Next week is the Super Bowl in New Orleans, which means it's time to start putting the 2012 season in the rear view mirror and look ahead to 2013. Unlike previous offseasons, this year we are likely to see the Indianapolis Colts get active in free agency. They have roughly $41 million in cap space, and, per league rules, they must spend it. While free agency may fill many of the Colts roster holes, the draft is still the most critical way to improve your football team for the short and long term.
Over the next few weeks, Matt Grecco and Stew Blake will be writing and talking about the draft while Josh Wilson and I focus on free agency. Consider this our top-level primer for what the Colts will need to do to get better in 2013.
With former Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gone to the Cardinals as their new head coach, it now seems unlikely that Donald Brown
will be re-signed probably won't be back in 2013. Though under contract for 2013, Brown was a disappointment for most of his career in Indianapolis, and for a player drafted in the first round in 2009, he's been a bust. However, had Arians remained, we think he would have been re-signed brought back or extended because of his leadership in the locker room. The Colts hiring Pep Hamilton to replace Arians as the offensive coordinator means the Colts will be running some variation of the West Coast offense. This means bigger running backs and, very likely, a true fullback. Brown was never a terribly physical player, and his substandard blocking and receiving skills don't make him a good fit in a West Coast offense. Look for Indy to find better options in free agency and the draft.
* Donald Brown isn't a free agent in 2013. He's got one more year left on his deal.
Andrew Luck was sacked 45 times (including playoffs) in 2012, and general manager Ryan Grigson has already strongly hinted that protecting Luck better in 2013 is the franchise's priority. Anthony Castonzo was rock solid at left tackle in 2012. He's the only offensive lineman to start every game. Winston Justice is a free agent, and, while injury prone for much of his NFL career, he is still a quality lineman who brings much-needed leadership. Re-signing him should be a priority.
The interior of the line was garbage in '12, and if Hamilton is wanting to utilize the power-running that was so successful for him at Stanford, Ryan Grigson must get him bigger, better interior guards. At center, Samson Satele was a disappointment in 2012. A.Q. Shipley often outplayed Satele when he stepped in for him. Shipley is a nice reserve player, but isn't a 16-game starter. Finding better, starting-caliber players at center and both guard spots should be Grigson's highest priority in 2013.
Cory Redding was an excellent signing as a free agent last year. However, he's 32 and had trouble staying healthy last year. Fili Moala likely won't be re-signed, and Drake Nevis - while having shown flashes since getting drafted out of LSU in 2011 - has ended up on IR in both of his first two seasons. Part of the reason the Colts run defense was so terrible in 2012 was Redding, Moala, and Nevis missing significant time. Stabilizing both DE positions in the "hybrid" 3-4 system that Chuck Pagano wants to run is critical.
Dwight Freeney has likely played his last game as a Colt. He was terrible in 2012, having his worst statistical year ever. He simply did not fit in Pagano's defense scheme as an outside linebacker. Robert Mathis looked OK at times playing rush backer, but wasn't his normal, dominant self on a consistent basis. The Colts need to get younger and better at this position if the defense is to improve.
Tom Zbikowski seems like a cool guy, and I would never fight him. However, he simply wasn't a good safety for the Colts in 2012. Joe Lefeged stepped in and played better, but the Colts desperately need to upgrade this position. Indianapolis had only 13 INTs in 2012. The safeties accounted for just one of them, and that one was snatched by Zbikowski.
We have written up these draft needs based on a few assumptions that, to us, seem logical. While punter Pat McAfee is a free agent this offseason, all things point to him being re-signed. If he is not, then obviously punter becomes a need. Adam Vinatieri has one more year left on a three-year deal he signed in 2011. At age 40, he proved in 2012 that he is still an extremely reliable kicker, hitting 26-33 FGs, including 4-7 from 50 yards or more.