, I would be thrilled if he were in the conversation for a mid-round pick.  

    It's also possible that Stanford WR Chris Owusu could be reunited with former teammate Luck, but seems a bit more far-fetched than some of these other scenarios.

    Tight End

    As far as TE talent, Coby Fleener (Stanford) seems like the obvious name, though he will likely be selected in the mid-second to early third round, far too early for the Colts to take a TE.  Beyond Fleener and Dwayne Allen (Clemson), there aren't a lot of sexy names at TE.  

    Brian Linthicum (Michigan State) is a possibility, as is DeAngelo Peterson (LSU), but in terms of finding a complement to Dallas Clark, the Colts would do best to hold off until the draft's later rounds, where they may struggle to unearth talented players.

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