Free agency is coming shortly, as that is where the league transitions after the season is over. For all but four teams, the season is already over and that means for some making coaching changes and for most it means looking towards free agency and the draft. That is the Colts case right now, and at this point the real question is not which players from other teams the Colts are going to go after but the most pressing question right now is which players whose contracts are up are the Colts going to keep. The Colts have 18 unrestricted free agents, 2 restricted free agents, and 3 exclusive rights free agents whose contracts expire March 11. Let's take a look at each one of them and what their chances are of coming back next season.
Keep in mind, however, that both general manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano have said that they have not made any decisions yet on who they will re-sign. Grigson said Thursday that he will take a break and get away for a short while before determining that. When asked about whether they've made any decisions yet, Grigson said:
"No, it's way cart before the horse. I've not talked to anyone. Those conversations will come later. You've got to remember, this is a long season. These coaches, and myself even, aren't in the frame of mind yet to make good decisions. We need to get a little rest, eat three meals and maybe just kind of live normal for at least a few days before we start making huge decisions. We need to step away."
Just keep that in mind when reading the following, and especially keep it in mind when I talk about what players said or tweeted recently. It's possible that not even Grigson knows whether they'll be coming back next year. It is a long offseason indeed, and Grigson and his staff will get around to it at the right time. But there's nothing saying that we can't start looking at it already, so let's do so here and look at each of the 23 upcoming free agents for the Colts:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:*
Pat Angerer, LB: There hasn't been a player who has worked harder and fought through more injuries to play than Pat Angerer, but it seems that he's always either playing hurt or not playing because he's hurt. He deserves credit for his hard work and for trying to fight through various injuries, but I don't see him coming back. His career in Indianapolis probably (fittingly) ended with him on injured reserve.
Antoine Bethea, S: The 8-year veteran has spent his entire career with the Colts and has produced, totaling over 100 tackles in 5 different seasons and over 90 tackles in 7 seasons. His play has dropped off in the past two years, however, and that makes him a big question mark as to whether he'll return. He said on Monday when talking to the media that, "Free agency is here. It's my first time really testing the market, so kind of excited. Want to finish my career here, but if not, hey, got to go on and start a new chapter in my career." I think the Colts will let him test the market but will keep an eye on him and would welcome him back, but they won't break the bank or overpay for him. They'll let Bethea test the market and see if he can find a better deal elsewhere, and I think he will. I don't expect him to be back.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB: He was a good signing last offseason and ran well in the limited time he played, but a neck injury in week three ended his season. For a running back coming off of neck surgery and for a team with Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard already under contract and with Donald Brown likely to be a bigger priority than Bradshaw, I don't expect him to be back.
Deion Branch, WR: He was only signed the week before the Patriots game and never appeared in a game for the Colts. The team will address the wide receiver position this offseason, but it won't be with Branch. He's gone.
Donald Brown, RB: Before the season, we all were talking about how we only had one more year of Donald Brown on the Colts. Now, everyone is asking me whether they'll re-sign him. He was a huge part of the 2013 season and turned his career around. Now the Colts face a decision on what to do with their former first round draft pick (from the Bill Polian regime). They already have Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard under contract, which makes the return of Brown unnecessary but still would be nice to have - as we saw this year. The Colts will give him a nice, fair offer, but I think Brown can find better than that elsewhere, and he seems to already know that he probably won't be coming back, as he tweeted the other day that it "Was an honor and privilege to play for the Colts. An organization made up of phenomenal people. Will always be indebted to the horseshoe." I think he'll get a better offer elsewhere, and I don't expect him to be back.
Sergio Brown, S: How much of a priority the Colts place on brining back Sergio Brown will reveal just how much the management thinks of special teams. Brown is about as good as it gets on special teams, and he absolutely should be back. I think he will be, too.
Kavell Conner, LB: It is abundantly clear to me that I like Conner much more than the coaching staff does, and that was obvious as the coaching staff didn't play him much this year. He's good depth and a good role player who looks good in the starting lineup, too, but for whatever reason the coaching staff isn't very high on him. I don't expect him to be back.
Vontae Davis, CB: In my opinion the biggest decision Ryan Grigson has to make when it comes to the Colts free agents this year is what to do with Vontae Davis. He traded for Davis before the start of the 2012 season and Davis has at times shown top-tier cornerback potential. At other times he has been inconsistent. He said Monday that, "I expect to be in Indy. It's a great organization. I love playing for this organization," and that being traded to the Colts was "the best thing that happened for me. Got my career going in the right direction. Looking forward, the sky is the limit." He absolutely is a priority to re-sign, but the question is at what price. In the end, though, I just don't see the Colts letting Davis walk. He's 25 years old, a fit for Chuck Pagano's defense, and has shown potential. I think Davis will be back next season with a new contract.
Aubrayo Franklin, NT: He was a solid player on the defensive line this year whom Grigson brought in on a one year deal last offseason, but he's not nearly a priority to re-sign by any means. If he does come back, it will be on a lower deal and Grigson will keep looking for better players along the line.
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR: Nope. And no, they shouldn't re-sign him for special teams, either. It was a low-risk one year deal that turned out terribly, and now it's over for the Colts.
Jeff Linkenbach, OT: He's a versatile lineman who provides depth for the Colts and can step in and play nicely if needed to. With the starting offensive line being a huge priority this offseason, they'll need some depth guys there still. Linkenbach is the type of depth that coaches love because of his versatility, and so I could see him coming back.
Ricardo Mathews, DT: He is also the type of player that coaches like to have around as depth because of his versatility along the defensive line, but he's also easily replaceable.
Pat McAfee, P: A fan favorite and a very good punter, too, McAfee set a franchise record in 2013 with 27 punts downed inside the 20 yard line, all while playing on the franchise tag. Recently, he tweeted a statement to Colts fans that suggested he might not be coming back next year, saying that, "It's been an honor to play on this team and to represent the Colts the past 5 years. You fans have been wonderful. The future is very bright in Indianapolis, and the legion of Colts fans deserve it. Thank you to every single one of you. You're the best." The Colts would love to have McAfee back, but they won't overpay to keep him (that was evident last offseason) and I don't think he'll be back.
Mike McGlynn, OG: At first it seems like a no-brainer that this one is a "NO!!!!!," but I could see a possibility where they bring him back on a small deal as a backup center. I don't think that's the most likely option, but I could see it happening. Either way, he's not a priority.
Fili Moala, DE: A backup who has stuck around due to his fit in Chuck Pagano's defense, if they bring him back it will still be as a backup and role player.
Lawrence Sidbury, OLB: A free agent signing by Grigson last year, he never played a snap with the Colts before being placed on injured reserve. In other words, the Colts still don't really know what they have in Sidbury because they haven't worked with him much. They won't be in a rush to re-sign him, but I could see the team brining him back to try to earn a roster spot.
Cassius Vaughn, CB: He had some great performances and he had some terrible performances with the Colts. He brings depth to the position, but he's also easily replaceable (although I said the same about Donnie Avery last year and look how that turned out...).
Adam Vinatieri, K: He wants to come back and play another year, as when asked about it he said, "for sure. I'm still enjoying it. I feel like I can still do it at a high enough level" and that "if it's up to me, I'd love to be here." He is coming off one of his best career years and if he wants to keep playing, he should be offered a contract by the Colts. And if the Colts offer him a contract, he'll be back. I think we'll see number 4 in the blue and white again next year.
RESTRICTED FRE AGENTS:**
Josh Gordy, CB: Could depend on what the Colts decide to do with the other corners, especially Cassius Vaughn. Gordy is a good depth player but not a priority.
Joe Reitz, OG: I think bringing Reitz back would be a good depth move, but the fact that he was a healthy inactive for the two postseason games doesn't bode well for that happening and doesn't really make it seem like the coaching staff likes him that much.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:***
Justin Hickman, LB: Hickman also spent the season on injured reserve but he was very impressive in training camp and preseason before the injury. I remember being impressed with Hickman and I expect the coaching staff to remember as well, and I think they'll give him an offer.
Cam Johnson, LB: Traded for earlier in the season, Johnson saw his playing time decrease as the season went on. He's not a priority, although I could see the Colts offering him a deal to bring him back to try and make the team.
Scott Lutrus, LB: He was on injured reserve for the season and probably wasn't going to make the team anyways. He probably won't be offered a deal.
* Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) means that the player is free to sign with any team with no restrictions.
** Restricted Free Agent (RFA) means that if the Colts make the player a one-year deal another team would need to compensate the Colts with draft picks in order to sign that player.
*** Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFA) means that if the Colts make the player a one-year offer, the player has no option but to either accept the offer or not play football.