Kevin C. Cox
For a Colts team that needs a new safety or two, a full free agent class awaits.
Over the past four seasons, the Colts have started seven different players at safety.
The most underrated player on the Colts, and arguably the most underrated player in the National Football League is Antoine Bethea. Bethea has been the only true model of consistency within the Colts last line of defense. Playing alongside the always-injured Melvin Bullitt and Bob Sanders, Bethea has emerged as somewhat of an ironman. The two-time pro-bowler has not missed a game since 2007. He's record 596 tackles in his six seasons to go along with 12 interceptions, 33 batted balls and five forced fumbles. In 2011 he recorded an unbelievable 139 tackles and has been the super glue that's kept this defense intact.
Tom Zbikowski, coming from Baltimore with Pagano and his hybrid 3-4 defense, stirred up a good amount of excitement in the circle city. He hadn't played much in Baltimore, but he'd been relatively effective and he wasn't a stranger to the new defense Pagano would be bringing.
After watching him play this past season, Zbikowski was....meh. He was alright. He picked off just one pass and had 39 total tackles. I, personally, was a little disappointed with how Zbikowski played for Indy, however, it could've been a lot worse.
There were improvements,however, as Zbikowski played 11 games for the Colts after never having an NFL season where he started more than six. I'll throw Tom a bone, as this was the first time he'd ever been a starter as opposed to a role-playing backup. However, if the Colts can pick up a great free agent strong safety, I could easily see Zbikowski moving back to the role he played in Baltimore.
Let's talk free agent safeties.
The 26-year old free safety had another great season for the Bills (5 int's - 76 tackles), and he's rated as the top free agent safety by Pro Football Focus, and the race isn't close. He proved this past season that he can excel in both run and pass coverage. He's not a big name guy or someone that is easily recognized, but he'll make whatever team that signs him happy. The only stipulation I have with Byrd is that he plays the same position at Bethea, who is a more than capable player. Bethea played some strong safety this past season, however, I don't like the idea of moving someone who has been successful where they currently play. I'm a tad nervous about the idea of signing Byrd, then moving him to strong safety. He's a capable player and the transition would probably go smoothly, but it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Goldson was a free agent two seasons ago, and generated little to no interest, however, he'll have a bigger market this time around. He made the pro bowl last season, which resulted in the 49ers giving him the franchise tag to keep him for the 2012 season. He made the Pro Bowl once again this season, however, it would cost San Fran nearly $7.5M to tag him for a second time. Depending on what the Niners do, they may have to enter a bidding war to keep him. In my opinion, he's not worth as much as it will probably cost. He's also the same as Byrd, in the sense that he plays the same position as Bethea. I'd put him very low on my list, but I'm not ruling him out.
I was skeptical of Brown at first, due to the fact that he's played for three different teams during his 3-year career. However, he was fantastic for the Giants this past season. He's a restricted free agent this offseason, but it's possible that he will garner enough interest to coerce an offer. This season, Brown started 11 games, compiling 76 tackles to go along with 11 batted balls and an exciting eight interceptions. I feel as though he needs some consistency in the teams he's playing for. Being on a different team every year, it can be incredibly difficult to become consistently great. If he was signed and held onto for an extended period of time, he could become extremely good.
Going into his third NFL season, Moore played just two games as a rookie. However, he was challenged with a much bigger roll his sophomore season and he came through. He's battled injury issues which caused him to miss four games this past season, however, he's nothing short of a playmaker when he's on the field. He finished the season with 75 tackles, one sack, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. I could see, and would be on board with, the Colts snagging him up. Sure, his injury issues are a cause for alarm, however, with him being so young, he's going to have a stretch of healthy years.
Landry was released by Washington after two injury-plagued years. However, he stole my faith back with his pro bowl season for the Jets. LaRon had 99 tackles to accompany two interceptions. He's not the world's best coverage safety, however, he's known for his physical nature. This Colts defense could use some of that fire. Especially with Freeney out the door.
Both of these guys have spent their entire careers with one team. However, they're both set to become free agents, and there's no doubt that they are going to interest some teams if they decide to test the market. Reed still shows us glimpses of his ball-hawking prowess. I mean, the guy had four interceptions and one in the Super Bowl. Retirement is also something to take into account when talking about these two. I, personally, think the Colts would be better off going after someone younger, as there is a slew of young talent in this free agent class. I've always supported the idea of signing someone for the future over signing someone to take advantage of a one or two good years. However, I wouldn't be devastated if the Colts signed one of these players.
The Colts have one solid starting safety in Bethea, and Zbikowski can obviously start, if need be. However, there are numerous names on this list who should be able to start at safety for Indy. Not to mention, the Colts have a good number of guys who are great as backups, but really shouldn't be given any more responsibility. At least not at the moment. Indy really only needs to sign one of new safety, and luckily, they've got a lot to choose from.