There are going to be 1,000 of these. But, I'm going to make it 1,001. 2014 will be a defining year for the legacy of Colts GM Ryan Grigson. There has always been that unwritten rule about "you can't judge [a player] until their third season." And, that philosophy will apply to the Colts third-year GM. But, what is even more important than 2014 being a clear definition of Grigson's vision for this franchise, 2014 brings one of the most turbulent free agencies for the Indianapolis Colts I can ever remember.
My first recollection of a year where there could be so many moving parts was the year Indy faced a Dallas Clark expiring contract. As I recalled, there were "a lot" of big decisions Bill Pollian had to make that year. That year was the 2008 season. And, upon further review, 2008 doesn't even come close. Let's compare.
2008 Pending Free Agents + Result
RG Jake Scott - Signed with Tennessee. (This would prove to be devestating. The Colts have never replaced Scott still to this day.)
TE Dallas Clark - Re-signed.
LG Ryan Lilja - Re-signed.
Key Roleplayer Back-ups
TE Ben Utecht - Signed with Cincinnati. (Utecht's departure effectively eliminated the Colts 2 Tight-end set. Pollian quickly attempted to replace Utecht with rookie draftee's Jacob Tamme & Tom Santi. Santi spent his first season on IR, while Tamme's rookie season was ineffective. By 2010 Indianapolis had a comparable 2-TE-Tandem in Clark+Tamme. But, this would prove to be a "breakout year" for Tamme when Clark was lost during the season.)
OL Dylan Gandy - Re-signed.
DT Ed Johnson - Re-signed.
DL Darrell Reid - Re-signed.
DE Josh Thomas - Re-signed.
All the Rest
LB Rocky Boiman - Re-signed.
TE Bryan Fletcher - Resigned.
S Matt Giordano - Re-signed.
DL/FB Dan Klecko - Signed with Philadelphia (and permanently moved to FB).
Aaron Moorehead - Not tendered.
TE Mike Seidman - Not tendered.
2014 Pending Free Agents (Brace yourself)
CB Vontae Davis
RG's Mike McGlynn & Jeff Linkenbach
ILB's Pat Angerer & Kavell Conner
K Adam Vinatieri
Key Roleplayer Back-ups
DT's Jeris Pendleton & Fili Moala
OG Joe Reitz
CB Josh Gordy
DE Ricardo Mathews
All The Rest
CB Cassius Vaughn
ILB Scott Lutrus
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
Wow. 15 players that have played a major role in the 12 regular season and post season victories the Colts managed this season. Like I said, I couldn't remember a time when the Colts were faced with more moving parts than they'll face this season. So, it's time to really find out what Ryan Grigson is made of.
I'm sure, like all of us, Mr. Grigson frequents the fan posts of Stampede Blue. So, I'll go ahead and share my suggestions/predictions. For fun, I'm going to prioritize each and provide a small explanation.
1. CB Vontae Davis - Davis has played inconsistently for Indianapolis. Regardless, with no first round draft choice and only Greg Toler & Darius Butler under contract for 2014 the Colts really don't have much a choice, and little leverage, in retaining Davis. Davis will most likely get a pretty fair deal. But, looking at the previous season's "marquee" free agent signings at the CB position, retaining Davis won't break the bank.
2. P Pat McAfee - Considering Adam Vinatieri's age, and McAfee's talent, the Colts will most likely pursue McAfee hard. Without looking at the names, it's easy to assume McAfee will be among the top special teams free agents available in 2014. McAfee is one of few players on this list that could turn his services into a bidding war and opt to leave. Punter's don't typically herald enormous contracts. But, McAfee has become one of the better punters & kickoff specialists in the league. In addition, McAfee has confidentally publicized his ability in place kicking as well (McAfee was primarily West Virginia's place kicker).
3. RB Donald Brown - Brown played the 2013 NFL season like a true starting running back in the NFL. Someone please, try and disagree with me. In a contract year, Donald Brown put on the best performance of his career. And, I firmly believe, even given his prior health issues, Indianapolis should pursue Donald Brown in free agency as their starting running back moving forward. Vick Ballard may very well be returning. But, he'll return from an ACL reconstruction due to injury from a non-contact play. Regardless of what Adrian Peterson may have accomplished in 2012, Ballard's return comes with no guarantees. I'm not a cap guru or anything. So, I don't know what type of ramifications it might have. But, it would not disappoint me if the Colts packaged Trent Richardson into a player-for-player trade for a role player at another position. Richardson played indecisive and down right awful for Indianapolis this season. I hope I'm wrong. But, it's hard to imagine a situation where Richardson's production justifies his acquisition, because it's almost completely unrealistic that he'll ever justify the price Indianapolis paid.
4. DT Jeris Pendleton - "Number 4!?" Pendleton has only appeared in 3 games for Indianapolis. But, his brief stint with the team has not gone unnoticed. Pendleton has demonstrated an absolutely unrelentless pass rush. With one of the largest issues the Colts defense faced this season being creating pressure (aside from Robert Mathis), Pendleton is more than deserving of at least a 1-year-deal to see exactly what he can do for Indianapolis.
5. RG Mike McGlynn or Jeff Linkenbach - First, the Colts have to decide who they like more at right guard. First, they bench McGlynn. Then, Linkenbach is injured. Then, Linkebach returns. But, the Colts never named McGlynn the starter again. Yet, I don't know that I ever saw Linkenbach back on the field. Regardless, neither is a starting offensive linemen in the NFL. But, both have a great deal of experiencing starting. And, the Colts don't yet have a clear replacement at the position. Retaining either (or even both) player doesn't necessarily mean the Colts want to start him. Quite the contrary. Indianapolis should look to retain either of the venerable linemen while also seaking to replace him. This will provide very valuable depth for Indianapolis.
6. ILB Kavell Conner - The way Indianapolis has dealt with Kavell is just beyond confusing. Media personnel and even Pro Football Focus have even backed up my thoughts that Conner has out performed nearly every linebacker that has received playing time in front of him. I'm assuming Indianapolis has high hopes for Jerrell Freeman, Kelvin Sheppard, & Josh McNary. But, Conner should be retained along with them. Honestly though, if Indianapolis can find a talented enough player, an upgrade at the ILB position is needed for this team. Jerrell Freeman has soured high above any reasonable expectations anyone could have ever set for him. But, for Chuck Pagano's defense to truly be effective Indianapolis will need to find an ILB that will make Freeman his number 2. In the meantime though, contingent on Josh McNary's development, Conner should be retained as Freeman's number 2.
7. S Antoine Bethea - Chuck Pagano's defense often asks Antoine Bethea to play to his weaknesses. Bethea had made a career of playing free safety in a zone 4-3 defense. Some could even argue that Bethea's skills were better suited for the strong safety role. He's now played both positions in Jim Caldwell's Dungy Cover 2, and Chuck Pagano's hybrid 3-4. The latter coming in the previous two seasons. Simply put, Antoine Bethea hasn't been the same player for the past two seasons. Without getting all "scientific" and breaking down tape, etc, it's just easier to say Antoine Bethea has disappointed in Chuck Pagano's defense. With no known plans (and absolutely NO free agents available) to replace him, Bethea could be retained. Given how much the Colts organization likes him he probably will be. I have been a huge fan of Antoine Bethea. But, he (and Laron Landry) has been a liability at times for Indianapolis' defense.
8. NT Aubrayo Franklin - Where was this Josh Chapman guy who played against New England at all season? Well, for the most part he was playing behind Aubrayo Franklin. And, Franklin provided Chuck Pagano's Colts defense it's first viable option at nose tackle. I'm not certain what to make of Josh Chapman's limited playing time this season. Did he receive the "rookie" treatment in his first NFL season? Or, is he just not a developed enough prospect for Pagano's defense. The team knows. The answer to those questions, and Franklin's price tag, will determine if he returns for the 2014 season.
9. S Sergio Brown - At one point very early in the 2013 season it almost looked as if Sergio Brown would lose his roster spot to Delano Howell. Instead though, Indianapolis would keep both players (listed both as free safeties). Brown proved the more durable player spending most of 2013 with a large club on his hand, and dealing with other injuries, while Howell was lost to season-ending IR. Brown had been consistently heralded by Coach Pagano as a difference maker for his football team playing on special teams. And, for that reason, he will most likely be retained for the 2014 season.
10. K Adam Vinatieri - Questions as to whether Vinny can still play at a high level are null. But, his age does raise questions. And also relevant, his age raises his cap value. If the Colts don't have solid plans to replace Vinatieri (through free agency or the draft) retaining him will not be a bad thing. He just costs a lot of money.
And, here's the rest:
League Minimum Contract Tenders
DT Fili Moala
OL Joe Reitz
CB Josh Gordy
DE Ricardo Matthews
OLB Justin Hickman
OLB Cam Johnson
Let them Walk
ILB Pat Angerer
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
CB Cassius Vaughn
ILB Scott Lutrus
OLB Lawrence Sidbury
WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
You can always tweet me @Ross_Wheatley. Hope you enjoyed. Thanks for reading.