While the playoffs are still underway, and the Colts right in the thick of things heading into the divisional round, the end of the regular season also marks the start of our offseason analysis.
The Colts won 11 games this season, and a playoff contest, but they still have plenty of holes and a roster that will be very different in 2014. The Colts have 23 contracts expiring this year, and have a lot of decisions to make in general manager Ryan Grigson's third offseason.
With his 2013 offseason falling far short of his initial effort in 2012, the 2014 is a critical one for Grigson. With Andrew Luck looking as special as ever, it's on Grigson to turn this roster into a long-term contender with a strong draft and efficient free-agent signings. But there are also decisions to be made about players currently on the roster.
So who will be a Colt in 2014? We look at a few key players that are questionable to return next season.
While the list of high-quality defenders from the Bill Polian-era Colts is short, Antoine Bethea definitely makes it. Bethea, a versatile and durable safety, has been a cornerstone for the Colts defense for years. Unfortunately, that run is in serious jeopardy of ending.
Bethea's contract is up this season, and the Colts have an important decision to make regarding the future of the safety position.
The veteran will turn 30 in July, and has lost a step in his age. Bethea is no longer a rangy free safety, and makes regular mistakes in coverage that keep him from being the top-level safety he was in his prime. With LaRon Landry locked up on a sizable contract, the Colts can't really afford to have another safety in the back that has coverage struggles.
But, Bethea has his merits as well. He's durable, for one. His 96 straight regular season starts is the most of any active defensive back in the NFL, and more than any current Colt. He's also still a very good tackler, a consistent force against receivers and running backs alike. With both of those traits being rare among the rest of the Colts secondary, Bethea could be a stabilizing force.
Unfortunately, it probably comes down to brass tacks. What kind of contract does Bethea envision getting? The Colts are already overpaying Landry, and can't afford to pour much more money into the position, at least not for mediocre players. Bethea brings some things to the table (maybe more than Landry does), but not enough for a big contract.
The three depth receivers for the Colts have been forced into bigger roles in 2013 with Reggie Wayne's injury and Darrius Heyward-Bey's fall from grace, but there will be limited snaps available in 2014.
Not only will Reggie Wayne be back, but the Colts could very well look into acquiring a future replacement for the veteran in the draft or free agency. Complicating the situation is the return of tight end Dwayne Allen, which could result in more two-tight end sets.
If the Colts do sign/draft another receiver, it would give only two spots available for the three young targets. Rogers presents the most potential, and probably has the best chance of staying long-term. Whalen is the most polished route-runner of the trio, but has the most limited physical skill-set. Brazill is the biggest question mark, with more physical skills than Whalen, but less route-running ability. Both Brazill and Whalen can contribute on special teams as well.
As long as Rogers doesn't get into trouble in the offseason, he seems fairly safe. It likely comes down to the other two, and which role Grigson deems more vital to the Colts offense: A depth possession receiver with little upside or an explosive, but technically inconsistent outside receiver.
Chances: Rogers- 70%, Brazill- 55%, Whalen- 45%
The running back position has been a fluid, confusing mess for most of this past season, with injuries and a mid-season trade confounding the situation all year. Unfortunately, the current outlook for 2014 isn't any clearer.
Vick Ballard will return from injury, although his effectiveness off of ACL surgery is a huge question mark. Trent Richardson will be back as well, and while the Colts may still be hopeful in his development, he can't be trusted to carry a full-time load at this point. Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw, both starters at different points this season, could be back as potential re-signs to help fill the rotation, but neither are certainties.
The Colts have several depth guys on the roster for 2014 (Tashard Choice, Chris Rainey, Dan Herron), but none of them seem to figure into long term plans.
Ballard seems likely, depending on rehab, to be safe, but the other three backs will be decisions the Colts have to make. Richardson can break tackles, but he's been abysmal at reading holes and exploding through the line in his short career. However, it seems improbable that the Colts would cut him after trading a first-round pick for him last season, even if he has played poorly.
Bradshaw could be back on a cheap contract, but is a huge injury risk.
Brown is the most intriguing of the three, with a career year in 2013 as he broke the Colts' record for yards-per-carry in a single season and carrying the Colts offense at times. He's a good back and would be a good, safe lead guy in 2014, but he may command more money elsewhere than the Colts could give him with Ballard/Richardson on the roster.
Chances: Richardson- 75%, Brown- 40%, Bradshaw- 10%
The official whipping boy of Ryan Grigson's free agent acquisitions, Samson Satele has been a massive failure since signing a three-year, $10.8 million contract in 2012. Since then, Satele has been ranked the 31st and 33rd-best center in the league by Pro Football Focus (subscription required) and has been a huge weakness for the Colts' offensive line.
With a $3.9 million base salary in 2014, Satele is on track to be the seventh-highest paid center in the league ($5.1 million cap hit), according to Spotrac. He's a prime candidate to be released, as he'd only cost the Colts about $1 million in dead money (so, a saving of around $4 million).
Unfortunately, Satele doesn't have a clear replacement. The Colts drafted Khaled Holmes in the fourth round of the NFL draft last season, but he's only played 13 snaps all season. While his time on the field has revealed flashes of talent, the Colts may not be comfortable handing him a starting role in 2014. Unless they go after somebody like Alex Mack or Brian De La Puente in free agency, the Colts may need to keep Satele around.
A bit of an enigma, Greg Toler shouldn't be in a position to be cut this offseason. After all, he did sign a three-year, $14.25 million contract last year.
But, Toler, who was labeled injury-prone early in his career, missed half the season with injuries and landed on injured reserve this past week, putting red flags around his name going forward. Even before the injuries, Toler wasn't playing like a $5-million-per-year type of corner. While he has good ball skills, his coverage was far too inconsistent to be one of the top-15 highest paid cornerbacks, per Spotrac.
But, do the Colts really have the cornerback depth to cut Toler (although it would only cost about $666,000 in dead money)?
Currently, the only other corners on the roster for 2014 are Darius Butler and Sheldon Price. Even if you assume that Indianapolis re-signs Vontae Davis (they should, but it's not guaranteed that they will), the Colts still need a No. 2 corner in that group. Toler fits that role. He's not a great one, and he's overpaid, but he fills the role.
If they were to cut Toler, the Colts would need to go out and get a corner either early in the draft or in free agency. With other problems to fix, Grigson may not want to worry about that just yet.