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Without Charlie Johnson, The Colts MUST Sign Free Agents On The Offensive Line

Just when I defend the Colts restraint and patience in free agency (my three previous articles), they turn around and make me look like a fool. By letting Charlie Johnson walk as just reported by BBS, they've stabbed us (particularly Peyton Manning) in the back and returned the line into a state of tumult and flux.

Charlie Johnson wasn't a top tier tackle, but his absence will make it feel like he was. He was the ultimate team guy and utility lineman who could be counted on to step up and play any position on the line.The whole reason Peyton Manning took less money was to ensure the Colts could sign their own and improve the offensive line after an ugly season. I would imagine that he thought the Colts were intent on fortifying the line and I am pretty sure he was planning on having Johnson around..

Early indications of the drafting of Castonzo and Ijalana indicated the Colts were serious about finding solutions. A starting offensive line of Castonzo, McClendon, Saturday, Ijalana and Johnson was beginning to look very promising. Given Peyton's quick release time - something that would really help cover for rookie mistakes - the Colts line could have quickly developed into a strength by midseason or earlier.

Now? Questions abound. How the Colts let Johnson get away is a total mystery. Indy is famous for rewarding its own and Johnson has been as loyal as any, playing all 73 career games for the Colts and starting the last 54. More importantly, Johnson was versatile, anchoring four positions on the line when injury demanded him to do so.

For a team that thrives on continuity and especially given how poor the rest of the line was last year, Johnson heading to Minnesota is devastating. This latest departure may be remembered as "the one that got away," a key cog in the line who Peyton trusted to protect his blindside.

Just like that, the Colts line is once again the Colts' biggest question mark heading into the offseason for - I don't know - the 19th straight year. This posting was originally going to be about what corners the Colts could add, now it will focus on what linemen the Colts NEED.

Let's hope the Colts have a replacement up their sleeve. Fortunately there are several good right tackles still unsigned.

Alex Barron, formerly with the Dallas Cowboys:

At 6'8'' 318, Barron is a big boy. Originally drafted to be the Rams left tackle of the future, Barron never worked out and eventually moved to the right side of the line. After leaving St. Louis, Dallas tried to settle in Dallas but never found his rhythm and didn't gel with the team (common theme with the Cowboys). A year later Barron is testing the free agency market. Give his pedigree he will probably ask for more than its worth. Now that Johnson has bolted, the Colts may be willing to pay the higher price.

One downside is that Barron's playing style reminds some of Tony Ugoh. Not a flattering comparison, especially in Indy but rest assured Barron would be a comfortable upgrade.

Ryan Harris, formerly with the Denver Broncos:

A product of Notre Dame, Ryan Harris has developed into an upper-tier offensive lineman for the Broncos. Know for his run blocking, Harris is more than adequate in the passing game and would be a great fit opposite Castonzo at the right tackle spot. Best of all at 26 his best years are still ahead of him and he could anchor the right side for the remaining of Peyton Manning's career.

Jeremy Trueblood, formerly with the Tampa Bay Bucs:

Trueblood has an intimidating vampire like name to go along with his intimidating aggressive play. Born in Indianapolis, playing for the Colts would be a homecoming for Trueblood who has played his first four seasons in Tampa Bay. Not only is Trueblood a physical power tackle who would protect Manning while also opening larger holes for Addai (do we need that...), Trueblood is also an extremely durable player having missed only two games (both last year) in four years. Given that our offensive line always seems to be hurt and guys shuffled in and out (a reason why Johnson was so valuable), Trueblood's presence would add a strong continuity to the unit. Like Harris, the Colts should be able to convince Trueblood to protect Manning for the rest of number 18's career, were he to sign with Indy. For an offensive lineman, there is no higher honor (another reason why Johnson leaving is strange).

Chester Pitts/ Sean Locklear formerly both of the Seattle Seahawks:

Both players are over 30 so neither is a long term option. Depending on how quickly the free agent pool dries up however, the Colts might be forced to find a short term steady fix for the next year (possibly two). Both players are veterans in Seattle which has long had a reputation for developing quality offensive line units. The advantage of signing of the two would be both players would be able to adapt and catch up to speed more quickly given their experience. Still, if the Colts do end up signing either player, that will be a clear warning that it is a desperate situation (I still cannot believe we kept Diem over Johnson).

* Jared Gaither, formerly with the Baltimore Ravens:

Gaither is already in talks with Oakland Raiders, so the likelihood of him even being technically available past tomorrow is unlikely. However, what was supposedly a done deal two days ago, has yet to be finalized so as of now nothing is official. The presumption is Gaither will indeed sign with the Silver and Black. If talks fall through for some reason, Gaither would be a huge steal. Literally. You can't get much bigger than 6'9'' 340. The Colts were interested in Gaither last season and there were even rumors of trade talks. Nothing happened. Oakland is the clear front runner, but if anyone can screw up a good thing its Al Davis and the Raiders.