With the start of free agency looming on March 12, and with all teams deciding on whether or not to use their franchise tag, it’s time to take a look at who the Indianapolis Colts could potentially target to sign.
To start with, the Colts are sitting pretty with the salary cap – an estimated $43.5 million. That leaves them in a great situation to bring in players to a team that finished a surprising 11-5 last year. The biggest needs are obvious: First and foremost you need to upgrade the offensive line. Andrew Luck cannot continue to take shot after shot on a weekly basis like he did his rookie season. Every position on the line (save for left tackle, manned by 2011 first round pick Anthony Castonzo) could use help.
After the O-line, the next area to hit would be in the defensive backfield. The Colts may not focus on cornerback too hard in free agency, and instead may try to grab a corner like Mississippi State’s Johnthan Banks in the first round the April’s draft. Safety, on the other hand, could use some depth, if nothing else.
Third on the list is the defensive line. Indy has some talent and/or big bodies to man the line already, but were so beset by injuries that they were scraping the bottom of the roster for players at the end of the season.
Beyond that, almost every other area could use some depth, but aren’t as serious a concern as these three areas (yes, including OLB after Dwight Freeney’s release).
With all that being said, I’ll be breaking down a list of potential free agent targets by position, with my feeling on the likelihood of the Colts pursuing them (High, 50/50, or SCH – for “snow ball’s chance in hell”).
Potential targets: None
Yes, back-up quarterback Drew Stanton is an unrestricted free agent. But Colts owner Jim Irsay won’t want to make the same mistake as previous Colts teams with ignoring the need for a quality back-up QB. And even if Stanton does sign elsewhere (rumors are he may join former Colts OC and new Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians in the desert) – they still have Chandler Harnish on the roster, and there aren’t a lot of worthy options out there anyway.
Potential target: Reggie Bush (MIA) – SCH
Of all the surprising stories of the Colts 2012 season, the emergence of 5th round draft pick Vick Ballard tanks among the best. He started off slow, averaging a little over 2 yards per carry on scant playing time behind starter Donald Brown. But when Brown went down with injuries, Ballard stepped up, averaging over 4 per carry, and gained over 800 yards for the year.
I only list Reggie Bush because the Colts might consider using him as a change of pace back, and would be a great weapon for Andrew Luck to throw to out of the backfield. However, Bush will likely want more money than the Colts are willing to offer, and Bush likely won’t be given an opportunity to start, something he covets. Add that to the fact that Indy already has 6 backs on the roster, and there’s not much reason to think they’ll pursue this position very hard in free agency.
Potential target: Greg Jones (JAX) – 50/50
This is a position that has been totally ignored by the Colts for a long, long time. It’s been manned by running backs, tight ends, linebackers, defensive tackles, and just about anyone else that isn’t a fullback. I think that will change somewhat with new OC Pep Hamilton. There aren’t many marquee guys out there, but when a guy like Jones becomes available, you have to seriously consider it.
Potential targets: Josh Cribbs (CLE) – 50/50; Mike Wallace (PIT) – SCH; Wes Welker (NE) – SCH
The Colts released Austin Collie due to injuries, and may or may not bring back Donnie Avery, who showed flashes of his talent but dropped way to many balls. Regardless of what the Colts do with this position in either free agency or the draft, I see them moving rookie sensation T.Y. Hilton into the second starting spot, leaving them the need for a decent slot receiver.
I list Cribbs only because of the potential he’d bring in the return game. He certainly hasn’t had much success in the receiving portion of his game in his years in Cleveland – though that probably isn’t all on him. Wallace will want a starting spot, and will command a lot of money. With other areas of need more important, Colts GM Ryan Grigson may not want to bring him on. And we all know what Wes Welker has done in New England. He would be an intriguing option for Luck, but I just don’t see him leaving New England. And if he does, I have a hard time seeing him in a Colts uni.
Potential targets: None
Indy is set for a while at this spot.
Potential targets: Gosder Cherilus (DET) – High; Phil Loadholt (MIN) – High; Eric Winston (KC) – High; Bryant McKinnie (BAL) – 50/50; Jake Long (MIA) – 50/50; Demetress Bell – 50/50; Jeff Otah (FA) – SCH
This is where I see the Colts spending a lot of their money. They need a better option at right tackle than what current starter Winston Justice has been able to get them. The two guys I see the team going the hardest after are Detroit’s Gosder Cherilus and Minnesota’s Phil Loadholt. Both are still in their primes (Cherilus is 28, Loadholt is 27), and both have proven capable starters. Eric Winston (29), who was just cut from the Chiefs on 3/6, could also be a great fit.
Baltimore’s McKinnie could also be an option, but with his age (33), might not be as high on the list. Demetress Bell and Jake Long have injury issues, but man the left side and that would require moving eitther current LT Costanzo to the right, or moving Long or Bell to the right.
Current free agent Jeff Otah has injury issues and couldn’t pass a physical last year after being traded to the Jets.
Potential targets: Andy Levitre (BUF) – High; Brandon Moore (NYJ) – 50/50; Deuce Lutui (TEN) – 50/50; Chilo Rachal (CHI) – SCH
Levitre has to be one of, if not the, highest priorities to sign for the Colts. His age combined with his talent make an intriguing possibility for solidifying the most glaring area of need for the offensive line. Brandon Moore, a Hoosier native, could also be considering, but his age (32) makes him not as appealing as Levtire. Rachal and/or Lutui could be added for depth.
Potential targets: Jeff Faine (FA) – 50/50; Dylan Gandy (DET) – 50/50
Current starter Samson Satele played fairly well, but had a hard time staying healthy and the back-up options on the team were less than inspiring. Adding Faine or Gandy would provide some depth.
Potential targets: Israel Idonije (CHI) – 50/50; Robert Geathers (CIN) – 50/50; Kentwaan Balmer (WAS) – 50/50; Ricky Jean-Francois (SF) – 50/50
There’s really a lack of high-profile 3-4 defensive ends in the 2013 free agency class. Idonije would be my pick of any to add some talent to the defense, but the rest would be decent – if not ideal – for depth as well.
Potential targets: Terrance Knighton (JAX) – 50/50; Isaac Sopoaga (SF) – 50/50; Ma’ake Kemoeatu (BAL) – 50/50; Casey Hampton (PIT) – SCH
The same issue with 3-4 defensive ends in this free agency crop happens at nose tackle as well. Regardless, the Colts need to add some better talent/depth. Knighton is young, but has some injury concerns; and Hampton, Sopoaga, and Kemoeatu are all over 30.
Potential targets: Paul Kruger (BAL) – High; Conner Barwin (HOU) – High; Osi Umenyiora (NYG) – 50/50; Cliff Avril (DET) – 50/50; Dannell Ellerbe (BAL) – 50/50
The majority of projections have the Colts going hard and fast for Baltimore’s Paul Kruger. And the very well might. But Houston’s Conner Barwin could be a great addition. He has more of a history of production than does Kruger, and has experience in both the 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. Ellerbe has been named a top priority for the Ravens to re-sign, which is why he only gets a 50/50 shot. Umenyiora and Avril could also be good additions, but come from 4-3 teams.
Potential targets: Cary Williams (BAL) – High; Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (PHI) – High; Antoine Cason (SD) – High; Dashon Goldson – High; Leodis McKelvin (BUF) – 50/50; Mike Jenkins (DAL) – 50/50; Tracy Porter (DEN) – 50/50; Rashean Mathis (JAX) – 50/50
Ok, let’s be honest here. Every single player listed here could be listed as a high possibility. I could probably also have listed a half-dozen other guys here. The Colts secondary needs all the help it can get. Williams is an obvious choice with his connection to Chuck Pagano. The Colts tried to pry Mike Jenkins away from Dallas last offseason. Rodgers-Cromartie, Cason, and Goldson could all also excel in the Horseshoe helmet as well.
Potential Targets: LaRon Landry (NYJ) – High; Ed Reed (BAL) – 50/50; James Ihedigbo (BAL) – 50/50; Louis Delmas (DET) – 50/50; Patrick Chung (NE) – 50/50; Kenny Phillips (NYG) – 50/50
Even though it is possible the Colts brass signs Ed Reed, I think they will shy away and try to keep going younger for now. Ihedigbo, Delmas, Chung, and Phillips would all be decent additions, but Landry is coming off of a 100 tackle, Pro Bowl season.
So, to round it all out, who would top my wish list for the Colts to sign? Here we go (in order of importance):
1. Andy Levitre, G, BUF
2. Phil Loadholt, OT, MIN
3. Antoine Cason, CB, SD
4. LaRon Landry, S, NYJ
5. Connor Barwin, LB, HOU
Follow me on Twitter @IrishColt1