I think the title of this series is little misleading. I noticed I write more about the players currently on the Colts roster and where they might end up or where they could be utilized more than I do actual free agents. But oh well, I haven't heard any complaints yet, and considering it's a physical impossibility to fix something that isn't broken, let's get it on!
Of all the different positions on the Colts roster, the linebacker position is the most intriguing work-in-progress at present time. With the recent re-signing of Tyjuan Hagler, and the free agent signing of Adam Seward, it would appear as if the Colts have shored up the linebacking position for the 2009 season. Not so fast my friend, these moves were merely cosmetic. They didn't fix the problem as far as moving players around and finding specific positions for them to play. The linebacking corps is a big mess right now to put it lightly. No one is really sure of where so and so is going to play. Many people have said that Session would be moving over to WILL which would give second year player Philip Wheeler the opportunity to earn the SAM spot. I could see it happening, but honestly, I'd prefer to keep Session at the SAM position and have Wheeler (where the actual vacancy is) to start at the WILL spot. Reason being, Wheeler played primarily at the WILL position during his career at Georgia Tech. Granted, it was a completely different defensive philosophy there, I still think the Colts could use Wheeler's height and speed more effectively at the WILL spot as opposed to the SAM position. But regardless, they really can't go wrong either way. Session has proven he is pretty good against both the run and in coverage. But that's assuming both of these guys crack the starting lineup next season. Adam Seward may prove to be the dark horse here and could surprise Coyer and Caldwell with his abilities.
Despite the fact that we really don't know who the starters will be, the Colts did obtain some pretty good depth. Reports of Adam Seward have been quite positive. According to a lot of Panthers fans, he has the ability to become starter in the NFL. He, not unlike Hagler, was a victim of circumstance. When the Panthers drafted Jon Beason in the first round of the 2007 draft, the chance of Seward becoming the starter was slim and none. But nevertheless, the Panthers loss is our gain.
And then there is Tyjuan Hagler which whom most of us are familiar with, but I'll do a little rundown for those who aren't familiar with his situation. Tyjuan Hagler was a former starting SAM backer for the Colts as recently as the 2008 season. The reason he lost his starting position was due to an unfortunate weight lifting injury. Prior to his injury, Tyjuan Hagler showed a lot of promise, and was arguably the the second best linebacker on the roster behind Gary Brackett. He was also very good as a special teams player. Instead of gradually working Hagler back into the starting rotation, for some reason Tony Dungy and Ron Meeks decided to give Clint Session and Freddie Keiaho more playing time, and when Brackett went down, Buster Davis stepped up in his MIKE spot. Don't ask me why or how Hagler was given the shaft, he just was. Not many people really questioned this move at the time, I'm sure most of us just assumed he was still injured. But looking back, I find it slightly odd that he wasn't given a fair shot to earn his spot back, especially with how bad Freddie Keiaho played all season long.
There is one obvious reason as to why Hagler became an after thought at becoming the starting SAM backer again, and that's Clint Session. When Hagler was battling other injuries in the 2007 season, Clint Session filled in for him. I was a big proponent of giving Session more playing time, especially after that amazing game he had against the Chargers in the 2007 regular season game. He finished the game with a couple of amazing interceptions, but what really impressed me the most was the how he stepped up when he was given his chance. History would tell us that players who step up when they're given their shot go on the have a pretty good NFL career. So when Session moved his way into the starting lineup I was pretty happy about it. I thought he played pretty well this season despite all of the injuries (yet again) that plagued the Colts on defense, especially at the linebacker position. So really, with how well Session was playing, I can understand why Hagler wasn't moved back into the starting SAM position.
On a side note, the Colts reduced their miniature linebackers to a total of 2 now since they let Keiaho walk. The only guys on the roster now that are shorter than 6' are Brackett and Michael Okwo.
Speaking of Gary Brackett, I want to show a little love for (imo) the most underrated linebacker in the NFL (no homer). Despite being shorter than most starting inside linebackers, the guy plays with a lot of heart and does his job to the best of his ability each and every play.
The bad news is Brackett is going into his contract year this season. In March of 2006, he signed a 4 year deal worth (+ or -) $10 million. He's 28 years old now, going into his 7th season. It will be interesting to see how the Colts handle this. I think it's going to depend on how he rebounds from that fractured leg he suffered against the Brown stains. If returns to form and plays out of his mind, there's a possibility (albeit slight) that the Colts will re-sign him. We'll just have to see how the season goes.
Don't think that Polian won't go into next season unprepared though. There are still a lot of question marks regarding the linebacking corps. With the possible departure of Brackett after the 2009 season and a new defensive coordiantor running the show, there might be some interest in just trying to upgrade the position regardless of how well Brackett, or any of the linebackers who will start this season play. I still think that there is a possbility the Colts could be targetting a stud LB in the first round if one drops to them. A lot of us Colts fans are high on James Laurinaitis, and he would indeed be a great replacement for Gary Brackett going into the 2010 season. However, if Polian isn't able to snag a stud prospect, I would still expect to see a LB taken in the later rounds, where there will still be a ton of talent just waiting to be taken.
Now that we have the current linebacker position run through with a fine-tooth comb, let's talk about some free agents. The LB free agent list is like the WR list, full of all kinds of guys, but very few who could help the Colts out. But there are some.
The obvious first choice here would be Derrick Brooks. Make no mistake about it people, Derrick Brooks is the greatest Cover 2 LB of all time. The guy was just phenominal on the football field. He could do any and everything asked of him. He could play inside, he could play outside, he could blitz if needed, he could drop back in coverage, anything you could think of, Derrick Brooks was your go to guy. His experience alone would be worth signing him just so he could teach some of the younger guys on the Colts. But of course, there's always a trade-off; he's kind of old. And by kind of old, in terms of NFL age, he's like a grandpa. Technically he's 35 years old, but one week from tomorrow he'll be 36. Age aside, I think he could really help the Colts out for at least one more year with a little more veteran leadership (something that is seriously lacking in the LB position aside from Brackett).
My second favorite free agent linebacker is Marcus Washington. For those of you who don't remember, he was drafted by Polian in the 2nd round of the 2000 NFL draft. Polian still regrets not being able to re-sign him to this day, and for good reason. Marcus Washington proved during his 4 years with the Colts that he was quickly becoming one of the better linebackers in the league. Looking back now, you can almost see the dropoff the Colts experienced after he left. Their defense that year was just horrible. To throw salt in the wounds, Marcus Washington was voted in to his first and only Pro-Bowl that season as well.
I'm sure a few of you are wondering why Polian didn't re-sign him in the first place if he liked him so much, and I'm glad you asked. It's not that he didn't want to re-sign him, he just literally couldn't do it. Why? Well, you're going to have to ask Peyton Manning that. Peyton had just inked a new contract that season, and not un-Polian like, he was paid eleventy billion dollars, thus screwing Marcus out of the contract he rightfully should have gotten. But all is well, Peyton is totally worth the cash, and we didn't end up needing Washington to win a Super Bowl. Although it would have been nice to be able to have he and Peyton on the roster. But it's still possible! Marcus is only 31 years old people. Assuming he can stay healthy, he still has another 2-3 good years before he starts showing serious signs of slowing down. I'd sign him in a heartbeat.
One interesting name that I stumbled upon while reviewing the free agent list was Ray Lewis. I tried imagining the Ray Lewis in a Colts uniform, running around yelling at everyone like he does with the Ravens, and I couldn't help but laugh. I don't even know how I would feel if the Colts somehow signed him. Now that I think of it though, am I the only one who thought he looked really fat last season?
Apparently my extremely large friend Ray Lewis signed a deal back in March and I didn't know about it (thanks monstersbox).
Give me your thoughts and pipe dreams!