Last week's 24-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens ended a fairy tale season for the Colts, but as the playoff door closes, the offseason door opens.
The Colts are set to embark on one of the most fascinating offseason periods in recent franchise history. With Ryan Grigson at the helm, the Colts are bound to be aggressive in their spending, which is something former GM Bill Polian never really believed in.
When trying to identify potential free agency targets, it's always interesting to pinpoint players that have ties with the organization. During this “new era” for the Colts, they've already shown a willingness to sign players that have been 'their guys'.
For instance, when Chuck Pagano was made head coach, he brought Tom Zbikowski and Cory Redding with him from Baltimore (not in a Mayflower truck, though), whilst we've also seen Trai Essex, Mewelde Moore and Weslye Saunders join the team having worked with offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh.
So with a rumoured $47m of cap space to spend this offseason, it's likely that we'll see some more players enter the building that have previous connections with our coaches.
CHUCK PAGANO: Head Coach
As mentioned above, Pagano brought a couple of Ravens across with him when he became head coach, having worked as Baltimore's secondary coach and eventually defensive co-ordinator. In 2013, a number of Ravens could hit the free agency market and there's a chance that Pagano will look to bring some of them in as well.
An ESPN report last week suggested that the Colts will actively target Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger, a player who demolished Winston Justice and Bradley Sowell in the playoffs last week. His 2.5 sacks on Sunday took his season tally to 11.5, and his displays in 2012 have guaranteed him a big paycheck, whether he stays in Baltimore or moves on.
With Dwight Freeney struggling to transition to the 3-4 defense and almost certainly set to leave in free agency, adding another pass rusher will be one of the primary targets of the organisation this off-season. Kruger's previous association with Pagano will make him stand out as a potential target.
In addition to Kruger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams will find their contracts expire this year, but Ellerbe looks an unlikely target, as he's lined up to be the heir to Ray Lewis at linebacker.
Williams was coached by Pagano when he was the Ravens' defensive backs coach, but also when Pagano moved to defensive co-ordinator. With the Colts needs at cornerback, moving for Williams makes some sense, but he's yet to prove himself as an NFL starting caliber cornerback.
HAROLD GOODWIN: Offensive Line Coach
Goodwin came over with Bruce Arians from Pittsburgh to take the offensive line coaching job. The line has been a problem all season long, but the caliber of players available has been less than impressive. With so much money to spend, the Colts now have the opportunity to bring in some high quality starters to protect Andrew Luck.
If they are to seek upgrades in free agency, then Goodwin could return to Pittsburgh for recruits. Tackle Max Starks, Guard Ramon Foster and Centre Doug Legursky are set to hit the market, though they would only be marginal upgrades over what is already a collective turnstile of an offensive line.
GREG MANUSKY: Defensive Co-ordinator
Manusky actually did a fairly good job with a defense lacking in top talent, but upgrades will be expected in 2013. Manusky's career has seen him feature in San Francisco and San Diego, where a number of free agents are hitting the market – and many could help the Colts improve their defense.
We'll start with his time in San Francisco, where many of his pieces on defense still play. Nose tackle has been an issue for the Colts this season – veteran Brandon McKinney was placed on IR before the season started, leaving Antonio Johnson and Martin Tevaseu to rotate for the season. Rookie Josh Chapman is yet to play, so get ready for the franchise changing moment when he steps onto the field.
Manusky had two nose tackles during his time with the 49ers that are hitting the market; Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin. Franklin signed a one year deal with Manusky's former employers, the Chargers, but has only featured in 12 games. Sopoaga on the other hand, has been a regular in the 49ers defense and has played 15 games this season.
Recruitment at the nose tackle position depends heavily on how McKinney and Chapman return from injury, but bringing in a veteran option would be appealing in the current circumstances.
Safety is a position that many people want to upgrade given the disappointing performances of Tom Zbikowski, and Dashon Goldson's availability may force the Colts into a change at the position. Goldson was a key part of Manusky's defense in San Francisco and would offer more to the Colts defense than Zbikowksi currently does.
Outside of these players, there is also Ricky-Jean Francois, a player that would be a rotational option on the defensive line.
From Manusky's time in San Diego, there are a few players that could help the Colts. Cornerback Antoine Cason has average coverage skills but would fill a need position, whilst defensive tackle Vaughn Martin would, like Francois, prove to be a good rotational option on the front 3.
Finally, outside linebacker Antwan Barnes represents another potential signing as a pass rusher. Barnes is a prolific speed rusher off the edge who struggles to be effective against the run, but racked up 11 sacks under Manusky, but just 3 this year under John Pagano.
GARY EMANUEL: Defensive Line coach
Defensive line coach Gary Emanuel was largely working with cast offs this season, such as Clifton Geathers, Martin Tevaseu and Lawrence Guy, but now there are a number of players that are available that Emanuel will be familiar with.
The big name is Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who will be allowed to leave Dallas with Monte Kiffin installing a 4-3 defense. Spencer's reputation was mostly built on being a first round bust and primarily a run defending linebacker, but after an 11 sack season, his stock has never been higher.
Spencer is an Indiana native and worked with Emanuel at Purdue University, so it's conceivable that Spencer will “come home” and be the player that can set the edge in the Colts defense, improving a run defense that has been leaky all season.
Emanuel also coached Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips at Purdue, and the 31 year old hits free agency this year. Phillips is particularly intriguing, as he featured heavily in Greg Manusky's defense in San Diego.
Turning an eye to the draft, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short looks like a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end, and was a key player on the Boilmakers defense under Emanuel. Short is predicted to be drafted in the middle to late stages of the second round, so the Colts may need a trade down to be in a position to draft him.
JEFF FITZGERALD, Linebacker coach
Inside linebacker looks to be fairly deep for the Colts, with Jerrell Freeman starring in 2012, whilst Kavell Conner, Pat Angerer and Moise Fokou all look at least serviceable at the position. However, Fokou is set to hit free agency and it remains to be seen whether he will re-sign or not, so the team may look for some depth options at the position, whilst outside linebacker will be a high need position.
Jeff FitzGerald has spent many years working with linebackers in the NFL, so there are a number of players available that could find themselves linking up with him again.
Three prospective signings are currently with the Cincinnati Bengals – Rey Maualuga has struggled to make an impact, whilst he's also had some off-field problems. It's doubtful that Maualuga will draw a lot of attention in free agency, and it's also unlikely that he would add much to the Colts defense.
Another player, Manny Lawson, was actually a target for the Colts in 2012. As well as working with FitzGerald, Lawson was a favourite of Greg Manusky in San Francisco, and could conceivably be a target again this off-season as a cheap veteran.
The third, Michael Johnson, is a particularly intriguing possibility. Standing at 6ft 7in, 266lbs, Johnson is an athletic specimen. With 11.5 sacks this season, he's bound to get paid a lot of money, but he's played both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Bengals, and his pass rushing skills make him an enticing option to play 3-4 outside linebacker. Given the amount of snaps he's played in Cincinnati this year though (911), it seems unlikely that they will let him walk, but if he fancies testing the market, then Indianapolis could be good home for him.
Finally, Giants linebacker Keith Rivers has had an injury ravaged career, playing only 11 games after his trade from Cincinnati. FitzGerald may want to be reunited with Rivers, but any move would surely be a very cheap, risk free contract.
Of course, many of the names listed won't play for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, and the list of potential names could even grow if Bruce Arians stays with the team, though that seems unlikely right now. A new offensive co-ordinator may also want to bring in some of his own men, but it's particularly interesting where players, such as Manny Lawson and Shaun Phillips, have multiple links to the team.
The phrase "a player who demolished Winston Justice and Bradley Sowell in the playoffs last week" should never even have the potential to be written.
You missed the most important one if BA stays. (Looking likely). Mike Wallace. It'll cost a ton, but we would then have a legit #1 to replace Reggie. Ask Jax and Ten how hard it is to find one of those guys. In his last two years with BA he averaged 1200 yards a season. He's young and has a great pro in Reggie to mentor him. (His problems started when Ward left Pit).
@Music Man I would be highly upset, Wallace is not a #1 WR in my eye, but I guess now that Arians is gone we are in the clear
@Music Man I don't understand the obsession with having two top tier WRs. I've seen a lot of other Colts fans suggest this. Yes, at some point they'll have to replace Reggie, but with the way that WRs come in to the league these days, you don't need to find a successor three years in advance. Guys come in and contribute right away. On top of that, Wallace is a head case. No one wanted to trade for him last off season because he was asking for Larry Fitzgerald money, which he has not earned.
You don't need two top tiers to win in the league. On top of that, the Colts invested three major picks into receiving targets in the last draft. There's no need to double down on that right now with so many other holes to fill.
@Music Man If the Colts are going to sign a big money FA WR I'd prefer that it was Bowe over Wallace. Like Olly says, Wallace does similar things to Hilton, granted, perhaps he does them better (Hilton is a rookie though, so give him time). That being said, it certainly wouldn't shock me if they brought in Wallace nor would I be too upset about it. As much as Arians likes to throw deep it might not be a bad thing to have 2 burners (which Avery kind of was as well, though he couldn't catch it once he got open). We will definitely need WR help as Reggie begins to slow down (and at 35 next season I can't imagine it will be too much longer).
@Music Man I left Arians out because he was interviewing for HC jobs but seems he'll stay now. I agree with Greg though, that Wallace is maybe a little too similar to Hilton, whereas I think the Colts need a bigger bodied WR. Depending on what they do with Donald Brown, we could even make a play for Rashard Mendenhall.
Who's "Brian Arians"? May want to check names before publishing...
"Goodwin came over with Brian Arians from Pittsburgh"
It will be an interesting offseason. Excited to see who they bring in.
@Ben Savage Ed Reed certainly represents a coverage upgrade over ZBo, but man, he's getting up there and would cost so much more than he would be worth. He had the lowest PFF grade of the safeties on his own team (granted Baltimore has some quality safeties), which I guess increases the odds he would be allowed to leave, but still, I don't know, can't see it making sense financially.
@Ben Savage bwahahahahahaaa. Law dead! I suppose an aging Ed Reed could be a good fit. For anyone who doesn't know the story to which that refers, click and skip to the Reggie Wayne Ed Reed story: http://richeisen.nfl.com/2013/01/03/rich-eisen-podcast-wild-card-weekend-preview-and-josh-charles/
I think while the Colts have the money, they need to give their own players like Avery and Vaughn monstrous contracts to make sure we keep them. (Just kidding.)
If nothing else, this off season should be interesting in ways Colts fans are not used to experiencing.
Nice take on the subject, connections matter. I would think that if the money offered to any FA is comparable that it would favor the Colts. He's most likely going to start (especially O line), he's on a team that is trending up, he's going to have a great head coach, GM, and owner. Unless he's looking for big city endorsements, Indy has to be a front runner.
On the topic of free agents, if Goodwin's unit does not improve dramatically next year I hope he is shown the door. Being associated with the Offensive line of Pittsburgh is not exactly a ringing indorsement.
Like everyone else I am a little worried about the Colts over spending. However, I think guys like Paul Kruger who know their position and are very good without being "big names" are probably worth the money, particularly since the coaching staff knows them and likes has a pretty good idea what they are really worth.
@hankster Agreed, though with the way Kruger's been playing, I'm pretty sure he'll be drawing quite a bit of attention, esp the further the Ravens make it in the playoffs. One could say he's been a real....nightmare....for opposing linemen and QBs.
@hankster Definitely. We don't want them to go all Raiders/Redskins in free agency, even with the massive amount of cap space they're required to use up.
My only worry is that some of these seem to be "buy high" players. Kruger, Spencer, and Johnson all had big years and will be expecting paychecks to match. I'm more intrigued by the guys you mentioned like Antwan Barnes and Manny Lawson, who have shown the talent, but are coming off down years in places where they weren't utilized properly. If we've seen anything with Grigson, it's that he's willing to pull the trigger on guys that have been undervalued by others. If we're going to sign a big money free agent, we better be sure he can produce at that level.
@astonemayo I'm thinking there might be at least one big money FA signing because the team has to spend up the the minimum team salary (89% of the cap).
We'll just have to hope that if they do, they do so wisely.
@MarcusDugan @astonemayo I agree with Marcus on this one. Just about every team has 1 or 2 players making close to that elite level $10 million or so a year (at least most of the good ones), teams like Denver and New England have more than that. The Colts biggest contract right now is Reggie at roughly $5 million a year, and with the departure of Freeney's $19 million cap hit, the addition of all their dead money from past contracts, and the start of the new NFL minimum cap rules, this team will have no choice but to spend big dollars on, in my opinion, at least 2 major FA contracts (something in the $8-12 million a year range), or else overpay a bunch of mid-level players to reach the minimum.
@astonemayo @MarcusDugan You could be right, although he played like a top 5 OLB this season, so that's not entirely unreasonable. It's true that this was his best season out of the last 3 (2009 was probably his best career season, it was pretty monstrous), but even in the last 3 he's been quite solid in run coverage. I wouldn't be mad if the Colts offered him something in the top 10 range, but I also understand why you would have reservations about it. Even with the ties I doubt he gives us much of a discount, that's not generally how professional sports work, you go where the money is.
@Colt_Following @MarcusDugan I agree about him being a fit, both in scheme and connection (which is a really interesting take on the article, by the way). I agree even more about him being an upgrade. My only point was that he's coming off a career year and will likely expect a payday to match. If you're going to pay a guy coming off of a career year, you better hope that he's either primed to improve even more or that he can sustain that kind of peak performance.
With Spencer, he's already 28, so he's not likely to improve much more. Worse, if his numbers regress back to his career averages, then it's not nearly as attractive of an option. Don't get me wrong, if he'll sign something in the ballpark of 5-7 million a year (Mathis-type money) against the cap, then I don't think the front office can print a contract fast enough. I'm just thinking he might be expecting to be paid like a top 5 OLB, and I'm just not sure he's really there.
@astonemayo @MarcusDugan I get where you're coming from, I am certainly not in favor of overpaying people just to do it. That being said, the NFL isn't the NBA, a bad contract at worst is going to haunt you for one season (assuming you don't give a ton of guaranteed money), it won't cripple a team, nor will it stay on the books long after the player is gone. I'm thinking Grigson learned the lesson of dead money this season though and won't be too keen to throw a bunch of money at unproven guys.
To your point about Spencer, while he's adequate as a pass rusher (his production this season was solid but not great), it's his ability to stop the run that I think makes him a very attractive candidate to replace Freeney. Run defense was the Colts biggest weakness in the 2012, and that was due in large part to our defensive line and OLB. To put it mildly, our OLBs suck in run coverage, all of them. Freeney, Hughes, and Mathis rank 29, 30, and 31 respectively in run coverage by Pro Football Focus (out of the 34 graded 3-4 OLBs taking 25% or more of snaps). That's awful. Anthony Spencer on the other hand was the HIGHEST graded run stopping 3-4 OLB in the entire NFL, while Freeney, Hughes and Mathis combined to grade out at -15.8, Spencer alone had a +18.9 run coverage grade, which nearly lapped the field at 3-4 OLB (only Harrison and Upshaw were even in his zip code at +12.1 and +14.8 respectively). Spencer represents a major upgrade in an area of greatest need for the Colts and one of voiced emphasis by this coaching staff (stopping the run), he has Indiana ties (went to Purdue), ties to the Colts coaching staff, and should be free to pursue the market with the Cowboys switching to a new defensive scheme. It makes a lot of sense if you really think about it. All that being as it may, if he's asking for Dwight Freeney money then maybe you have to consider alternatives, but I would love to see him in a horseshoe personally.
@Colt_Following @MarcusDugan I don't mean that the colts shouldn't spend money on a big time free agent or two. For the last decade the Colts (and other teams) have demonstrated that paying top end talent is worth it. My point is that some of the guys being discussed have only had one good year or have had problems with consistency thus far in their careers. Paying them like top-end talent will likely come back to haunt us.
I'm all for going after a big name on the OL or DL or paying to bring in a true #1 receiver. I'm just not sure it makes sense to pay a guy like Anthony Spencer, who has never had more than 6 sacks in a season before this year, as though he's going to post 11 sacks a year. If we can get him for a reasonable price, sure. I just don't think he should be treated like a marquee free agent.
@MarcusDugan @astonemayo I think you're right about us getting a big money guy. I just think that we have enough holes on both sides of the ball that we'll take some fliers on some guys that have shown flashes of success and just haven't been able to sustain it. Short-term, low-money contracts (like Avery, McKinney, Freeman, etc.).
I think that is a lot of merit in gambling on those kinds of guys and I hope Grigson continues to do so. I hope will happen as a massive turnover as the FO upgrades to league average at every position with a sprinkling of expensive free agents as well. As was demonstrated by our OL last year, this team really needs to improve its depth. As a result I think FO can spend most of their money without many big signings simply by building up the depth necessary to be a competitive team
Good stuff man. I like the idea of Anthony Spencer coming in to replace Freeney, seems like he'd be a good option and has had a great season stopping the run.