Indianapolis Colts Free Agency Primer: Needs, Space and Who to Re-Sign

Nate Dunlevy@NateDunlevyGuest ColumnistJanuary 10, 2013

McAfee is priority one.
McAfee is priority one.Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

No team in football is better positioned for the future than the Indianapolis Colts.

They have organizational stability, a franchise quarterback, a settled stadium situation and loads of cap space.

Their 2012 season ended a few weeks earlier they hoped, but honestly, no one could possibly be disappointed with the campaign.

To get better, however, the Colts are going to have to do something they haven't done in many, many years: spend money in free agency.

Free agency is often a trap. It rarely pays off the way fans expect. In general, smart GMs stay out of the free-agent market entirely. Losing free agents without replacing them can result in compensatory picks which often wind up as cheaper, more valuable solutions than the players that were lost.

In the Colts' case, however, Ryan Grigson has no choice. He has to dive right in. The good news is that with major needs all over the roster, he can upgrade his team without jeopardizing that sterling future.

Cap Space

According to John Clayton of, the Colts have more available cap space than almost any team in football.

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They have $46 million to spend in 2013. That's $11 million more than the Miami Dolphins in fourth place. They trail only the Cincinnati Bengals ($55 million) and Cleveland Browns ($48.9 million).

There are a couple of things fans need to understand about that number, however.

First, it doesn't include any players the Colts need to re-sign.

Second, several fans have expressed confusion about Dwight Freeney's contract. It has expired, so it is already rolled into that number. Some have tried to add his $19 million cap number on top of the number Clayton produced, but that is incorrect.

Players to Re-sign

Before getting to free agents, teams must first retain their own stars. The Colts are slated to shed a lot of bodies off the roster, but precious few would be deemed critical to re-sign.

The primary target for Grigson will be punter Pat McAfee. He's been terrific and should be a reasonable player to deal with as he's made it clear he wants to stay in town.

Last year, the Saints signed Thomas Morstead for an average of $3.5 million a season. Even at the outer edge of exorbitant, the Colts should land McAfee for less than $5 million.

Freeney is another player set to walk. The Colts have shown no interest in extending him before and there's no reason to expect them to ask the former All Pro to return. He battled injuries in 2012 and had one of his least productive seasons as he never looked comfortable in the new 3-4 defense.

Other key contributors that could walk would be Donnie Avery, Darius Butler, Moise Fokou, Antonio Johnson, Jerraud Powers, Austin Collie, Seth Olen, Joe Reitz, Cassius Vaughn, Winston Justice and A.Q. Shipley. Backup quarterback Drew Stanton is also a free agent.

Whatever value any of the second-tier players have must be weighed against other available players. Someone like Avery would have to be considered easily replaceable by virtually any else on the market.

Depending on how many of the second-tier guys the Colts opt to bring back, they shouldn't have to spend more than a maximum of $10 to 12 million in cap room retaining their current players.

Positions to Target

It's too early to build an available free agent list. Teams have until March 12 to resign their own players before they become free agents, so any list of available names would be purely speculative.

What isn't speculation is where the Colts have their biggest needs.

Offensive line: Indy could easily seek to replace three to five starters on the offensive line.

Defensive line: Again, the Colts could upgrade every defensive line position

Outside Linebacker: The departure of Freeney opens a big need for an additional rusher.

Secondary: The Colts need two additional corners and an upgrade at safety.

Wide Receiver: Indianapolis still needs a dominant number one wideout. With Wayne's age, it would be a good idea to seek a younger primary target for Andrew Luck.

The reason free agency tends to go poorly is that few big-name free agents ever live up to their big-money contracts. Large contracts can kill roster flexibility and are often the fastest way to ruin a team.

Grigson has the luxury of handing out smaller, more manageable deals to several average players knowing that they'll still represent significant upgrades for the team.

The Colts have been so bad in the offensive line and the secondary that it shouldn't be hard to get significant upgrades on the cheap.

Fans shouldn't worry unless they see the team go after big-dollar players like Jake Long. The high-profile guys make a splash, but are poor long-term investments.

If the GM does his job, this will be the first and last time for a long while the Colts are forced to play free agency roulette.