We’ve been on this carousel for several years now, the Indianapolis Colts simply cannot afford not to protect Andrew Luck, or to rely solely on the draft to bolster their offensive line. Despite having some really good options that will likely be in place to get a top lineman from the draft, the Colts have run out of time to take a methodical approach to fixing one of the team’s largest problem areas.
The Colts gave up 56 sacks this season amid health concerns for guys like second-year center Ryan Kelly, an inexperienced quarterback who continually struggled to be decisive and had long spells of hanging on to the ball far too long among other things that contributed. Nevertheless, the Colts must fully understand that depending on any one lineman to be the catalyst of that group and carry them, will typically leave you disappointed.
Building quality depth, now, can not be stressed more between now and post-draft.
The Colts almost have no choice but to double-dip, between free agency and the draft, in acquiring talent to keep their quarterback upright regardless who is taking the snaps. This offseason there appears to be a less-than-impressive group to choose from in free agency which makes Chris Ballard’s ability to be a closer that much more important.
Let’s look at a couple that the Colts could have to choose from once free agency opens up.
Nate Solder — T — New England Patriots
First and foremost let’s take care of a couple of the main points with Solder. He’s 29 and will be 30 by next season. No, that’s not ideal, but this free agency group isn’t exactly one of the more impressive along the offensive line in recent history.
Next, we simply must acknowledge what we always do when it presents itself — the connection. With Josh McDaniels expected to be hired as the Colts next head coach, when the Patriots are done with their season, natural assumption would suggest that he will want to target the available players who he knows are familiar with his system.
Not only would there be mutual familiarity, but Solder is a very good stop-gap for the Colts to allow for some of their younger — and possibly recently drafted — linemen to develop to take over in the next year or two. Solder is a top-15 tackle in the run game (per PFF), but has struggled at times in protection.
Now I know that’s the idea if you’re going to go after a lineman who has hit the 30 mark. But, his experience and technique that have led to his being one of the better all-around lineman over the past few seasons would be vital.
Many continue to degrade Anthony Castonzo when he struggles, but having Solder work as the opposite bookend of the line, and having a first, or second round draft pick learn under those two for the future of the line can do nothing but stabilize the future of the unit.
Andrew Norwell — G — Carolina Panthers
Expect to be hearing Norwell’s name a lot in the coming weeks and months as free agency nears. Jeremy Vujnovich (yuk) started at LG this season and was a major liability all year while Jack Mewhort — who is set to become a free agent himself — has perpetually struggled with his knee issues leaving a monster need for interior help.
Unlike Solder, Norwell is the ripe age of 26 and will be entering his fifth year in the league, and is coming off a year holding an approximate value (via Pro Football Reference) of 14. Norwell was ranked the third-overall guard from PFF, with an 88.8 grade, was the top pass protector (90.9) and came in at 8th with a grade of 83.4 in run blocking.
Norwell has also played in every game over the last two seasons, and in a league in which linemen drop like flies throughout a season that has to hold some serious weight as well. As if his being the top target at the position wasn’t enough, the fact is that there simply aren’t many decent options — south of 30-years old — at the position behind him.
If the Colts can do nothing else this offseason along the line, Norwell simply has to be the most sought after true guard out there. The Colts may be able to supplement their available pieces at tackle with a rookie post-draft, but getting a young, top talent in the interior would be paramount to the Colts offense taking the next step in McDaniels’ system and with Luck back throwing the pigskin.