Last-Minute Predictions for Colts' Free Agency
It's a wild, crazy, intoxicating time for Colts' fans.
Although they are used to being let down by a lack of splash signings in free agency, this year's offseason promises something different.
With the league's third-highest cap space, the Colts have to spend big money in free agency for the first time in ages. With no high-priced veterans to re-sign, that money is going to have to go into bringing outside free agents into Indianapolis.
So with a few days of legal-tampering-that's-not-actually-tampering down, it's time to predict what will really happen for the Colts in this time.
Will it be another Raven migration to Indianapolis? What kind of offensive line prospects will they sign? Is Jim Irsay going to tweet out a teaser?
The Colts Will Overpay
I wrote about this topic last week for Colts Authority, so I'll keep this fairly simple.
The Colts will overpay in free agency.
Because everybody is overpaid in free agency.
In short, veterans tend to be overpaid, rookies who make it into the league and get playing time tend to be underpaid.
In free agency, in contrast to the draft, you're paying for what is assumed to be a known quantity. You already know that a particular player can make it in the NFL, and you know, or have some idea, what kind of production you are going to get from them.
In the draft, it's unknown. Anybody can be wrong about a prospect. As "safe" as a prospect looks, sometimes things just go wrong. So those first deals, even more so now with the new CBA, are cheap. If a player is good, or even competent, he's likely underpaid.
So, free agents always get overpaid to some extent, especially the big-name players. The Colts will be in play for several of those bigger names, so it's key for fans not to get too caught up in whether or not a player is overpaid.
The real question is whether he's going to produce at a high level. $7-8 million per year is overpaying for a guard, while paying $11-12 per year is overpaying for Paul Kruger. Nevertheless, someone will pay these deals. If Kruger doesn't produce, if a high-priced guard turns into a liability, that's when you get in trouble.
Colts Lose Bidding War for Paul Kruger
According to Ed Werder, the Colts will give the Browns "intense competition" for free agent linebacker Paul Kruger.
Both teams are looking to pick up a pass rusher in free agency and Kruger looks to be the main target. The 27-year-old pass rusher can play either strong-side outside linebacker or rush outside linebacker in the 3-4, and along with Cliff Avril, is the top pass rusher on the market.
The Browns have more cap space than the Colts and have a bigger incentive to make a splash signing than the Colts. The Browns, with new management and a decade of failures, are looking to ignite the fanbase with a productive offseason.
Maybe this is just wishful thinking, but I don't see Ryan Grigson spending $11-12 million per season on Kruger, which is what many, including Evan Silva, have predicted for the OLB.
The Colts will spend big money in free agency, but hopefully it's not on Kruger, whose production very well could drop off once he's out of the talent-laden front seven in Baltimore.
UPDATE: Looks like the Browns will indeed take home the Paul Kruger prize, with a deal that is all but signed.
Louis Vasquez Signs with the Colts
The Colts are reportedly interested in both Louis Vasquez and Andy Levitre, the top two guards on the market, along with several other teams.
Along with the unlikelihood of being able to woo both players away from two or three other suitors, giving both players big contracts would be spending far too much money on the guard position. So the Colts are likely going to settle on one.
The more I think about it, the more it seems like Vasquez will be the one that ends up in Colts blue.
While Levitre is more talented, as Matt Miller and B/R scouts would attest to, Vasquez has his upside too.
I wrote a comprehensive breakdown of the two players' differences earlier this week, but here is the summary:
- Levitre is an elite pass protector, but Vasquez is very good as well.
- Vasquez run blocking style and skill likely fits Pep Hamilton's desired philosophy, rather than Levitre's experience with a lot of trap plays and zone reads.
- Levitre's screen blocking abilities could be coveted in the new offense, which will use a lot of short, quick passes and screens.
- Vasquez is phenomenal at avoiding penalties, earning just one in his four year career.
It's awfully close between the two, and I personally think Levitre is the better player, but a lot of signs point to Vasquez as the Colts' guy.
Not only does he fit the bigger, stronger profile that Ryan Grigson likes, but he also is more of a "straight-ahead blocker," something that Pep Hamilton is used to. Vasquez also has a personal connection, with Colts' assistant offensive line coach a former coach of Vasquez in San Diego. With Levitre likely to be slightly more expensive, I see the Colts going with Vasquez in the end.
Colts Sign a Veteran Tackle
The Colts absolutely need another tackle, but there are far too many options to nail it down to one name.
The Colts could sign a left tackle and move Anthony Castonzo to the right side, where his run-blocking skills and lack of lateral quickness would be better served.
If this is the option the Colts choose to go with, they could sign Jake Long, Sam Baker (if Atlanta lets him go) or Sebastian Vollmer (who has played both right and left tackle).
If the Colts go this route, my prediction is Long, with Vollmer coming in close second.
The second way to go is to sign a right tackle, directly filling the position. While Andre Smith is the best one available based on 2012 performance, he reportedly wants around $9 million per year, and I don't see the Colts' handing that kind of cash out for a right tackle.
The other targets could be players like Phil Loadholt, Eric Winston, Gosder Cherilus or Jermon Bushrod.
From most likely to least likely, I'd say Winston, Loadholt, Cherilus and Geoff Schwartz.
The final option is the one many fans won't like, but may be the most likely: the Colts re-signing Winston Justice. While I personally have my issues with Justice, the fact is that he's not a terrible option as a stop-gap player if he's healthy.
And he almost certainly would be cheaper than the outside options.
The Biggest Cornerback Signing Is Darius Butler
As has been speculated on for weeks, and as Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star reported last week, the Colts have expressed that they want to retain Jerraud Powers and Darius Butler.
With Chappell most recently stating that Powers likely will get more money elsewhere (possibly San Diego), it looks like Butler may be the only one to stay in Indianapolis. If that happens, I don't believe they'll sink much money into another corner.
They had a chance to clean out the position completely, but they didn't, issuing tenders to Josh Gordy and Cassius Vaughn. It seems the team is going to be content with keeping some of their veterans from last season, improving with more experience in the new defense.
The Colts still do need more talent at the position, but I'd foresee it coming in the draft rather than free agency, where every corner available has questions holding him back. Antoine Cason has been mentioned as a possible signing in Indianapolis, but he was downright bad for San Diego in 2012 and wouldn't be much of an upgrade, if one at all, over Butler.
This particular draft has great talent at the top (Xavier Rhodes and Desmond Trufant could fall to No. 24) as well as in the middle rounds (third- and fourth-round prospects include names like B.W. Webb, Jordan Poyer, Logan Ryan, Robert Alford and Tyrann Mathieu, to name a few).