The new league year will be here in exactly one month and one day (March 11th), and with it the start of free agency. Last year, March was an exciting time, with Colts general manager Ryan Grigson inking several free agents in an effort to bolster the Colts' defense. Unfortunately, most of them busted, with the worst being free safety LaRon Landry, whose lack of effectiveness in 2013 makes his $24 million contract with $11 million guaranteed seem obnoxious.
This year, we hope Grigson will be a bit more conservative in free agency and, perhaps, actually sign some players who are good rather than the hodgepodge of veterans he tossed millions of dollars at last year.
Wide receiver is a position of need for the Colts. Even with the return of Reggie Wayne and the development of young players like T.Y. Hilton, Da'Rick Rogers, LaVon Brazill, and Griff Whalen, the Colts need someone who can work in the slot and create match-up problems for opposing defenses. While the hope is that Reggie Wayne will do this job next season after recovering from knee surgery, the reality is Wayne is 35 years old. Indy needs to look for someone to replace Wayne's productivity going forward while, at the same time, not breaking the bank.
Our first suggested option is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
5'11, 180 lbs
I thought last year that if the Colts were going to make a mid-season trade for a wideout, it would be for Sanders. At 5'11, 180 lbs, he fits the mold of slot receiver in Pep Hamilton's offense. Sanders is also very productive. 2013 was a career year for him, playing under a one-year deal. The New England Patriots tried to wrestle him away from Pittsburgh during the 2013 offseason by signing him to an offer sheet, but the Steelers curiously kept Sanders despite their salary cap being squeezed to the limit. He responded with 67 receptions for 740 yards and 6 touchdowns for the Steelers.
What's interesting about those numbers is that Sanders was transitioned from the slot to playing outside in 2013, a move that was trans-formative for Sanders because, in his two seasons prior, he'd played mostly in the slot. He was also a slot receiver in college at SMU.
Sanders is also young (26), having been drafted in 2010 in the 3rd round.
As an unrestricted free agent, he could command the kind of contract Stevie Johnson got with the Bills or that Brian Hartline received from the Dolphins: 5 years, $30 million with anywhere from $11-$12 mill guaranteed. That's a lot of coin, but there's a reason why skill position guys like Sanders make the big bucks. As Colts fans should know, if the quarterback doesn't have reliable receivers to throw the ball to, he looks very ordinary.
Sanders had only 5 dropped passes in 2013 and had a 63% catch percentage, per Pro Football Focus. The year before, he had only 3 dropped passes and a 63% catch percentage. He's extremely good on catch-and-run plays, using his quickness and speed to make defenders miss.