With the news coming out that any player who has an expiring contract, and has played at least four years in the NFL, becoming a Free Agent, it's time to dive into just who this will affect for the Colts, who they should keep, and who should get sent packing. I'm so excited to get to talk about real football.
Lets start with the players who are currently under contract and have four or more years of service, so these players will definitely be back, barring an unforeseen cut: Antoine Bethea, Gary Brackett, Dallas Clark, Ryan Diem*, Dwight Freeney, Anthony Gonzalez, Kelvin Hayden*, Robert Mathis, Jeff Saturday, Justin Snow, Reggie Wayne. The two players with an asterisk, Diem and Hayden, are two guys who I think will ultimately get cut before the start of the season. Diem will almost assuredly go after the Colts first two draft picks of Offensive Linemen. Hayden makes a ton of money, and I think his cap hit will be too much for the Colts to swallow. Everyone else I feel is safe for 2011.
Next let's hit the guys who are currently under contract but only have three or fewer years of service in the NFL. These guys will also not be affected by the new rules. I'm sure a handful of these guys won't make the 53-man roster, and I'll star those guys I don't think will make the cut. The complete list is: Pat Angerer, Cornelius Brown*, Donald Brown, David Caldwell*, John Chick*, Austin Collie, Kavell Conner, Brody Eldridge, Pierre Garcon, Cody Glenn,* Jordan Hemby*, Jerry Hughes, Javarris James*, Brandon King*, Jacob Lacey, Jeff Linkenbach, Ricardo Matthews, Pat McAfee, Jacques McClendon, Fili Moala, Devin Moore*, Mike Newton*, Curtis Painter, Mike Pollak, Jerraud Powers, Jamie Richard*, Tom Santi, Taj Smith*, Jacob Tamme, Jaimie Thomas*, Kevin Thomas, Nate Triplett*, Justin Tryon, Chip Vaughn, Philip Wheeler, Blair White.
There are also several others who are not under contract in 2011 but have less than four years of service, and my understanding is that these guys will become Restricted Free Agents or Exclusive Rights Free Agents, which means the Colts will have the first chance to sign them, and have the right to match any offer by another team. These players include: Al Afalava*, Kyle DeVan, Eric Foster, Mike Hart, Mike Richardson*, Gijon Robinson*.
Now, those all important Free Agents. I'm going to group them into three groups: Should sign, Sign under right circumstances, Don't sign.
Colts Should Sign:
QB Peyton Manning - Duh.
RB Joseph Addai -In a football sense, it doesn't make sense for the Colts to sign a RB going into his sixth season to a multi-year deal, especially when there is precedent with a guy who should be considered for the Hall of Fame getting cut loose after year 7. But Addai is such an asset to the passing game, in both catching the ball and pass blocking, that it seems as though this could be a Manning "security blanket" type move to keep him around. Signing him will almost assuredly make the several players in the next group unaffordable for the Colts, but I think he's worth it.
DT Antonio Johnson - Mookie is completely underrated in his ability to stuff the run, and he makes others around him much better. The Colts like staying young on the interior of the defensive line, but have kept productive experienced players like Raheem Brock and Booger McFarland.
OT Charlie Johnson - The Colts love versatility on the Offensive line, and Johnson can play everywhere except Center on the O-line, making him a valuable commodity. Signing him to a three year deal won't be outrageous, and he'll be a plug-and-play Lineman who has a good track record with injuries.
Colts Could Sign Under Right Circumstances:
S Melvin Bullitt - While Bullitt has filled in admirably for Bob Sanders and his oft-injured self, I think this will be a money decision more than an ability decision. It's how football goes.
LB Clint Session - Much like Bullitt, I think Session will be a cap casualty. The Colts have several young LBs that filled in admirably last season when Session was hurt, which makes him expendable. The Colts could sign him if they have some money by not signing Addai, but I don't see any other circumstance where Session is back in a Colts uniform
LB Tyjuan Hagler - Hagler almost certainly could be signed to a one-year deal, much like last season, as there weren't many other teams interested in his services. He's a very good special teams player, but we all know how much emphasis the Colts put on that. Add in the new kickoff rules, and special teams will be de-valued even more. If Session is re-signed, Hagler has no chance. Without Session he may be guy 52 or 53 on the roster, depending on injuries. He'd certainly be a cheaper option than what Session would expect.
K Adam Vinatieri - Vinatieri clearly has a few years left in the tank, and I wouldn't mind him sticking around for two or three more years, at about half the price as his previous contract. If not, Brett Swenson is under contract coming off an injury in 2010. It's good to have options.
Colts Should Not Sign:
DT Dan Muir - I agree with BBS that Muir just isn't very good. He must really impress in practice, as he continually gets swallowed up during games. His "good" plays are probably due to other guys on the D-Line eating up his guy and Muir simply doing his job against no Lineman. The Colts extended a tender offer to Muir back in March, which means they nominally like the guy. But they also took Drake Nevis in the draft in April, so we'll see what happens.
DT Keyunta Dawson - He wasn't offered a tender offer by the Colts in March, and I don't expect them to change their mind.
S Aaron Francisco - He stayed healthy in 2010, but there weren't many other positives about Francisco's play. He did about what was expected, but nobody expects him to be a Colts in 2011.
S Ken Hamlin - Late season injury addition, so easy decision here.
RB Dominic Rhodes - We all love Dom, but we have a glut at RB, even without Addai. I see no way Rhodes is back with the Colts next season.
If I missed somebody, please let me know in the comments, as the Colts have close to 75 players on the roster after all the injuries last season. We're obviously working under the assumption here that came out yesterday about Free Agency, so this exercise may end up unnecessary in the end. It at least gives us something to talk about.