The Indianapolis Colts are currently projected to have over $40 million in cap room and currently have 5 picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. They will certainly make some moves to improve their team for 2014, but the biggest additions will very likely not be a free agent signing or a draft pick. Instead, the biggest additions for the Colts this offseason will be getting their injured players back.
Last season, the Colts lost tight end Dwayne Allen, running back Vick Ballard, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, left guard Donald Thomas, and wide receiver Reggie Wayne to season ending injuries at points in the season, most of them in the first few weeks. While Bradshaw is a free agent and likely won't be back, the return of the others will be a bigger boost to the Colts in 2014 than any offseason signing or draft pick will be.
Ryan Grigson talked about getting Dwayne Allen back when he took the podium at the NFL Combine recently, saying:
"That's something internally, we're kind of excited about is the return of some of these really, really talented football players that we missed all year. That would include Reggie Wayne, Vick Ballard, and of course you mentioned Dwayne Allen, and Donald Thomas. There are some key players we lost and that's part of this game. But Dwayne Allen, specifically, the guy's a beast. Anyone that game plans against him or watches the tape, or Joe Fan that just sees him how he plays in the red zone, how he plays in traffic, how he blocks at the point of attack, the tempo he plays at and the ferocity he plays at, he's a guy you want on your team. He's doing very well and we look forward to him having a great year."
I'll go as far as to say that the return of Dwayne Allen will be the biggest addition of the offseason for the Colts - not any free agent they sign or any player they draft. And if it's not Allen, then getting the group of injured players back will be the biggest group of additions of any this offseason for the Colts.
Here's what they're getting back when they get their injured guys back, and I also talk about how it will really help the Colts to get them back:
Dwayne Allen, tight end:
Games Missed in 2013: 15
Entering the season we talked about how Allen was one of the Colts best players and was emerging as one of the league's better tight ends. He was injured in training camp and then was injured again in the first game of the season, an injury that ultimately ended his season. He caught 1 pass for 20 yards and a touchdown in his very limited playing time in 2013. In 2012, his rookie season, Allen caught 45 passes for 521 yards and 3 touchdowns and served as a safety blanket for Andrew Luck. Even more impressive than Allen's receiving production, however, was his blocking, and that was really the aspect the Colts missed the most in 2013. Allen was one of the best blocking tight ends in 2012 and would have been huge for the offense in 2013 and their run game. Getting Allen back will be incredibly big. Andrew Luck will get another good receiving target who has served as his safety blanket, the Colts will be getting a tremendous blocker which will help the running game a lot, and the Colts will get a versatile player who is a great all around tight end who can function in other roles (like a fullback) as well.
Vick Ballard, running back:
Games Missed in 2013: 15
After an impressive week one showing in 2013, Vick Ballard tore is ACL the following week in practice and was lost for the year. This was what caused the Colts to trade for Trent Richardson and it was really the start of the running game struggles in 2013. Ballard rushed 13 times for 63 yards (4.8 yards per carry) against the Raiders in week one of 2013, and in 2012 as a rookie Ballard rushed 211 times for 814 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and 2 touchdowns while also racking up 152 yards and a touchdown in the receiving game. Ballard isn't the most dynamic or special runner that you will find, but he is a hard worker who always runs hard and who produces. The Colts will absolutely take that this season, and ideally Ballard will be a great number two back for the team - but, again, that depends on how Richardson does. Getting Ballard back in 2014 will improve the running game (no matter what the offensive line is like, as Ballard still produced behind a line with Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn) and will no doubt be one of the biggest running back additions the Colts could make this offseason.
Donald Thomas, offensive guard:
Games Missed in 2013: 14
I wonder what people would be saying now about Ryan Grigson's offseason last year if Donald Thomas had played the entire season. He was injured early in the second game of the year against the Miami Dolphins, and before that he really looked to be the best offensive lineman the Colts had, although granted it was in a very small sample size. Either way, having Thomas start at left guard for the entire season would have meant that Hugh Thornton could have stepped in for Mike McGlynn at a more natural spot for Thornton, which would have really helped out the offensive line. That is what is likely to happen in 2014 with Thomas coming back - Hugh Thornton moves to right guard and Thomas starts at left guard. I think that Thomas is a good offensive lineman who can really help out a unit that has struggled in recent years. The Colts will certainly address the offensive line this offseason, but getting Donald Thomas back will be huge as well.
Reggie Wayne, wide receiver:
Games Missed in 2013: 9
The injury that no one has forgotten about, Reggie Wayne hadn't missed a game in over 11 seasons before tearing his ACL in week seven in a huge win against the Denver Broncos. Wayne caught 38 passes for 503 yards and 2 touchdowns before being injured, but even that doesn't tell the significance of it - Wayne was the safety blanket and the guy that opposing defenses really had to focus on. It took a huge dimension out of the Colts offense when Wayne went down, and their offense struggled adjusting. Wayne is also a team leader and that didn't change after his injury, but getting him back on the field will certainly help. There is no doubt that Reggie Wayne will be back in 2014 but there are questions about how effective the 35-year old receiver will be upon his return. That is one of the big reasons why the Colts have to address the receiver position this offseason, but the addition of Reggie Wayne next season will be a big one.
Getting Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Donald Thomas, and Reggie Wayne back will be huge for the Colts in 2014. Huge. No matter who the Colts get in free agency or in the draft, I would argue that getting these players back will be some of the biggest additions of the offseason for the Colts.