The 2013 NFL Free Agency is slowly approaching and will shortly be under way in just under 2 weeks. During the Bill Polian regime, Free Agency never was that much of a hot topic.The former Colts President and General Manager never dwelled into signing free agents unless it was building the roster by filling in vacant roster spots or getting replacements for guys going on Injured Reserve. The majority of the players signed by Polian were pretty much "castaway" type players that never served any purpose on the team they were being released by.
Since Ryan Grigson took over as Colts G.M., he has been quite active in getting key players to help build this team into the formidable franchise it once was. Grigson did the best he can with "house money" in the 2012 NFL season and Colts fans all over the globe praised his attempts at finding the best players suitable to play for this franchise. But now, the Colts reportedly have between $40 Million and $46 Million in cap space ($43 Million being the most accurate estimate) to bring in the best players available and try to fill as many holes the team has before the 2013 NFL Draft is underway. This may perhaps be the biggest Free Agency splash us Colts fans will ever witness take place. I know that Ryan Grigson will try to fill holes on both sides of the ball to the best of his ability and it will be a mixture of O-Lineman and defensive players.
Chuck Pagano came from the Baltimore Ravens, who always had one of the most physical and well disciplined defenses in the NFL year in and year out during his tenure. Widely regarded as the best secondary coach in the league today, Pagano may want the Colts defense to emulate the type of defense the Ravens always had. With an elite caliber defense, this will perhaps propel the Colts into Super Bowl contenders. Despite the Indianapolis Colts 2012-13 record of 11-5; the defense was far from solid and actually costed us a few games. While injuries were the main cause of several short comings on defense, we witnessed bad play from CB Cassius Vaughn and SS Tom Zibkowski while gems like ILB Jerrell Freeman and off the streets CB Darius Butler played solid enough to show everyone they belong here. We went into the season with our defensive front 7 and secondary looking like this:
LDE- Moala NT-Johnson RDE: Redding
LOLB-Mathis LILB-Freeman RILB-Connor ROLB-Freeney
1CB-Davis 2CB-Powers FS-Bethea SS-Zbikowski
Injuries derailed our defensive efforts as we saw McKinney get injured early in the season forcing a 4-3 DT to play as a 3-4 NT. CB Jerraud Powers was placed on IR for the 3rd consecutive season which forced Vaughn to step up as the #2 CB. Moala and Nevis both ending their season on IR as well despite showing good strides as 3-4 DEs.
With over $40 Million dollars to grab as many players as possible to "Build that Monster", I’m pretty sure Grigson and Pagano both are looking at potential players who can be molded into a fearsome defensive unit and increase the chances of winning a Super Bowl. Let’s take a look at players who are built to fit the man-to-man coverage scheme based out of the 3-4 alignment.
Cowboys CB Mike Jenkins
Jaguars CB Derek Cox
Steelers CB Keenan Lewis
Dolphins CB Sean Smith
Bills CB Leodis McKelvin
Chargers CB Antoine Cason
Giants CB Justin Tryon
Ravens DE Paul Kruger
Jets DE Mike DeVito
Bengals DE Michael Johnson
Dolphins DE Randy Starks
49ers ILB Tavares Gooden
Ravens ILB Dannell Ellerbe
Chargers OLB Antwan Barnes
Cowboys OLB Anthony Spencer
Bengals OLB Manny Lawson
Texans OLB Connor Barwin
Jets SS Laron Landry
49ers SS Dashon Goldson
Texans SS Glover Quinn
Falcons SS William Moore
This part is quite tricky cause it all comes down to faith and loyalty. If Pagano has faith in Tom Zbikowski to be the starting Strong Safety, then the Colts won’t pursue an upgrade. We have 4 CBs from last year as Free Agents, Butler and Powers both are UFA; Vaughn is a RFA; Gordy is an ERFA. I’ll rather Grigson resigned Darius Butler and let the other three walk. Butler came to the team after Vontae Davis was injured. Butler was not with us at the beginning of the season; he didn’t partake in any of the teams off-season activities or pre-season. He had to learn a whole new defensive scheme on the fly due to playing in zone coverage schemes with the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers. When Butler finally came to a man-to-man coverage defense (which he played in college) he showed revitalization in his skills. Powers is solid but injury prone, he should take a vet minium contract or walk. Vaughn and Gordy are scrubs at best and we can easily find better depth than these two.
I think Mike Jenkins and Derek Cox both have a major shot at getting signed by the Colts. Pagano was heavily interested in Jenkins prior to the pre-season and Grigson was going to pull the trigger for that trade. Jerry Jones said that Jenkins will stay put, this lead to the Colts trading a 2013 2nd Round draft pick for Dolphins CB Vontae Davis. The Cowboys hired Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin on January 11, 2013 and will implement his 4-3 Tampa 2 zone coverage scheme. Mike Jenkins is a man coverage CB who will not fit into the plans of Kiffin’s defensive philosophy. Derek Cox is quite underrated but one of the best press coverage CBs in the league, he effectively bumps faster WRs from burning him deep and can easily re-route a WR into running in a heavily coverage section of the field. The Jaguars have a decent amount of cap space to resign Cox if they want to, but what if Cox wants a change of scenery and wants to play for a team who actually wins games and having a much greater chance at the Super Bowl. We have the money to sign him and the "leverage" to entice him not to ask for too much money. Our CB corps will consist 1CB- Davis, 2CB- Jenkins, Nickel CB -Cox, and Dime CB -Butler. This group of guys forms a very talented man coverage cornerback Corps. Each guy is a potential starter and can easily rotate in and out, that keeps the CBs well rested and safe from injuries. Maybe Dolphins CB Sean Smith would like to reunite with former teammate and friend Vontae Davis. Like Vasquez, Chargers CB Antoine Cason has connections to Indy through Jimmy Raye, perhaps he too would like to play for a legit playoff contender and use his skill set to help the Colts get to the Super Bowl and earn himself a ring.
After signing a CB or two, we can use a stud DE to pair with Redding on the D-Line, Kruger knows Pagano and in turn should know the "in and outs" of Pagano's defensive game plan. If we was to sign Kruger, let’s hope he doesn’t turn into the disappointment Zbikowski was. Jets DE Mike DeVito can be an addition to the Colts D-Line. The New York Jets are in very deep salary cap hell (almost $20 Million) and really can not afford to resign DeVito. DeVito was a small-school prospect back in 2007 who earned his spot on the Jets.
While our ILBs corps is the strongest element on the defense. We can use a fast, strong, and aggressive rush OLB on the team to add to the terror of getting to the QB. Anthony Spencer is the best candidate available; while he is a 3-4 OLB, the only way he remains a Cowboy is if Kiffin sees him as a 4-3 DE and use him a "Freeney" type of DE. Otherwise he can make his way here as a Colt. Grigson can also sign a few under the radar guys like Chargers OLB Antwan Barnes or Bengals OLB Manny Lawson. Barnes has slight connections to Indianapolis; outside of Jimmy Raye, Chuck Pagano is the older brother to John Pagano; the defensive coordinator of the San Diego Chargers, also Barnes and Chuck were together during their tenure in Baltimore back in 2008 and 2009.
If Grigson was to use free agency to build a solid defensive capable of becoming a TOP 10 defense in the NFL, he can used the 2013 NFL Draft to help build Andrew Luck an O-Line capable of protecting him from running for dear life and helping the RBs corps do the majority of the running. The draft for O-Lineman can turn out like this:
1st Round: OG Chance Warmack*, OG Larry Warford, OT Barrett Jones, or OT Eric Fisher
3rd Round: OG Travis Frederick*, OG Alvin Bailey, OT Kyle Long, or OT Oday Aboushi
4th Round: OG Hugh Thornton, OT Kyle Long, OT Brennan Williams, OT Xavier Nixon, OT Chris Faulk, or OT Menelik Watson
*= pipe dream, most likely to be off the board.