Indianapolis Colts: Small Needs and Small Upgrades in 2013 NFL Free Agency
Last week, we took a look at the Indianapolis Colts' roster situation headed into the 2013 NFL offseason, and I suggested some high dollar free-agent moves the Colts could make to address their needs.
The Colts have nearly a third of their roster eligible for some form of free agency. As a result of this and careful spending by the front office, the Colts have roughly $46 million in salary cap room that they can spend on new acquisitions either through the draft or free agency.
The Colts have glaring needs on the offensive line if they want to protect their late-model franchise quarterback, and with a defensive front seven that was among the worst in the league at stopping the run.
To some degree, these deficiencies were due to an unusual number of injuries at these positions, and any offseason moves the Colts make will inevitably depend on the recovery of the bigs on the line and their backers.
Even so, the Colts' fat bank means they could upgrade at those positions with some big free-agent contracts. As these positions are the most uncertain, it makes sense to spend big on the offensive front five and defensive front seven.
It would also behoove the Colts to consider some smaller upgrades they can make with their substantial warchest. This week I will take a look at some of Indianapolis' pony-sized needs for players that can fill specific roles that the Colts will need to throw a saddle on as they take the next step in their post-Peyton Manning recovery.
No one will be surprised when unrestricted Colts free agent quarterback Drew Stanton signs with another team. He knows that he if he stays in Indianapolis, it will be as Andrew Luck's backup. He is still young enough to take another shot at being a starting NFL quarterback.
The Colts can probably find a couple of college pistols among the rookie free agents, players who will be grateful to carry Luck's luggage and collect an NFL paycheck.
Of course, this won't provide an adequate reserve quarterback in case Luck misses time due to injury—almost a certainty in the modern NFL.
It makes sense, then, for the Colts to find a QB with NFL experience who doesn't expect a big paycheck or an actual quarterback competition. Fortunately, there are a few middle-age QBs in free agency who may fit that description.
Matt Leinart is a big quarterback (6'5", 211 lbs) who came into the league with a Heisman Trophy and all kinds of promise. Last season, he couldn't even win a starting job with the abysmal Oakland Raiders. Still, he brings seven years of experience and a small price tag—exactly what the Colts need.
If someone like Leinart still entertains delusions of grandeur, the Colts could go with the grayer hairs on one of the McCown brothers. Josh and Luke had a few moments in the NFL spotlight and have been use to carrying clipboards for several seasons now.
Swiss Army Backfield
Watching the championship games this weekend, it became abundantly clear how important it is for an NFL team to have a well-stocked backfield if it aspires to elite status. All of the final four teams deployed several backfield options ranging from smaller speedy backs to ginormous bruisers.
Even the teams with true "feature" backs, like the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice, the Atlanta Falcons' Michael Turner or the San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore, paired their feature back with a rhino-sized fullback and a quick understudy.
Then there's the New England Patriots, the team that led the innovation which redesigned the running back position.
Elite NFL teams have multi-tools in their backfields.
The Colts found a pretty good all-purpose running back in last year's draft with Vick Ballard. Unfortunately, his predecessor Donald Brown was hurt last season and two of his three backups are free agents. Brown will get better, and the Colts might re-sign Mewelde Moore or Deji Karim, or maybe not.
The problem the Colts have with their current stable of running backs is that they are all cut from the same saddle blanket, around 5'10", 210 pounds with similar skill sets. The Colts do not have a back with breakaway speed, nor do they have a true fullback.
Justin Forsett averaged 5.9 yards per carry as Arian Foster's backup in Houston. The Texans will not have enough cap room to re-sign him so he'll be looking for another team. He is smaller and faster than the current Colts running backs.
Another back in this mode is Danny Woodhead, though he may fetch a higher price than the Colts are willing to pay for the small knife in the multi-tool. His 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash and experience with the elite Patriots could be worth it.
La'Rod Stephens-Howling is too small at 185 pounds for an every-down back, but he has nice hands and has demonstrated ability as a kick returner.
There are several fullbacks available in this year's draft, but the Colts only have five picks in the seven rounds. The Colts may be able to get a bargain on a slightly used NFL fullback.
Mike Cox (6'0", 252) only played eight games for the Falcons, but he took the starting job and never let go of it. James Casey is probably more of an H-back because of his height (6'3", 240), but he will be a bargain for whoever signs him.
Check out the multiple sets deployed by the Colts' new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and you'll see that he'll want the deluxe Swiss Army knife.
Wide Receiver Size
The Colts receiving corps will be nearly all young guns once Donnie Avery leaves. They will have the old gladiator Reggie Wayne back, but the rest of the crew just finished their rookie years.
They also have another problem that is similar to the running backs: not enough diversity. All of the Colts receivers are about 5'11" and 190 pounds. The Colts corps lacks size.
Joshua Cribbs was a bust at Cleveland (ouch), but he's over 6' and is one of the fastest players in the NFL. Ramses Barden did well with his limited opportunities with the New York Giants, but there is simply too much talent ahead of him, and he has the size the Colts need (6'6").
Bleacher Report readers seemed unanimous that the Colts need a good DB or two. I am not convinced.
While the Colts defense has the second-worst DVOA (31st) in the NFL, against the pass they rank 27th. When you look at the DB-specific ratings, the Colts DBs were 22nd and 17th against their opponents' top two receivers. Not great, but clearly the front seven share most of the blame for the defense's low rating.
There are a few high-dollar DBs available, but shopping for DBs in the bargain bin seems like a bad idea to me. One idea is for the Colts to go after Pagano's ex-players who are in free agency. He instills great loyalty in his players, and of course, he knows their abilities.
DB's are Pagano's bailiwick; if anyone can find a diamond in the litter box, it's him.