We continue this series with Part 3, what the Colts could do in free agency.
I fully believe that owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts are on the way back to some semblance of the team’s 2000s glory days, so I wanted to put together this project where I see what the Colts can do to get back to Irsay’s favorite era — the Peyton Manning glory days.
No one can snap their fingers and make this team completely constructed in just one offseason. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Players take time to develop. It also needs to be appreciated just how special those Manning-led teams were. They did things that we may never see again, and that’s OK.
What these Colts can do is continue to build a foundation to try and start another quasi-dynasty.
So, we have taken inventory of the current roster and acknowledged the new coaching staff. Now, to fill some roster holes.
Despite having among the most cap space in the league this upcoming year, that doesn’t mean that just any free agent is going to come to Indianapolis. Expectations must be tempered, but the Colts do have enough resources now to where they should be an attractive free agent destination.
There are a few areas where the Colts should focus as they enter free agency. The deepest of which is the pool of free agent wide receivers. At the top, players like Allen Robinson (Jaguars), Jarvis Landry (Dolphins) and Sammy Watkins (Rams) will get a ton of attention while players from lower tiers like Marqise Lee (Jaguars), Paul Richardson (Seahawks), Bruce Ellington (Texans) and Albert Wilson (Chiefs) likely also will clean up in their own right.
When it comes to this group, I think the Colts need to first re-sign Donte Moncrief. While he has underachieved so far in his career, at worst, he is a great red-zone threat for Andrew Luck. Moncrief also may flourish in Josh McDaniels’ system, which keys in on receivers making pays after the catch (one of Moncrief’s strengths).
I also think the Colts should try and add one of these top-level receivers, namely Robinson (my preference). Because of his size, strength and playmaking ability, he fits what Ballard has shown to look for in receivers. A problem the Colts have dealt with is that when T.Y. Hilton is taken out of the game, no other receivers step up. There needs to be another top-level threat on offense to take pressure and attention off of Hilton.
The offensive line has been a sore spot for the last six or seven years. There are two reasons why I expect this to be addressed this offseason. First, McDaniels is going to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands quicker. It’s how his system works. Next, Ballard’s not going to screw around with this. He knows that the health of the quarterback is paramount, but it also will lead to a consistent rushing attack. If the line doesn’t get fixed under Ballard’s watch, a hard finger will be pointed at him for it.
I look for Ballard to try and find a top lineman this spring. Guard Andrew Norwell (Panthers) is the hot name. They also could look to pick up Weston Richburg (Giants) to move to guard from center (and fill in for Kelly when needed), or grab budding guard Quinton Spain (Titans). Like Moncrief, though, they also should try and re-sign their own in guard Jack Mewhort. The only thing that has held him back from being a quality player is injury. If he passes their medicals, they have got to try and bring him back.
I didn’t suggest any offensive tackles because there aren’t any free agents that I love this year, and I would rather find one in the draft. You could consider Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, but then that is going to call for shuffling the tackles. Either he is going to have to move to right tackle or Anthony Castonzo will. You could consider that a good problem to have personnel-wise, but it would be a bad problem to have financially.
Another area where the Colts could focus their attention in free agency is the defensive front seven. They already have got some nice players on the line in Henry Anderson, Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, Margus Hunt and Hassan Ridgeway, but they still will try and upgrade anywhere they can.
While top-level linemen like Demarcus Lawrence (Cowboys), Ezekiel Ansah (Lions), Sheldon Richardson (Seahawks), Dontari Poe (Falcons) and Star Lotulelei (Panthers) will make people drool, I don’t know how likely those options are.
However, I’ve got my eye on a couple of linemen like Dominique Easley (Rams) or restricted free agent David Irving (Cowboys). Restricted free agent edge defender Shaq Barrett (Broncos) also is an option regardless of defensive scheme. The Colts’ own Barkevious Mingo also deserves consideration to be brought back after how well he performed in an unexpected role this season.
At off-ball linebacker, this is getting made-over. I don’t see Antonio Morrison and Jon Bostic returning as starters, especially not as middle linebacker if the Colts go to a 4-3 defense. There is too much space involved that they won’t be able to cover.
The good news is that there are several guys that the Colts could look at, especially if they do make the switch to the 4-3. Avery Williamson (Titans), Preston Brown (Bills), Tahir Whitehead (Lions), Todd Davis (Broncos) and Anthony Hitchens (Cowboys) are some highly talented young linebackers. Their teams likely will try and hold onto them, but they are definitely worth a look. Don’t be surprised to see the Colts bring back ERFA linebacker Edwin Jackson, either.
The Colts will be thin in the secondary as well, particularly at cornerback. They return 2017 rookies Quincy Wilson, Kenny Moore and Nate Hairston, plus D.J. White. Rashaan Melvin played outstanding ball for the Colts during the last two years, but is going to be a free agent this spring and is 28. He likely will command a large contract, so the Colts will need to decide if the price is worth it for a player who soon will be 30 years old. All they have to do is look at what just happened with Vontae Davis. Pierre Desir had the first really decent season of his career last year for the Colts but he, too will be a free agent.
Last, we need to look at special teams. For more than a decade, placekicker Adam Vinatieri has been the only constant on the Colts’ special teams unit. The 45-year-old also is due to hit free agency, but he still is an above-average kicker. Special teams coordinator Tom McMahon leaving for Denver may play a role in whether Vinatieri comes back to Indianapolis, but I would imagine that the Colts want him back. Long snapper Luke Rhodes also is a free agent. He seemed to do very well in his first season as a pro long snapper last year, and him being an exclusive rights free agent means the Colts can retain him for cheap.