With the big wave of free agency complete, the Indianapolis Colts seem to be finished making "splashes."
When speaking with media on a conference call on Friday morning, Ryan Grigson didn't seem like a man with more in mind for free agency, per Kevin Bowen of Colts.com:
We had a plan in place and we feel really good about it. Of course, we are going to look towards the draft but again you never say never. We are always trying to get better. If somebody pops up here and they make sense from a roster standpoint and they fit the specs—age, and money, and big picture, then I’ll look at it.
The Colts went after a few big-name free agents from other teams, like LB D'Qwell Jackson, DE Arthur Jones and WR Hakeem Nicks, but most of the newly signed Colts are returning. The team, under the direction of Director of Football Administration Mike Bluem, has structured its long-term contracts in a prudent manner, leaving plenty of options available for the 2016 contract surge.
But where do they stand for 2014? That's the question that many are asking as the 2014 draft, one of the deepest in recent history, approaches.
What's Happened So Far
Fortunately, the Colts' cap situation was secure enough for the team to avoid losing many key players. The only starters from last season who won't be Colts next season are S Antoine Bethea, RB Donald Brown, RG Mike McGlynn and C Samson Satele. Other rotational players from last year who won't be returning include Jeff Linkenbach, Kavell Conner, Ricardo Mathews, Pat Angerer, Aubrayo Franklin and Cassius Vaughn.
Most of these players were allowed to leave because of ineffectiveness. Players like Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn were the primary source of ulcers in the state of Indiana in 2014, while players like Kavell Conner and Pat Angerer weren't utilized by the current coaching staff enough to truly be called losses.
The only true losses from 2013 are Brown and Bethea, both veterans drafted by Bill Polian who have played large roles in recent years. Bethea has been a stalwart in the defensive backfield since 2006, and will be extremely difficult to replace. When asked to become a full-time starter in 2011 and 2013, Brown was a very effective runner.
But, neither should prove to be difficult to replace long-term. Bethea was a poor match with LaRon Landry at safety, and Brown, while useful, was no exceptional talent. The team may suffer from their departure initially, but their production should be replaced within a year or two.
The list of additions or re-signees is below:
|Player||Position||2013 Team||2013 PFF Grade|
Still Holes to Fill
Despite all of the moves, there are still improvements to be made.
The aforementioned hole at safety along with the questions at center are the biggest concerns on the starting lineup.
However, with Grigson making the comments that he did about free agency, it's seeming more and more likely that the team will go into the season with the players they have at those two positions. The draft is certainly a possibility, but you get the feeling with Grigson that he's not going to pigeon-hole himself into one particular position in a certain round.
So, setting aside the draft, let's take a look at those two positions.
Phil Costa was Dallas' backup center for the last two years after a rough stint as a starter in 2011 and was brought in to compete with 2013 fourth-round draft pick Khaled Holmes. Would Costa be an upgrade from Samson Satele, who was unceremoniously cut this season with a $5.1 million cap hit coming?
Ben Gundy from Colts Authority thinks he may be:
...whereas McGlynn was reliably bad and Satele was . . . Satele, Costa has at least been good sometimes.
A guy who played one snap in 2013 and 126 the year before isn’t going to come barging into Lucas Oil Stadium and set the world on fire. But the Colts didn’t pay him like he will. They’re essentially paying him to be the offense’s version of Fili Moala: not a first-choice starter, but a player who won’t embarrass you if the better ones go down.
Costa certainly isn't a long-term answer, but he doesn't bring along Satele's egregious cap hit either. Meanwhile, Khaled Holmes, who suffered an injury during the 2013 training camp that kept him from participating, is improving as well.
The Colts don't have a surefire starter, but with better guard play and a full offseason for the two, they at least have some potential.
Safety is a bit different, as the team has their likely starter (barring a draft pick) already penciled in. Delano Howell filled in for LaRon Landry at free safety for four games last season and showed enough flexibility to play alongside Landry in the Colts' system.
While Grigson has spoken highly of Howell, he also acknowledged that replacing Bethea won't be an easy task, according to Mike Wells of ESPN:
You lose a player like Antoine Bethea, obviously that's going to be an area of concern, need. We have some players sitting there at that position. Delano Howell was no slouch when he played last year. When he came in, for a guy that was on Buffalo's practice squad the year prior, he did a heck of a job. We will of course look at the draft. We are still looking at some other options. We want to solidify every position group possible the best we can.
You lose a stud like Antoine who meant so much to this organization, obviously it's going to leave a mark, but at the same time, you can't keep everyone. That's just the harsh reality of this business.
Howell has had his ups and downs, but he does at least give the Colts a semi-reliable backup plan if a safety doesn't fall to them in the draft.
The team has other holes that could still use addressing, such as depth at on the offensive and defensive line or long-term starters at wide receiver, cornerback and linebacker. The pass-rushing void opposite Robert Mathis is not yet solved either, although the addition of Arthur Jones may alleviate some of the pain there.
Assuming that no more notable free-agency moves are on their way, the draft will be the Colts' best option for adding young talent.
For the hole at safety there are a few early targets who could slide in right away. The team has already interviewed NIU's Jimmie Ward and sent defensive back coaches to Deone Bucannon's pro day at Washington State.
Ward is a versatile safety who could play either role in the Colts' scheme, but is projected to go early in the second round. Bucannon is more of a natural strong safety fit, but should be there for the Colts' pick, and could fall into the third or fourth round.
Another player who has been discussed as an early safety option is Florida State's Terrence Brooks. The Colts, just like every other team, had representatives at the Florida State pro day, and Brooks' impressive combine certainly has people looking his way. Brooks, unlike Bucannon, is a natural free safety and would allow Landry to move back to a better fit at strong safety.
The only immediate starter at center would probably be USC's Marcus Martin. Colts head coach Chuck Pagano personally attended the USC pro day and spent a lot of time with the offensive linemen, according to NFL.com's Bryan Fischer.
What is the most important thing to address in the NFL draft?
Fans may not be ecstatic about bringing in a USC center for the second consecutive year, but Martin has versatility to play both guard and center and would be guard depth and competition for both Holmes and right guard Hugh Thornton at the very worst.
The Colts also held private workouts or sent Pagano to see Fresno State WR Davante Adams, Boise State DE Demarcus Lawrence, Arizona State linebacker Carl Bradford and defensive tackle Will Sutton, all potential early picks.
A full list of players with links to the Colts due to private workouts or specific pro day visits can be found here.
Of course, the pick could end up being somebody who they are never associated with pre-draft. The Colts, with all of their holes, truly can afford to attack the draft from a "best player available" position. While fans would love for the team to get a starting center and safety, the reality is that teams rarely have every starting spot locked down before training camp, and the Colts have backup plans available that give some flexibility.