Just when we thought we were getting the hang of the Indianapolis Colts' predraft needs and drafting strategies, a curveball was thrown.
Center Phil Costa wasn't one of the sure starters the Colts signed in free agency, but he figured to compete with 2013 rookie Khaled Holmes for the starting center spot. Even if Holmes beat him, Costa would have been a good model for the rest of the Colts' depth offensive linemen.
So, the sad realization the Colts have come to is that their only move to help fix the center position has retired, leaving them without a veteran option to complement Holmes with. If Holmes was prepared to take over the starting position, things would be fine. But we don't know that about Holmes. In fact, there's little evidence that Holmes can even contribute at all, as he played just 12 offensive snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders.
Before the retirement, offensive line depth was just fifth in my list of biggest needs in the draft. Now, it's second only to safety.
The Colts can go into the season with Holmes as the starter, but they can't go into the season without any type of insurance behind him.
Of course, a lot of it depends on how much confidence the team has in Holmes. Head coach Chuck Pagano had this to say about Holmes back at the owners meetings in March:
He’s big, he’s athletic, and he’s very very bright. He has great FBI. From a mental standpoint, it’s all there. Physically he got hurt in training camp. We had Samson [Satele], Mike [McGlynn] was the guy who always came in as the backup guy. Really because of the injury there really wasn’t a need to thrust him so to speak, but he kind of got lost in the shuffle to speak. We have a big athletic guy who has played at a high level for a long time in the Pac 12. He understands the game and our expectations for him are really high. His expectations are really high. I can’t wait to see how he comes back.
But Pagano also spoke of using the draft to boost offensive line depth, and the Colts haven't blindly placed faith in Holmes. There is absolutely zero guarantee that Holmes would be able to handle the starting spot.
So, the Colts are in a tight place.
They need another center prospect, but you hate to paint yourself into a corner regarding one position before the draft even starts. The team already is all but forcing themselves to draft a safety; they could miss out on some prime talent if they have to draft a center as well. The team only has five draft picks, and just two in the top 150, so the more flexibility they have before May 8, the better.
One way they could improve that flexibility is by signing one of the veterans left on the market.
Former San Francisco 49er Jonathan Goodwin is probably the best talent left on the market, grading out at plus-5.8 at Pro Football Focus in 2013. But the Colts probably would have signed Goodwin back in March instead of Costa if they wanted to go that route. Another option would include Pittsburgh's Fernando Velasco, who is younger (29) and would be more readily open to taking a rotational or depth role.
If they choose to go to the draft, the biggest names that will be available are USC's Marcus Martin and Colorado State's Weston Richburg. The Colts sent Pagano to USC's pro day back in March, where he spent a large amount of time with Martin. Martin would fit the Colts a bit better due to his versatility, something that GM Ryan Grigson values highly.
Martin is an incredibly strong player, which would fit in well with the Colts' "Run to win" mentality. But Richburg has better lateral quickness and moves his feet well to stay balanced. The quick-feet trait is something the Colts stressed last year in taking Holmes and guard Hugh Thornton.
Both Richburg and Martin have high ceilings, but neither are very polished right now. Neither would be handed the job, which would create the ideal competition at the position. Of course, it's very possible that neither player will be there when the Colts pick at 59. In that case, the team would need to look for more depth-oriented options later in the draft.
It's possible that the Colts could trade up, but I'd be wary of doing so for a center, especially since you are not expecting the guy to have the starting job right away.
Costa's retirement has certainly caused some issues that muck up the Colts' draft plans, but it's not the end of the world. Holmes is still in Indianapolis, and he's still the guy the Colts want to win the job.
The only question left: How easy is it going to be?