The mad scramble for free agents starts today, and from the looks of things teams are going to take it easy, seeing how the market will shake out. Dominic Rhodes is visiting the NY Giants today, and I think it's likely he'll sign there. Dom would be the perfect replacement for Tiki Barber, and he'd bring a calming, workman-like attitude to the Giants.
For the Colts, waiving Brandon Stokley and Montae Reagor has forced me to re-evaluate their needs going into next year. You all posted some good comments, and several of you sent me long emails detailing your thoughts on what Indy needs. Many thanks. Just to recap, the Colts need to do 5 things in order to repeat. The first three are still:
- Replenish linebacker corps. The loss of David Thornton last year to free agency hurt the Colts more than expected. His replacement, Gilbert Gardner, was completely ineffective. Colts defensive coordinator Ron Meeks called out Gardner prior to the Super Bowl. Rob Morris took Gardner's spot and played well, but he is not a long term solution. Morris is also a free agent, along with starting WILL Cato June. If Morris and June sign elsewhere, only MLB Gary Brackett will remain a holdover from the starting linebacker corps. It's important for the Colts to restock and reload at linebacker, either through the draft or free agency.
- Fix special teams coverage units. The coverage units on special teams were inconsistent all season. In games against KC and Baltimore, they dominated. In games against New England and Chicago, they sucked. In the playoffs, the regular ST players were so bad Dungy benched them and started players like Robert Mathis and Rob Morris on special teams. The Colts rely on rookies and young guys for special teams work, but they need to bring in some good veteran ST help. Dexter Reid was a nice addition last season, but he's since been cut. Improved special teams play is a must.
- Reliable third receiver. I love Brandon Stokley, but he is too injury prone to be trusted or relied upon. Dallas Clark came into his own this season, cementing himself as an elite TE both catching and blocking. However, it's important in the Colts offense to have a reliable third WR that can stretch the seam routes downfield. Teams like New England have fits with receivers like this (ala Dallas Clark). Now that Stokley is gone, we know Clark is not suited to play out wide for 16 games plus the playoffs. It will wear him down. A reliable third WR is important.
The two additional keys to them repeating, based on your thoughts and my final evaluations, are as follows:
- Development of the offensive line. LT Tarik Glenn and C Jeff Saturday are two of the best at their positions in football. The rest of the Colts offensive line, including highly paid RT Ryan Diem, are a group of well-coached over-achievers. I trashed Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott prior to the 2006 season because they played so horribly in the playoff game against Pittsburgh. However, in 2006, those two (when healthy) came to play and often dominated opposing d-linemen. But with Jake Scott seemingly leaving and the questionable health of Ryan Diem (the guy is always hurt), depth and development along the o-line is critical. I suggested the return of former-Colt Rick DeMulling as one solution. Guys like Charlie Johnson and Dylan Gandy are good pieces to build on, but continued development with this unit is crucial.
- More playmakers along the defensive line. With Reagor getting cut, and with the questions that continue to surround Corey Simon's health, it is vital the Colts sign or draft additional talent at defensive tackle. In fact, I think this is the most important key to repeating of the five. If anything happens to Booger McFarland, forget it. The Colts might as well not even take the field, because they have no chance without him. I like Raheem Brock and I think he is a complete stud for playing the whole year at DT. Brock is not a fulltime DT though. If Corey Simon returns, then my fears are quelled somewhat. But that isn't a given. Additional talent at DT is critical to the success of the Colts.
I know people, like bluegirl, were very adamant about getting a "real" FB. I agree a good FB would certainly help. Addai runs very well behind a FB. However, I personally think Dan Klecko filled that position quite nicely last season. He blocks well, is a tough guy, and can catch well around the goal-line. Klecko also offers some good depth at DT (his natural position). So, if the Colts re-sign him (and they damn well better), they kill two birds with one stone: good FB and depth at DT.
There you have it. Those are the keys. We'll keep an eye on these keys between now and Kickoff Weekend, and we'll refer to them with every move the Colts make. Thanks to everyone that offered opinions and insight.