Prior to going into detail, the first thing i'll say is that we'll all have differing opinions, and I welcome points where people disagree. I think we have a strong squad, which with some tweaking can be the best in the league. I apologise for the length of the piece, I tried to be fairly comprehensive.
The way i'll go over what needs to be changed is to go through each specific area of the squad and evaluate where that group is going and whether changes need to be made. It being the most important position on the pitch, I think i'll start with..
Quarterback: I don't think changes need to be made here, as with Peyton we have the best quarterback in the league. I can understand why people could perhaps argue Brady, but I'm a Colts fan, and I'll take the field general over the lieutenant all day. In terms of a backup, it doesn't really matter. As Howard Mudd once said, "If 18 goes down, we're screwed." His resigning is clearly the priority - without him, we are nothing.
Running Back: I think we're set here as well, and the resigning of Addai needs to be carefully weighed up. At the end of the day, we have Donald Brown, Javarris James, Mike Hart, Devin Moore and the potential for Dominic Rhodes to return. I feel a lot better about our entire offense when Addai is on the field, but when our run game sparked up toward the latter end of the season, Addai wasn't in the mix. He isn't a prerequisite to a good running game, and his aptitude in protection is merely making excuses for the poor pass protection of the O-Line. I'll go to what I think should happen in free agency after evaluating the positions.
Wide Receiver: This is an area where we can get away with inferior talent due to the skill of Peyton. Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon are here for the future and for now, Garcon's decisive performance last night and his big-play ability makes me think that the drops are worth it. Blair White unfortunately doesn't have the mental comprehension of our offense yet, and he doesn't have the speed up the seams to play an important role for this team on a regular basis. The difference from him to Collie was staggering, and it was there for all to see. Reggie Wayne is getting toward the latter stretch of his career, and whilst it may be controversial to some, resigning him may be something to debate. His comments after night were fairly incendiary, and whilst I think he's a top 5 WR in this league, he's only going to become less effective as his physical skills decline. I suggest keeping him for another year or two before letting him go. Anthony Gonzalez is due $3m in 2011, and he should be cut.
Tight End: We have some excellent talent at TE, and I believe it is one of those positions where Peyton can make you a superstar if you have that capability. Dallas Clark is a key player for us, and the way Tamme has stepped in has been fantastic. I don't expect Dallas to be here in a year or two, and for him to be able to seamlessly replicate that production (Seamlessly being the main issue I suppose, heh) is very encouraging. Behind those two, we have Eldridge who i'll be honest has disappointed toward the latter end of the year after starting brightly. I expect more from him next year.
The Offensive Line: Here we have the greatest area which needs improvement in this football team on the offensive side of the ball. The solitary reason our sack totals are so low year on year is the awareness of Peyton and his ability to get the ball out. Particularly at the Tackle position, we have been very poor for a while now. Ryan Diem needs to be put out to pasture, considering both his play on the field and his $6m salary for 2011. Charlie Johnson is not the calibre of Left Tackle we should be looking at, and should either be moved to Guard or to the other side of the line so at least Peyton can see them coming. We're set at Center for a couple of years yet, and Guard isn't an absolute priority. Moves absolutely must be made in free agency to shore up the offensive line, and there are proven Pro Bowl calibre players who will be available in the offseason in free agency, which I will get to later.
Defensive Line: Here we have an area where I think changes need to be made. Whether it's through making changes in the interior of the line or changing personnel at DE, something absolutely must be done. Freeney is obviously an automatic keeper, I consider him the best pure pass rushing DE in the league. Antonio Johnson has played very well when he has come in, and it was plain for all to see the difference without him last night. Fili Moala's play throughout this year has been a great positive to take, and he's showing the development we all hoped from him when he was selected in the 2nd round. Daniel Muir is not good enough to start in the NFL, and replacements need to be brought in, whilst Eric Foster is on the bubble and could go either way. And then we get to Robert Mathis. I personally consider him a pass rushing luxury who isn't particularly adept at stopping the run, and considering he's angling for a new contract, a decision has to be made by management. I probably would seek to trade him if it allowed investment elsewhere on the defense. Too many times we've been run on and seen Freeney/Mathis run straight past the play, by which time we're 2 men down and the runner is into the second level. Having that amount of money tied up in two individuals whilst leaving our run defense effectively famished is odd to say the least.
The Linebacking Corps: This is the area of the team I probably feel the best about. We have a fantastic young set of players combined with experience. In Brackett, Session, Hagler, Angerer and Conner we will be set for years to come. Some people questioned the wisdom of Brackett's big contract, but he has shown his importance in terms of coordinating the defense as well as making big plays. (I'm looking at you, MJD on the goal line.) The only thing that needs to be considered is the future of Phillip Wheeler, who I hope can make the mental jump necessary.
Cornerback: I think major changes need to be made here, in terms of going after individuals in free agency or the draft. The trade for Justin Tryon has been another massive positive this year, and kudos to Polian for that. He deserves big credit, as Tryon came in and immediately became our best corner when the injury concerns with Powers and Hayden became evident. Powers has the potential to be one of the better corners in the league, and we have Kevin Thomas who will hopefully be able to contribute next year. As a third corner, Jacob Lacey is at least not covering the opposing #1, which is all I can say for him. His play this year is one of the big negatives i'm taking from this season. I am of the opinion that Kelvin Hayden is overpaid and too injury prone to be relied upon, and as such should be traded if at all possible in favour of going after someone else in free agency or the draft.
Safety: We're very good at safety when healthy, and when I say that I don't include Bob Sanders. The combination of Bethea/Bullitt is better than most tandems in this league, and I'd be happy for it to continue. Bethea in my opinion is the best open field tackler in the entire NFL, and he is the glue that holds the defense together. Bullitt is a very good SS and a monster for us on ST. Bob Sanders should either renegotiate his contract so it is incentive laden, or be cut. The way we were absolutely slammed in the secondary was ridiculous this year, and I don't expect it to happen again. Oh, and someone please cut Aaron Francisco.
Special Teams: How about instead of ignoring the entire unit and hoping for the best by jamming people in there, we sign a proven individual who can raise the level of the whole team? Someone like Kassim Osgood, a designated special teamer that just makes plays. I would love for us to make a move like that. McAfee should continue to be our punter, and we should definitely be resigning Vinatieri. In terms of returning punts and kicks, Devin Moore looked fairly promising last year prior to his injury.
Coaching and Front Office: We've got to be real here. I don't like the coaching of Jim Caldwell in terms of his game management. He's made some horrendous errors all year long, particularly last night and against the Jags in terms of timeouts. That said, I do have to give him credit for the way our team held together to make the playoffs despite the injuries we suffered. As I said, we've got to be real, and as such, we have to acknowledge that Caldwell is staying. In terms of coordinators, we've got to accept that they will likely stay as well. I think that the defense under Coyer was disappointing, but with the injuries we suffered, I think he deserves another chance if the correct moves are made in terms of personnel. Offensively, the difference between us and the Patriots is their skill in coordination and playcalling, but i'm resigned to it by now. We have more talented personnel and a much less efficient offense, and I put it on the coordination and the lack of investment in a running game in terms of the offensive line.
As BBS has pointed out frequently, the judgement of Bill Polian should be questioned in terms of his public statements after games as well as his recent draft choices. We've missed too frequently at the top of drafts, and it needs to be rectified. That said, I don't expect front office changes.
Moves that need to be made:
I would start off by offloading Kelvin Hayden and Ryan Diem to remove their salaries from the roster. Bob Sanders needs to renegotiate or go elsewhere. Depending on Addai's salary, I would incline toward letting him go, but if he proved inexpensive to retain, I wouldn't have a problem with it. Reggie should be retained for another year, he's still performing at an All-Pro level, but as Nate explored on 18to88 a week or so back, there will come a time where retaining he and Clark will prove inefficient in terms of cost. We haven't reached that point yet. Serious thought needs to be made as to whether Robert Mathis gets a new contract, and I don't think we should be investing more money into a pass rush that hasn't got to the QB this year whilst we've been gored on the run. Free Agency: I'm reticent to throw names out like it's fantasy football, but i'll give a few examples to illustrate what i've said earlier in the piece.
Jared Gaither, who will be a restricted free agent at Baltimore - they have too many people to pay this year as it is, and he would be an ideal LT for this franchise. Some would say people get under him too easily due to his height, but he has the potential to be a monster in pass protection and the run.
Logan Mankins, who will be an unrestricted free agent from New England - we all know how good this guy is, and that he's dissatisfied with the Patriots organisation. I don't consider Guard a priority, but there would be no reason for me to complain if we were to get him.
Barry Cofield, who will be an unrestricted free agent from the Giants - I've watched the Giants all year, and this is a difference maker in the middle of the defensive line. We should definitely make an effort to court him, provided his salary demands aren't exorbitant.
Nnamdi Asomugha, who is as of 10 minutes ago an unrestricted free agent from the Raiders - we all know how good this guy is. I consider him superior to Revis, and he restricted Reggie Wayne to 1 catch for 1 yard last night. A fantastic player who you can truly build a defense around. This is the primary reason for me wanting Hayden removed - so we can go after Asomugha. I know it's a pipe dream, but he undoubtedly would like to have some prolonged success, and we are dying for someone like that. When you consider that Diem's salary plus Hayden's salary would roughly equate to an Asomugha sized salary, it becomes somewhat tangible. Do I expect it to happen? No. Do I consider him a player that would take us to another level? Absolutely. A secondary composing he, Powers, Tryon, Bethea and Bullitt is one of the best in the NFL. Alas, it will not happen.
Richard Seymour, who will be an unrestricted free agent from the Raiders - again, a dominant player who would improve us in the centre of the line exponentially. I don't need to talk about him too much, but suffice to say that the Patriots dynasty was a Brady-Seymour era.
Again, I don't throw those names out as a wish list as such, but it's just an illustration of the quality that is available this year.
I'm disappointed at the result last night, but I'm not angry to the core like I was when we lost last year. I don't think theres another team in the NFL that could make it to the playoffs with the resources we had due to injury. Obviously that's not satisfactory, we want to win every year. But the extra rest and the manner in which we lost will make people motivated, and with suitable moves in the offseason I think we can definitely go all the way next year. Changes on the O-line and D-line are necessary, and possibly in the secondary as well. The people are there, we just need to go and get them.
One thing though. When it comes to Sunday, win or lose, I'm proud to be a Colts fan. That decal on the helmet stands for integrity, honesty and good moral judgement. We don't go after anyone and everyone that is available, we consider character and try to promote youth. And you know what? I think that's more important than winning every year. We win and lose with class, and whilst we do have our transgressions as anyone will do with the amount of young men in the organisation, we do our best to minimise them. I think i'll take Jim Caldwell over Rex Ryan.