Entering the offseason in 2014, the Colts have work to do in order to reach the next level - the Super Bowl. At times this year they were absolutely playing at a Super Bowl level, but they were much too inconsistent. Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at the positions of need as we near free agency and draft time. Today, we'll look at the running backs.
The Colts have Trent Richardson coming back, and while he was terrible in 2013 the hope is that with a full offseason of work he can improve going into his third year in the league. Vick Ballard is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in practice before the week 2 game this year, and he will also be coming back for his third season next year. Richardson will very likely enter camp as the starting back with Ballard behind him at number two.
So why is running back a need?
Because outside of a guy who was terrible and a guy coming back from a torn ACL, the Colts don't really have a lot at running back. Two of the big name backs in a Colts backfield that on paper looked really good are Donald Brown and Ahmad Bradshaw, and both of them are due to become free agents on March 11.
The Colts also have Tashard Choice, Chris Rainey, and Dan Herron (the latter two are also recovering from season-ending injuries), but none of those three is a guarantee to be with the Colts next year, much less play a significant role. I liked what I saw out of Herron on special teams and in very limited time in the backfield for the Colts, but it was much too small of a sample size to be able to enter next season with him entrenched as the number three back.
The real question at the running back position comes down to this: what will Donald Brown do? If Brown re-signs with the Colts, not only would it be a big addition for the team but it would also mean that running back really isn't a need this offseason. Sure, they might add someone else, but I wouldn't consider it a need. Due to the fact that Brown is a free agent and his future is uncertain, however, running back is a need at this point.
Here is what I wrote about both Brown and Bradshaw as pending free agents earlier this year in my Colts free agency preview:
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.
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.
This position is a wait and see for the Colts right now. I think their first target at running back will certainly be Donald Brown, but I don't think they will overpay for him and I do sincerely think he will get a better deal elsewhere. If they don't re-sign Brown, they will need to add a running back through free agency or the draft.
Here's the big caution, however: don't expect it to be a big-name player that comes in. It won't be a big-money free agent or a high draft pick at running back. The Colts already have two good running backs (hopefully...) under contract for next season, and they will have a hard time luring any notable running back to Indy to compete with two other players. And honestly, that's best for the Colts too - they shouldn't overpay for a running back and they shouldn't be giving out significant money to a guy that will come in to compete with two other guys at running back. While this is a need, it's not a major one for the Colts and they shouldn't prioritize this position over several of the other more glaring needs. They'll need to address the position, but it's not a pressing concern at the moment and it will be more of a wait and see approach.
Potential Running Back Options for teams this Offseason:
Free Agents (keep in mind some of these players will be re-signed by their current team):
- Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos
- Ben Tate, Houston Texans
- Rashad Jennings, Oakland Raiders
- Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
- Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars
- Rashard Mendenhall, Arizona Cardinals
- Andre Brown, New York Giants
- Donald Brown, Indianapolis Colts
- LeGarrette Blount, New England Patriots
- James Starks, Green Bay Packers
- Toby Gerhart, Minnesota Vikings
- Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
- Lache Seastrunk, Baylor
- Bishop Sankey, Washington
- Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
- Tre Mason, Auburn
- Andre Williams, Boston College
- Charles Sims, West Virginia
- Marion Grice, Arizona State
- De'Anthony Thomas, Oregon
- Jerry Hill, LSU
- Devonta Freeman, Florida State