The Colts enjoyed an unanticipated rebound from their disastrous 2-14 record in 2011, finished 11-5 in 2012 and returned to the NFL playoffs. A major component in that turnaround was the play of the Colts’ 2012 draft picks including quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts' number one overall draft pick.
As part of the amazing 2012 NFL quarterback class, Luck started and played every minute of every game in his rookie season. He will be the cornerstone of this team for as long he stays healthy.
The 2012 Draft was a clear success for the Colts, and the coaches and front office will need to be just as prescient in the 2013 offseason if they want to build on their 2012 success.
The first issue that the Colts must contend with is their own free agents. Nearly a third of the Colts’ current roster—11 unrestricted free agents (UFA) and six restricted free agents (RFA)—could leave if the Colts choose not to re-sign any of their UFAs, to deploy the franchise/transition tags, or to exercise their right of first refusal on the RFAs.
That leaves the 2013 NFL Free Agent market. Colts management deserves a lot of credit for playing the NFL salary cap to their advantage. The Colts were hampered a bit this year by $38 million in “dead” money, most of it going to players who they lost in free agency but to whom they still owed money—$16 million on Peyton Manning and Dallas Clark alone.
With the dead money brought back to life and a $3.5 million carryover, John Clayton of ESPN is reporting that the Colts have a total of $46 million in cap space to spend in the offseason. The carryover money will need to be spent in 2013 on something that does not count toward the 2014 salary cap.
Only Cincinnati, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Miami will be able to compete with the Colts’ money. Given the Colts’ history of postseason success and the promise of a young quarterback, the Colts should be able to out-recruit these perennial bottom feeders.
The Colts can pursue a continuum of two strategies with their salary cap windfall. They can pay out big money to a handful of established stars, or they can sign a boatload of value-priced veteran leadership.
Somewhere in between the cost of an established star and the price of a late-career veteran are underperforming players who are finishing big money contracts from their high draft status. Their underperformance means they will not command big money this time around, but their unrealized potential means they could be a high value bargain for the right situation.
The Colts’ greatest needs appear to be on both sides of the line, the front five on offense and front seven on defense. But, any team that loses a third of its roster is going to have needs at every position.
So, rather than rehash the Colts’ greatest needs here, I will look at every position, assess any specific needs the Colts may have, provide estimates of what it would cost to upgrade at that position, and suggest some players the Colts could either keep or bring in to meet those specific needs.
As cost estimates, I will use the average cap hit for the five highest paid players at each position. Veteran and underperforming free agents will be below this price with star talent at or slightly higher.