The Indianapolis Colts had a highly successful 2012 season, to be sure. The team, led by a rookie quarterback and filled with inexperienced and cast-off players, won 11 games and made the playoffs one year removed from a 2-14 season.
However, like any team, there is room for improvement. And, in the NFL, improvement comes in the form of roster moves/changes. This two-part post will cover the likelihood of the Colts signing their own free-agents, and what their potential targets in free-agency from other teams. Part I will focus on the team’s in-house targets.
First, we should cover some basics about free agency. In the NFL, there are a few different designations. First, you have “unrestricted free agents (UFAs)” – players who have amassed 4 or more years of service and whose contracts have expired. They are free to sign with any team they wish, save being “franchised” (a one-year contract worth the average of the top five salaries of their position) by their current employer.
Secondly, you have “restricted free-agents (RFAs).” These are players who have fewer than 3 years of service, but whose contracts have expired. RFAs are free to negotiate with any team up to a certain deadline (generally a week before the NFL draft), but their current team has the right to match any offer. If the team matches or the player receives no offers, their rights revert back to the current team. If the player signs an offer sheet from another team and it is not matched by their current one, the player goes to the offering team. In this instance their former team may receive compensation in the form of a draft pick, depending on the offer made.
Lastly, there are “exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs).” These players have fewer than two years of service, and whose contracts have expired. These players cannot negotiate with other teams. Their only options are to either re-sign with the team, or be out of the NFL. The offer they would receive should the team decide to make one is the veteran 3-year minimum.
With that out of the way, we can move on to the current Colt free agents. I’ve separated them into 3 different groups: Priority (greater than 50% chance of re-signing), secondary (25 – 50% chance) and expendable (less than 25% chance). Please note this list is based only on the chances of re-signing. “Priority” does not necessarily mean they are a star player or crucial role player, and “expendable” does not mean that the team will not make any attempts to re-sign them at all.
On to the list:
Priority Free Agents
With as much help as the Colts need in all areas, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are only three players that I’ve designated as “priority.” Much of the roster turnover this off season will likely come from the offensive line and cornerback spots, which is why none of those guys make this list.
1. Pat McAfee, P (UFA) – He is the current player on the team that has the highest likelihood of re-signing. McAfee is hugely popular with the fans (canal swim notwithstanding), and has ingrained himself deeply into the city of Indianapolis. I don’t know about anyone else, but until McAfee, I’ve never heard or seen a punter do radio shows and/or TV commercials. It would be a huge blow to fan morale to let another well liked player go. And besides, punters come fairly cheap.
2. Donnie Avery, WR (UFA) – There are some rumblings around Indy that because of Avery’s penchant for the dropsies, he will be allowed to sign elsewhere. While that yet may be true, I see them keeping him on for a little while to continue developing chemistry with quarterback Andrew Luck. Most of Avery’s drops came on deep passes (though not all of them did). With new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton’s take on the West Coast offense (featuring “shorter, more accurate passing and a tough ground game”), Avery could be a crucial player. If the Colts do keep him, I expect him to be replaced in the starting line-up by rookie sensation T.Y. Hilton, moving Avery into the slot, which may entice him to sign elsewhere anyway.
3. Drew Stanton, QB (UFA) - The Colts made a huge error in past years paying little mind to the back-up QB spot (see: Curtis Painter). That is a mistake they aren’t likely to make again. Stanton isn’t a great talent – if he were, he’d be starting somewhere by now – but is serviceable. Yes, the Colts signed QB Chandler Harnish to a reserve/futures contract (meaning he will have a contract for next season), but Stanton will provide more stability.
1. Deji Karim, RB (RFA) – Karim could be brought back to help the return game continue its improvement from 2012. Karim returned a kick 101 yards for a score late in the season against Houston, the longest such return in team history.
2. Winston Justice, OT (UFA) – Justice faced a myriad of injury problems in 2012, but with a quality offensive tackle unlikely to fall to them in the draft, the Colts could bring him back to man the right side again in 2013. Or he could be replaced by another free-agent signing.
3. Antonio Johnson, DL (UFA) – Another player who faced injury issues all year, Johnson is probably the best player on a not-so-great defensive front. If nothing else, the team could bring him back for depth.
4. Fili Moala, DL (UFA) – See above.
5. CB Darius Butler, CB (UFA) – Butler is better than Cassius Vaughn, and could be in play for the nickel spot next year if the team brings him back.
This list is obviously the last of the bunch, the ones most likely to leave. This originally included WR Austin Collie and DE Dwight Freeney, but both have since been let go by the organization. The reasons these other guys might not be back span from injury issues (Jerraud Powers), age and/or production (Cassius Vaughn), or just a total overhaul of a position (the offensive line). It’s possible that the Colts bring a few of these guys back since they have the cap space, but there are younger, better, and/or cheaper options out there. Here’s the full list:
1. Mewelde Moore, RB (UFA)
2. Tony Hills, OT (UFA)
3. Jeff Linkenbach, OT (RFA)
4. Seth Olsen, OG (RFA)
5. Joe Reitz, OL (RFA)
6. Martin Tevaseu, DL (ERFA)
7. A.J. Edds, LB (ERFA)
8. Mosie Fokou, LB (UFA)
9. Jamaal Westerman, LB (UFA)
10. Josh Gordy, CB (RFA)
11. Jerraud Powers, CB (UFA)
12. Cassius Vaughn, CB (RFA)
Keep an eye out for part 2, where we focus in on the external free agents the Colts could (should?) be focusing on.
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