The Colts are all but certain to be active in free agency in 2013 with reportedly over $43 million in cap room for 2013. It's a new ordeal for Colts fans, who have endured a front office that was extremely stingy in free agency for the last decade.
While that may actually be a better way to build a franchise long term, the Colts have no choice but to spend. The new collective bargaining agreement requires the league to spend at least 95 percent of the collective cap.
So, the Colts will be active in free agency.
The question now is who will they target?
I've narrowed it down to seven positions that need improvement: offensive guard, offensive tackle, outside linebacker, cornerback, safety, wide receiver and defensive line.
While the Colts likely won't sign big splashy contracts at each of these positions, they're certain to at least inquire about free agents in each spot.
So, without further ado, here are your projections for the Colts' 2013 free agency targets.
Louis Vasquez (65) has already garnered reported interest from the Colts.
Guard is one of the most talent-deficient position on the Colts roster going into 2013, and it makes sense that the Colts will spend a decent amount of money on the position in free agency.
Of the two, Levitre is the better prospect, grading out as an elite pass protector and a decent run-blocker. Levitre has the talent to be a top-five guard in this league for a long time and will deserve the long-term contract that some team offers him.
Unfortunately, it sounds like the Colts are going to be targeting Vasquez instead. While Vasquez is a solid guard, especially in pass protection, he's not nearly as good of a run-blocker as his size would indicate. His leverage and technique lacked, resulting in Vasquez struggling to apply his above-average strength.
Nevertheless, Vasquez would be a massive upgrade over Mike McGlynn or the Joe Reitz/Jeff Linkenbach/Seth Olsen combination and should be cheaper than Levitre.
While I would prefer Levitre, it looks like Vasquez is going to be the target.
Other possibilities: Geoff Schwartz, MIN
Gosder Cherilus (77) could be a sleeper pick for the Colts at right tackle.
Offensive tackle is the one position that is a huge unknown for the Colts in this year's free agency.
The Colts need to sign at least one tackle in free agency, without a starting right tackle on the roster. There are several options here.
The first option is to sign a new starting right tackle, one that would be an upgrade over Winston Justice's inconsistent performance in 2012. Options here would be guys like Eric Winston or Gosder Cherilus.
Cherilus is more of a pass protector, while Winston's strength lies in run-blocking. Both had good year's in 2012, but Winston has the history to back him up, while Cherilus is a riskier sign. Because of that, Winston will likely come at a higher price.
The second option is to sign a left tackle, moving 2011 first-round pick Anthony Castonzo to right tackle. Jake Long and Sebastian Vollmer would likely be the top two targets in this scenario.
These two could come at a higher price, being left tackles, and the overall line improvement wouldn't be enough to offset the price difference, in my opinion. Personally, I'd favor signing a guy like Winston and keeping Castonzo at left tackle.
However, there is a third option, which would be re-signing Winston Justice to start at right tackle in 2013. Like I described in my latest offensive line breakdown, I'm not a big fan of this proposal. While a big reason for Justice's struggles in 2012 was a rash of injuries, there are deeper issues with Justice that are always going to be there.
Despite my personal thoughts though, this may be the most probable scenario, especially if the Colts spend big on a guard.
Paul Kruger is the one free agent signing that most have the Colts pegged for.
With Anthony Spencer getting franchised in Dallas, the Colts' top free-agent target was removed from the market. In the outside linebacker realm, Paul Kruger became the No. 1 free agent.
While everything hints toward this being a strong possibility, from Pagano's history with him to the Colts' need for a SOLB, I personally am wary of Kruger. His price is rising, now possibly reaching over $10 million.
While Kruger excelled in pass-rushing this past year, there are questions. Kruger struggles mightily against the run, not nearly as bad as Mathis and Freeney, but it's still a concern for a defense with major issues stopping the run in 2012.
The other option here is Connor Barwin; Barwin basically had the year Kruger in 2011. He slipped in 2012, and really struggled to rush the passer, but managed to be effective in run defense.
Overall, I'd expect Kruger, if anyone, here.
Darius Butler looks like a prime candidate for a re-signing.
With the tenders placed on cornerbacks Cassius Vaughn and Josh Gordy on Thursday, the Colts seem to be indicating that they're okay with moving forward with mostly internal development.
I had a discussion with Colts beat writer for the Herald Bulletin, George Bremer, on Twitter Thursday afternoon, and he agreed on what seems to be the most likely scenario. This would be the Colts re-signing Jerraud Powers and/or Darius Butler, but largely staying away from bringing in any outside FA cornerbacks. If the value's there, the Colts would then take a corner in the first, especially if a guy like Xavier Rhodes or Desmond Trufant is available at No. 24.
Powers is injury-prone, but a decent starter when healthy. The starting backfield of Powers and Vontae Davis is more than fine for another year or two. Butler, on the other hand, is a good nickel corner and can fill in as a starter in a pinch.
If the Colts do decide to look in free agency for a new starter, they'll likely be targeting guys like Sean Smith (MIA), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHI), Cory WIlliams (BAL), and/or Brent Grimes (ATL). Williams seems like the easiest choice due to the Baltimore connection.
Is Ed Reed the right choice for the young franchise?
There are three players that make the most sense to get signed for a starting safety job, all three different.
First, Ed Reed.
Reed has the Pagano/BAL/Wayne connections working for him, but really dropped off in performance in 2012. He still has the reputation that can deter quarterbacks from looking deep down the middle, but overall, he is losing his game. He would be a stop gap, nothing more, and likely a fairly pricey one.
Second is San Fransisco's Dashon Goldson, who recently tweeted that no progress has been made with the 49ers on a long-term deal. Goldson is solid in coverage, although he can get beat over the top. However, Goldson doesn't offer much in the run support department, although he's never been asked to with San Fransisco's legendary front seven.
The final option is Atlanta's William Moore. Moore isn't outstanding at any one thing, but he was a solid contributor in pass coverage, pass rush and run support for Atlanta this past year and would be an upgrade all around over Tom Zbikowski.
If I had to pick between the two, I'd go with Goldson, but only for the right price.
Personally, I think that a draft pick on a safety is a little more likely than a free-agent signing. Jonathan Cyprien is one of my favorite players in this year's draft and could be a Bob Sanders-like pick late in the first.
Donnie Avery's performance in 2012 often turned the offense on its head. Will he be back in 2013?
The Colts need a second wide receiver. In 2012, Donnie Avery was one of the worst wide receivers in football, and his performance, or lack thereof, cost the Colts yards, points and first downs all season.
Unfortunately, the wide receiver market has dwindled significantly as of late, with Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe signing long-term deals with their current teams. I don't see the Colts chasing Greg Jennings or Mike Wallace, so it leaves very few options.
The first option is to re-sign Donnie Avery, a thought that makes me cringe. I have little faith in Avery's ability to dramatically improve, and it wouldn't be all that difficult to upgrade. But the way the Colts have talked about him in recent weeks makes this option look more and more likely.
The other option is Rams receiver Danny Amendola. I'd consider this to be a long shot, but a much more desirable one. Amendola is a very good possession wide receiver when healthy, and while he's not the ideal guy to be at the No. 2 spot (rather have a big red-zone target), his talents are too much to ignore.
Unfortunately, I don't see that happening and see an Avery reappearance more likely as of now, something that is a sobering thought for Colts fans.
DeVito is a criminally underrated run-stuffer in New York.
I just went over this a few days ago, so this will be brief.
In short, there are two ways to go here.
The first is to sign a run-stuffing defensive end or nose tackle to be a part of the rotation that includes Cory Redding, Drake Nevis and Fili Moala, bolstering a unit that was continually blown backwards in 2012.
The second direction would be to pick up a pass-rushing interior lineman to help collapse the pocket of opposing quarterbacks, something that happened rarely in 2012. If this is the case, then former Giant Chris Canty or Seattle's Jason Jones would be possible targets. Canty seems like a long shot at this point, but Jones may still be an option.
Despite having a low level of talent here, this is one area where I wouldn't be surprised to see the Colts sit tight on for now, having just re-signed Fili Moala.
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