Congratulations to Colts general manager Ryan Grigson on winning the NFL Executive of the Year award. But whilst his work in 2012 was, for a first time GM, exceptional, the expectation levels have raised ahead of the 2013 season.
2012 saw a team of plucky underdogs make their way to the playoffs, largely based on Grigson's draft picks and free agent pickups during the season.
However, with approximately $40m in cap room to spend, Grigson is now expected to raise the talent level of a team that overachieved its way to an 11-5 record. Big name free agents are hitting the market and the Colts have the money to pay them. There are plenty of holes on this team that need to be filled, starting with the offense...
After an offense-heavy draft in 2012 that featured a number of skill position players, it seems strange to want another weapon, but the reality is that the Colts may need one. Reggie Wayne is almost 35, whilst Donnie Avery is a free agent who may not be back. One thing the Colts clearly lack at wide receiver is a big target to throw the ball to, as T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazill are fairly small but fast. There were numerous occasions where the Colts' offense stalled in the redzone, so adding a bigger bodied receiver to go up and get the ball should be a priority. Dwayne Bowe is the big name that fits the bill, but his contract would almost certainly exceed what he is worth.
Under Bruce Arians, the fullback wasn't a feature of the offense, as Arians preferred to use more tight ends. However, with the hiring of Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, a fullback will be much more important – and it's impossible to write this section without mention of the famous “Spider 2 Y Banana” play that Jon Gruden broke down from Andrew Luck's time at Stanford. Robert Hughes was used in the role until he was placed on IR in December, but it's possible that the Colts look to take a fullback in the later rounds of the draft, as it remains to be seen whether Hughes will be back with the team next season.
Other than Anthony Castonzo, who of the Colts current offensive line would you want to build around? This is the offensive line that was ranked 31st (out of 32) by Pro Football Focus for offensive line efficiency. Improving the protection for Andrew Luck has to be Ryan Grigson's #1 priority in the upcoming offseason, particularly the interior, which allowed far too much pressure throughout the season. Joe Reitz and Mike McGlynn were either hurt or just plain bad, so expect Grigson to be as aggressive as usual in both free agency and the draft. As a former offensive lineman himself, Grigson knows the importance of good protection and blocking, and at the start of the season vowed to improve the offensive line by saying, “I can’t rest until we have one of the best lines in the NFL, if not the best line. I can’t rest until that happens.”
On the right side of the line, Winston Justice will be a free agent and despite starting well, Justice's reliability dropped off around the midway point of the season, struggling with injuries and form. There is a chance that Castonzo will move to right tackle if Grigson can land one of the big name tackles (Ryan Clady, Jake Long, Branden Albert), allowing Justice to walk away from the team.
There are other spots that could become need areas depending on cuts, such as center and running back, but the priority on the offensive side of the ball simply has to be offensive line.
On the topic of big bodied WRs, you've all likely heard, but the Colts signed Jeremy Kelley (I know, not exactly a marquee signing) out of the AFL, formerly of the CFL, today. He's 6'6" and ran a 4.49 40y dash at his pro day in 2011. He didn't do a whole lot in the AFL, so I don't know what the Colts see in him, but Grigson seems to know things others do not. I'll be surprised if he ends up making the team but at least this signing suggests that the Colts are interested in acquiring a big WR, something most of us fans have wanted.
A couple YouTube highlight videos from college and the AFL (via the Colts.com forums):
Personally I'd rather not see them get a FB. Here's why. D Allen. He is big and sreong enough of a blocker to pull off the FB roll. With both him and Fleener on the field, you can dictate better match ups to your best players. The only way you get a FB that is a better athlete than Allen is to draft someone higher than they are worth.
We do have a big target receiver, drafted in the second round last year. But I agree, it would be nice to have that Andre/Calvin J type of guy. Who wouldn't? I'd prefer drafting a project in a later round rather than going for a Bowe or a first round guy. Love the fullback idea. As far as the line, we have Castonzo and a few guys that would be decent backups. Grigs knows that, but we have to be realistic. Most of the big name LTs will either be re-signed or tagged. Long may be the exception.
I would expect Olly is going to do a defensive team needs article soon. He focused on what they need on offense today.
This is all assuming Austin Collie won't be back (he is a free agent) which makes sense, because of his injury record. Still, there are some decent options available. Brian Hartline and Danny Amendola could come at a reasonable price. Denario Alexander (RFA) and Devry Henderson could even come cheaper.
@Colt_Following Well, he's big and fast if nothing else. Who knows how he'll do when he not allowed to get a running start....
@Music Man I'm with you on that. A FB is a wasted position on a team that has a QB like Luck. It's a roster commitment to a position that's only used for rushing plays, and with Luck - and hopefully a no-huddle - the team will need depth at other positions much more than it'll need the occasional lead blocker from the backfield.
Besides, Allen could do it. He's already shown he could do it.
@Music Man If you want to run two TE power sets often, which they likely do, you need a FB. You don't have to spend a lot to get one (Jerome Felton was a waiver pickup for the Vikings and went to the Pro Bowl), but I'd rather spend on a FB than use a LB.
@smonroe I personally am satisfied with Castonzo at LT, he gave up more sacks than you'd like but he was better than good the last 10 games or so and he's waaaay cheaper right now than any big name LT would be. Seems like upgrading RT and keeping Anthony where he is would be the cheaper, and perhaps more prudent, course of action. Jake Long, who seems to be aging rapidly with all his injury problems, is going to cost insane money and can you really risk that given the potential for missing playing time? The Colts have dealt with so many injuries the past 3 or so years, kind of sick of it at this point. I'd rather they spend the $15m or so that Long would cost on 2 elite interior linemen and a starting caliber RT (there are quite a few available).
@smonroe If they decide to go for a FA tackle, i would take volmer and make costanzo and volmer fight out for R/L Tackle; they can address interior lineman in the draft, like Jonathan Cooper out of UNC would be a good option. That would be an excellent start for an O-line...
@jelewin I love Collie, and would like to keep him for cheap, and god knows we could use more people who can actually catch a damn ball. However, we could really use a big target and deep threat. Maybe the combination of TY blazing past people and Coby Fleener being healthy/productive will give us what we need, but it would be nice to have a big body who can catch and extend the field vertically, even if that player isn't as prolific as an AJ Green, Julio Jones, Megatron type. Maybe BA will trade us Fitz, though? hahaha
@jelewin I'm in that minority group that thinks Collie can still play. Just read an article a few days ago about how amazing his recovery has been going, he should be ready to go before OTAs even start. I guess we will see though.
@Kyle Rodriguez excellent point Kyle about using a LB. I wasn't necessarily saying they shouldn't have one on the roster. I guess I just figured a 1 TE with a FB would be a more common West Coast alignment than a 2 TE + a FB. Look at how effective the Pats were when they would shift from 2 TE 1 back to 1 TE 2 backs without changing personnel.
@Colt_Following Where did you see that Collie article? I would love to read it.
@jelewin @DougEngland Before Collie's preseason concussion it looked like he was going to have a really huge year. I went to some of training camp and Collie was the star of the show, which also carried over into the preseason games. I know concussions are scary, and getting scarier by the day it seems, but Collie's concussion history is not that different from dozens of other players and he's had a full year without contact of any kind. I guess there's nothing to do but wait and see. I admit that holding my breath every time he goes across the middle isn't a fun experience, but I believe the doctors know what they're doing. Seeing his first two concussions made me sick to my stomach and were two of the scariest moments I can remember as a sports' fan.
@Colt_Following @DougEngland Peyton definitely liked him a lot. Also, Stokley is a FA this year. I could totally see Denver try and scoop him up. Based on the sampling I saw Luck-Collie seemed to have good chemistry, too. Having Wayne & Collie with Hilton as deep/seem threat and two developed TEs could be a dangerous offense.
@jelewin I too hope the Colts are interested in keeping Collie. I like him much better than Avery. But if they don't, I wouldn't be surprised if as the article mentioned, that Peyton and the Broncos come calling. (Collie was one of the guys that came to Duke to help Peyton with his rehab.)
@Colt_Following Thanks! That is great news about Austin regardless of what the Colts decide to do with him.
@smonroe @DougEngland @Colt_Following It's true. His last injury was knee-related. And since he's been out of the game for a year, that was "concussion free" time. I honestly think he may be worth a $7.5-8.5 mil/2 yr deal. Especially with the amount of $$ the Colts are under the cap (and must use). I doubt another team would wanna pay more with his injury record (except for maybe the Redskins, they'll pay for anything bring and/or shiny)
@DougEngland It's a little old (from November), and is from a site covering BYU football. Here's the link:
@DougEngland @Colt_Following Me too. We have to keep in mind his injury wasn't a concussion. He may be ready to go. I'd take him over Avery since we already have 2 of those types.