Indianapolis Colts' Blue Print for Winning Free Agency

Andy KontyCorrespondent IIMarch 11, 2013

Indianapolis Colts' Blue Print for Winning Free Agency

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    NFL Free Agency officially begins at 4:00 p.m. ET  on Tuesday, March 12.  Over the weekend teams were allowed to start talking to free agents, but no signings or announcements of potential signings are allowed until the official shotgun start.

    The Colts are busy first locking down their own free agents. Pat McAfee is getting the Colts' franchise tag for a fat $2.997 million.

    The Colts’ tendered offers to some restricted free agents over the weekend. Jeff Linkebach (OL) received an RFA tender for $1.323 million. Cassius Vaughn (CB) also received a tender estimated at the same "low level" as Link.  Linebacker A.J. Edds and Guard Seth Olsen did not receive tenders.

    Offensive lineman Joe Reitz ($620k) and defensive lineman Marin Tevaseu ($555k) received exclusive free agent tenders.

    So the Colts are keeping two of their free agents on the O-line and the much maligned Cassius Vaughn at corner.  As it happens, these are two positions in need of talent upgrades. It is likely these signings were intended to provide reasonably-priced depth at those positions, while Ryan Grigson chases better talent in free agency and future talent in the draft.

    Once again, let's run through the Colts needs and look at some of the gossip ahead of tomorrow's green flag. We'll take these in order of priority: Offensive Line, Rush Linebacker, Defensive Backs, Defensive Line and an experienced backup Quarterback.

Offensive Line

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    Persistent rumors have the Colts already chasing three of the top free agent guards.  

    Andy Levitre (6'2", 305 lbs) is on the Colts wish list, though it appears that Tennessee is going to part with as much of their $19 million in cap room as they can to get the 26-year-old.

    The buzz is getting louder for Louis Vasquez (6'5", 335 lbs) because of his connections to the Colts' front office and coaches, as well as his talent and the Colts' needs.  

    Brad Wells thinks the Colts will also make a play for 32-year-old guard Brandon Moore (6'3", 305 lbs) because of his experience in Pep Hamilton's west coast offense. Hamilton also spent a year with the Jets so these two know each other.

    Tackle Jake Long is also being mentioned in the same breath as the Colts after he failed to sign with the Dolphins. The talking heads on the NFL Network's NFL AM expressed concern on Monday morning about Long's durability given his injury troubles the last two years. But this could mean that Long can be signed for a discount. 

Rush Linebacker

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    "Rush" linebacker is the hybrid outside linebacker position in the 3-4 scheme. This player needs the size and strength of a defensive lineman to set the edge of the defense, while having the speed and athleticism to drop into pass coverage.  

    Dwight Freeney struggled to adapt to the position, and the Colts let him seek his fortunes elsewhere.

    Paul Kruger (6'4", 270 lbs) is the prototype rush linebacker and played in the 3-4 his entire career.  The Colts are rumored to be in a bidding war with the Cleveland Browns for his services. 

    The Colts and Browns are also both interested in Cliff Averil (6'3", 260 lbs).  It would be quite a coup if one team landed both of these guys to bookend their 4-3, but given the rumored cost of $10-$12 million per year it is more likely that the Colts and Browns each get a cookie.

    Conner Barwin, who is 26 years old and 6'4" and 268 pounds, will be a free agent after the Houston Texans couldn't reach an agreement with the rush linebacker. Barwin says the Colts are interested in him.

Defensive Backs

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    It's hard to tell if the Colts will focus more on safeties or cornerbacks.  The NFL Draft is deep at these positions, so it also possible that the Colts will fill talent needs that way.

    Since they intend to re-sign Vaughn you might think that they are less concerned at corner.  However, free agents Darius Butler and Jerraud Powers are apparently testing the free agent waters.  If the Colts lose both of the these players then their needs are greater. We'll know for certain on Tuesday.

    The Colts have two starting safeties signed to good-size contracts.  Antoine Bethea is in the last year of a four-year $27 million contract.  Tom Zbikowski has two years left on a three-year, $5.491 million deal.

    It may not make financial sense for the Colts to add a third large contract to the safety stable and this may be a position the Colts look to the NFL Draft for talent upgrades.

    The NFL rumor mill is still linking several names to the Colts.

    Safety Ed Reed and cornerback Cary Williams are fresh off a Super Bowl win, have ties to head coach Chuck Pagano and could be Colts in 2013.

    Antoine Cason is a better cornerback than Cary Williams and the Colts-Chargers connection could put the Colts in the pole position to land this ball-hawking playmaker.

Defensive Line

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    The Colts' moves on the defensive line will depend entirely on how well several current linemen are recovering from injuries. Grigson and other front officer personnel are tight-lipped about their players rehab—so we may not know their full assessment until later this summer.

    There were several athletic 5-technique ends and 0-technique nose-tackles at the NFL Combine. Grigson and Pagano's assessment of this talent pool will also determine how much they spend in free agency at this position.

    It would be surprising for them to sign a big deal on the defensive line though they may look for mid-level bargains. 

    There are not many rumors about the Colts chasing defensive linemen. Elliot Harrison at nfl.com lists these defensive linemen as possible targets for the Colts: 

    • Cullen Jenkins (DL, 6'2", 305 lbs) 
    • Mike DeVito (DL, 6'3", 305 lbs) 
    • Isaac Sopoaga (NT, 6'2", 330 lbs)

Backup Quarterback

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    Drew Stanton will not be a Colt in 2012.  It is not official yet, but Stanton is still young enough to try and make it as an NFL starter.  One rumor has Stanton hooking up with Bruce Arians out in Arizona.

    The remaining stable of quarterbacks behind superstar Andrew Luck have a total of zero NFL snaps between them.  There may be some talent in the corral, but it is untested.

    It is hard to imagine that the Colts will enter a critical season with only one experienced quarterback. Andrew Luck was extremely durable in 2012, but quarterbacks in the NFL can be knocked out on one play.

    The Colts will bring in an experienced quarterback. The lucky clipboard holder has to be a player with no expectation that they will compete for a starting job. But, they must be ready to guide the Colts over several games if Luck goes down.

    Jason Campbell has had an up-and-down career as a starting QB, including a lackluster stint as the Chicago Bears' starter last season. His performance with the Bears could be a result of a lack of talent as Campbell still looked mobile and completed 63 percent of his passes.

    Of all the clipboard holders in free agency, Campbell has the best completion percentage, TD to INT ratio and the mobility to make plays.