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The Colts Are Getting Old: Why Building through Free Agency And Not Just Through The Draft Should Be The Strategy Going Forward

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The Colts are getting old. 

It's a horrible reality that finally just hit me (I am late to the party I know). Sure I've subconsciously realized it all along. Of course I've heard about the stupid closing windows and time of opportunity for a few years now, but I was in denial. 

For almost as long as I have been a Colts fan, Peyton Manning has been quarterback. He's pretty much all I know. For the last decade (ish), Reggie has been one of his favorite targets on the outside and Dallas has run wild down the middle. Defensively, Freeney and Mathis have been wrecking holy hell on quarterbacks while  behind them Brackett patrolled the middle of the field and Sanders erased any remaining mistakes. That's just how things happened in Indy and it was glorious.

These guys weren't just the best players on the Colts. They were the stars of the NFL (ok, maybe not with Brackett but he's still good). They were franchise building blocks.

If you were putting together a team (in fantasy or in real life) you would always select those guys. It was a no brainer. They were the reason the Colts were the winningest team of any decade. I knew that they were getting old, but somehow I've convinced myself they will be around forever (or at least for the next decade).

Earlier today, reality came crashing down on me. I was reading ESPN's "The Pigskin Panel." Now usually forecasting so far into the future is an exercise in futility given how quickly things change and how badly one injury, mistake signing or botched draft can set you back.

But with the lockout still in effect and football material harder to come by, it was an amusing diversion until it hit me. 

Not one of a panel of 25 predicted that the Colts would be a dominant team in the years 2014-2016 (The majority of the experts picked the Packers... big leap of faith that was). 

The start of that three year run is only four years away, the same amount of time since we won the Super Bowl. 

What's worse is that no Colt player made ESPN's future stars under 30. Four years ago, the Colts would have had half a dozen guys listed. The only one who made the cut was Austin Collie who was rated a future star of the AFC South... Greeaaat. On top all of that, was the disheartening column that Manning wouldn't be ready for training camp, another possible sign that his body could be slowing down.

Now personally I think we will have more future Pro Bowlers and stars than just Collie. In fact I believe we just drafted one in LT Anthony Castonzo.

Nevertheless, the predictions were certainly troubling. It's true that in all likelihood Manning will begin his decline sometime in next few years. Ditto for Freeney and for Mathis and Wayne (if they are both still here). Doesn't mean they won't be productive but the best years will soon be behind us (I still think we've got 2 or 3 really strong seasons from each of them left).

It's also true however that the Colts will still be heavy favorites entering this year and (presuming no injuries) the next two or three after that. But, as was mentioned in an the excellent writeup by mgrex03, the Colts cannot rely on the practice of mentoring and developing home grown talent. We've definitely entered win now mode and that must be reflected in our free agency moves. 

Rarely am I for mortgaging the future and changing strategies for a quick fix. It's bad business that usually never ends well short term and screws you down the road. I am pretty stubborn on this point, except for when you have possibly the greatest quarterback all time and he only has 4 years of true greatness left (assuming no injuries), then you do whatever is necessary and you bring in whoever is available to help keep Peyton happy. 

The defense needs help (linebacker is looking dangerously thin), but the Colts should not forget their bread-and-butter (high scoring offenses) and who is in charge (Peyton).

Resigning Addai should be a key priority. As should be keeping the receiving corps in tact and even adding a talented veteran presence for insurance (Santana Moss, Steve Breaston or James Jones would all be excellent options if available).  The Colts spent their first two picks upgrading their line. Still, another tough run-oriented guard could really establish the Colts' line and turn it from one of the weakest in the league to one of the strongest. 

A guy like Tampa Bay's Davin Joesph would be perfect.

Whether these guys are the right fit or not, the point is, the Colts can longer passively sit back in free agency. They've got another 3-4 years of Super Bowl runs left in them and need to do everything possible as an organization to not waste Peyton's final years. That starts with aggressively going out and pursuing free agents and the best players available. 

We don't have much time, I just hope we make the most of it.