Per usual, the Colts have let some of their free agents go this off-season. Per usual, these free agents were contributors to a successful season. Per usual, we Colts fans get to hear the same old tired song going into the new season: Can the Colts overcome their free agent loses?
We heard it ad nauseum last season when the Colts let Edgerrin James sign with Arizona. This season, the added twist of repeating as World Champions comes into the equation. Can the Colts repeat as World Champions with their roster turnover? My immediate answer is yes because, quite frankly, the Colts did not lose any significant contributors to free agency. Of course I'm going to say that. I'm a homer. However, despite my status as a big fat Colts homer, I will show how every player the Colts lost this off-season is replaceable either by someone already on the team or by a new free agent signing or a rookie.
Dominic Rhodes, RB: Many think the loss of Rhodes (and possibly Nick Harper) are the two biggest hits for the Colts this off-season. Rhodes was an absolute beast in the playoffs, and he ran for over 100 yards and a TD in the Super Bowl. Without Rhodes, the Colts might not have eaten up 8-plus minutes in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore ravens playoff game. However, it is important to note that as good as Rhodes was, Joseph Addai was better. This was especially true during the regular season, but equally so in the playoffs. Addai had an equally impressive game in the Super Bowl, and was just as strong in the playoffs. Addai's fourth quarter TD gave the Colts the lead for good in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots. With Rhodes' replacement, the Colts are looking for someone to share the load with Addai, not carry the load for him. They don't want to run Joseph into the ground the way they used to do Edge. Perhaps DeDe Dorsey is an option. He sat the bench all season, but Dungy has always been high on him. The same with Kory Chapman. He was cut and brought back on-and-off all year in 2006. The Colts like him, but can't seem to find ways to keep him on the roster. Of course, finding a RB in the draft is still a possibility.
Nick Harper, CB: Without a doubt, Harper was the best corner the Colts had in 2006. Harper was consistent all year. He was in Steve McNair's head (per usual) during the Baltimore playoff game. However, it is important to note that Nick Harper did not play much in the Super Bowl. Marlin Jackson did. The same Marlin Jackson that was drafted in the first round two years ago. The same Marlin Jackson that ended New England's season when he picked off Tom Brady in the AFCCG. There is still talk of moving Jackson to safety. I still say it is garbage. Jackson is a CB, and should remain a CB. He should start at CB alongside Jason David. Kelvin Hayden (who intercepted Rex Grossman and ran it back for a TD in the Super Bowl) and Tim Jennings can battle it out for the nickel. Harper was a good player, but injuries and age caught up with him, and the Colts have several DBs waiting in the wings to take his place.
Cato June, LB: Cato is a bit of a mystery to me. He was a Pro Bowl backer in 2005. He had an amazing season. In 2006, his production increased. He won a ring. He played well in the playoffs. However, during the 2006 regular season, Cato June was awful. Cato's numbers in 2006 are proof that stats, oftentimes, mean nothing. Despite improved stats in 2006 over 2005, it was painfully clear that Cato June was just plain inconsistent. Watching the Colts 2006 season DVD, you can see that whenever a running back broke through the front seven to make a big gain, more often than not Cato June was there, and he just flat missed the tackle. In the Game of Pain (the beat down at the hands of the Jaguars last season), Cato June was as bad as it gets. At one point in that game, he quit. That was disheartening, and I think it cost him an extension with the Colts. Waiting in the wings to replace Cato is Freddie Keiaho, who was drafted last year. The Colts are very high on Freddie, but they were also high on Gilbert Gardner last year. I still think we fans haven't seen the last of Gilbert. The Colts did extend him. Don't be surprised to see Gilbert start at WILL (Cato's old position) and see Freddie start at SAM (Gilbert's old position, before he was benched in favor of Rob Morris).
Brandon Stokley, WR: I'm a big Stokley fan. It's hard not to like him. He's a little guy that runs really, really fast. He's a hard worker. Runs great routes. Plays hard. Plays hurt. Does all the little things. But, let's be honest hear: The Colts won the Super Bowl without a single significant contribution from Stokley in 2006. Why? Because he was hurt, again. Stokley is always hurt. Always. There is always something wrong with the guy: A hamstring, a foot, a wrist, etc. Stokley added a nice dimension to the Colts offense by letting them go 3 WR to spread teams out. However, during the playoffs, the Colts found out that splitting TE Dallas Clark out wide did the same thing. Most NFL DBs cannot run with Clark. He's as fast as a WR, and he's bigger and stronger. Ask New England. No one could cover Clark in the AFCCG. So, while I like Stokley, and while I think he will do very well in Denver, he simply did not fit with the Colts anymore. They didn't need him, and his cap hit was to high. Cutting him saved money.
Montae Reagor, DT: I'm the most saddened by Reagor's departure. While he played, he was an excellent Tampa 2 DT. A car accident robbed him of his 2006 season. He still has not fully healed from the accident, and he might not be able to start the 2007 season for Philly because he is still recovering. However, like Stokley, the Colts won the Super Bowl without Reagor. Raheem Brock and Booger McFarland played better together than Reagor and Corey Simon did. I honestly think the Colts wanted to re-sign Reagor, but Philly simply offered a contract the Colts were unwilling to match.
Corey Simon, DT: He hasn't been cut yet, but it is only a matter of time. The Colts went the entire 2006 season without Simon, and won the Super Bowl. Booger McFarland is a better DT than Simon. Obviously, it would be ideal to have both McFarland and Simon start on the d-line, but that isn't happening. Simon's career as a player might be over, and Bill Polian thinks signing Simon in 2005 was a mistake.
It's important to note that the Colts will indeed return all of the major difference makers in 2007. Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Vinatieri, Saturday, Glenn, Clark, Freeney, McFarland, Sanders, Mathis, and Addai are all expected back. This is not like, say, Pittsburgh last season. They lost key players like Antwaan Randle-El, Chris Pope, and Jerome Bettis. Their QB, Ben Roethlisberger, acted like a moron in the off-season, and regardless of whether he wants to admit it or not, his injuries from his off-season motorcycle accident cost his team a playoff berth. Likely, the Colts will have a strong draft and might pick up a few key free agents. This will allow them to re-load as they shoot to repeat as World Champions.