Between now and the start of free agency, Stampede Blue will profile free agents the Indianapolis Colts could and should target when the new collective bargaining agreement is signed and the lockout lifted.
With all the recent news pointing to July 25th as the day free agency will begin for the 2011 NFL year, we kind of felt it necessary to supercharge our Colts free agent targets series into high gear. As Matt wrote about on Saturday, the Colts should can spend roughly $50 million to strengthen their roster once free agency begins. If this new salary floor we're reading about makes it into the new CBA, the Colts will be forced to spend a minimum of $38 mill. Regardless of what they spend, a significant portion of it will go to paying Peyton Manning, but the rest should get focused on key areas of the roster that are in drastic need of an upgrade.
Again, we will stress this over the next few months (and we apologize in advance if it gets repetitive: The old ‘let’s sign our own guys’ mentality needs to go. The Colts have wasted far too much money and effort over the years giving bloated contracts to Bob Sanders, Kelvin Hayden, and Gary Brackett (just to name a few).
The Colts must jump head first into veteran free agency and bring established veterans in here that will win football games. Under the Bill Polian regime, internal talent was overvalued and external talent was often ignored. If cutting Hayden and Ryan Diem is needed in order improve a weak area of the roster, so be it. The bottom line is winning, folks. Everything else should be secondary. This franchise has a three or four year window left, and I’m tired of seeing other teams improve via free agency (Jets, Bears, Eagles) while we continue to overvalue our home grown prospects.
The defensive tackle position has long been the main area of weakness for this club. We’ve chronicled this subject to death, and, frankly, if the Colts do not use this unique period of free agency to finally address it, then we probably aren’t talking about a Super Bowl contention in 2011 for the Colts.
We talked about Cofield back in May. I'm a fan of how he plays. I watched him last season playing for the Giants, and I was impressed with how he bounced back from a poor 2009 season. Perry Fewell, Cofield's defensive coordinator last year, is a Tampa-2 style coach from his days with the Buffalo Bills. The Giants defense last year employed basic Tampa-2 elements while, at the same time, implementing several blitz packages designed to enhance the pass rush. In several ways, it was a defense that looked similar to Larry Coyer's. Cofield thrived in that defense. He'd thrive in Coyer's as well.
Cofield's reputation is one of a run-stuffer, but he is also very effective getting to the quarterback from the tackle position. According to Advanced Stats, Cofield ranked 9th in all of football with QB hits last year (9 total). He had four sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 2010. He also had 40 tackles. These numbers were career highs.
Now, a red flag is often called for when a player produces career high numbers in a contract year. But, in Cofield's case, when you go back and look at his yearly stats, he's very consistent. His one 'bad' year was 2009, when Bill Sheridan was the team's defensive coordinator and the Giants couldn't stop a Pop Warner team of five-year-olds from running the football down their throats. Sheridan was fired after one season. Fewell replaced him, and Cofield thrived in Fewell's system.
As I always say with stats, they sometimes tell only part of the story when evaluating a player. Thus, I try and incorporate several different 'systems' to see where a player falls. If, say, two out of three methods rank a player high, changes are that player is pretty good.
In Cofield's case, he ranks highly in Advanced Stats' Positive Win Probability, Positive Expected Points Added, and Positive Points Per Game. With Football Outsiders, Cofield had a 68% 'Stop Rate' against the run in 2010, and had a 93% 'Stop Rate' as a rusher on passing downs. When you look at simple statistics (tackles, sacks, forced fumbles, etc.), Cofield compares with players like Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton.
So, regardless of what numbers system you look at, Cofield is a good DT on paper. Another stat worth looking at when evaluating Cofield: The Giants were ranked 8th against the run in 2010, surrendering 101 rushing yards a game.
With a guy like Cofield, the Colts tackle rotation would involve him, rookie Drake Nevis, Fili Moala, and a sprinkling of Eric Foster on third down. It’s my personal preference that Chris Polian attempt to re-sign Antonio Johnson. He’s the only DT from last season who was truly worth a damn, and when healthy he is a reliable interior defender. Whispers say the Colts seem more comfortable with Daniel Muir, which annoys me to no end. Muir and Moala were the worst DT duo in all of football last year. Neither is stout against the run, and both are often blown completely off the ball by physical interior offensive linemen. Re-watch the Jets playoff game if you don’t believe me. Try not to vomit in disgust when you do.
Add Cofield and, hopefully, Nevis to that mix, and the interior is no longer an open door for opposing runningbacks to skip through on their way to bulldozing our undersized linebackers who have trouble tackling.