With the start of the Indianapolis Colts 2013 training camp imminent, I thought now would be a good time to cover the biggest Horseshoe related stories from this off-season.
First and foremost, though, I’d like to apologize for my lack of posts the past few months. Life has been pretty crazy, including 70+ hour work weeks and preparations for the upcoming birth of my wife and I’s first child here in four weeks or so. I also want to apologize for never getting my Mock Draft Challenge results up. I’m going to have to do some serious tweaks to my scoring system, as all the trades in the first round made it nearly impossible to get a coherent score. Needless to say though, I got my a$$ kicked, with only one correct pick in the first round (S Matt Elam to Baltimore, #32 overall). That is by far the worst performance I’ve had in a mock draft in the 5 years I’ve been doing them.
But, back to the main story. If this offseason has taught us anything thus far about the Colts, it is that this is still a team in transition, with April’s draft and free agency but very active. Roster changes aren’t the only things that have happened this off-season though, as there has been some non-football related news the past few weeks as well. Let’s get to it:
Bruce Arians flies the coop to Arizona; Colts hire Hamilton
It shouldn’t have come as a shock at all that Bruce Arians was hired away from the Colts coaching staff after just one year. After all, the man help lead the team to a 9-3 record after taking over for Chuck Pagano who was (an to an extent, still is) battling leukemia. The best record ever for an interim head coach as helped him become the only interim head coach to win the NFL Coach of the Year award.
It was a little surprising, however, that of the eight jobs that opened up following the 2012 season (Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Philadelphia, and San Diego), it came down to the last job still open for Arians to get his first professional head coaching gig.
So who do the Colts bring in to replace him? Only Andrew Luck’s college OC – Stanford’s Pep Hamilton. Hamilton should reel in the deep throws somewhat to increase Luck’s accuracy, but I still see them going long plenty this year.
The Colts had money to spend, and boy did they ever. They made their biggest splashes with OT Gosder Cherilus (DET, signed for 5 years/$34.5 mil) and S LaRon Landry (NYJ, 4 years/$24 mil). Colts GM Ryan Grigson also brought in some solid veterans who should see ample play in either a key back-up or starting role in CB Greg Toler (ARI, 3 years/$15 mil) and G Donald Thomas (NE, 4 years/$14 mil).
There were a few questionable signings with DT Rickey Jean Francois (SF, 4 years/$22 mil) and Erik Walden (GB, 4 years $16 mil) – guys who have been career back-ups and haven’t proven they deserve the type of money the Colts threw at them.
After those guys, Grigs brought in several players who could be key contributors at bargain bin rates – RB Ahmad Bradshaw (NYG, 1 year/$2 mil), Darrius Heyward-Bey (OAK, 1 year/$2.5 mil), NT Aubrayo Franklin (SD, 1 yr/$1.105 mil), and QB Matt Hasselbeck (TEN, 2 years/$3 mil). Finally, they also signed LB Lawrence Sidbury (ATL, 1 year/$780 k) to add some depth.
Dwight Freeney signs with San Diego, others leave as well
All the free agency news from this off-season wasn’t just about who the Colts brought in, but also who they let go. Fan Favorite and 7-time Pro-Bowler Dwight Freeney was in the last year of his contract in 2013. He made $14 million for the year, but due to injuries and scheme changes, managed to post just 10 tackles and – more importantly – only 5 sacks, the second fewest of his career. This led the Colts to feel it in their best interests to let Freeney pursue employment elsewhere, ultimately landing in San Diego with a 2 year/$13.35 mil contract. He leaves the Colts as the all-time sacks leader with 107.5 for his career. Good luck, Dwight, and we’ll see you again on Monday Night Football.
Freeney wasn’t the only key player to bolt (see what I did there?) this offseason. Other notable losses include:
WR Austin Collie (unsigned)
OT Winston Justice (unsigned)
S Tom Zbikowski (CHI)
WR Donnie Avery (KC)
DT Antonio Johnson (TEN)
CB Jerraud Powers (ARI)
2013 NFL Draft
The Colts surprised many fans with their first selection in the draft, taking DE Bjoern Werner from FloridaState. Werner, a German national, is expected to start opposite Robert Mathis at the ROLB spot, taking over for the departed Dwight Freeney, who never looked comfortable in the 3-4 hybrid scheme head coach Chuck Pagano runs.
The Colts also focused on keeping second-year QB Andrew Luck upright, taking G Hugh Thornton (Illinois) and C Khaled Holmes (USC) with their next picks. Rounding out the draft class are DT Montori Hughes (UT Martin), S John Boyett (Oregon), and RB Kerwynn Williams (UtahState). All have the potential to make an impact, though of six draft picks, Hughes probably has the longest shot at staying on the roster, due to personal history issues and a log-jam of players on the defensive line.
The Colts have managed to sign all their picks except Werner to this point.
Pat McAfee to play under the Franchise tag
The Colts did something not usually seen in today’s NFL earlier this year. They used the Franchise Tag – a one year tender that pays a player the average of the top-5 highest paid players of their position – on their punter. While that may have raised some eyebrows, the move does make some sense. First off, it kept McAfee out of free agency. Second, the financial hit for a punter was far less than it would be for just about any other position.
Many expected the Colts to use the tag merely as a way to allow more time for negotiations on a long term deal with McAfee, but the deadline for such negotiations has come and went.
Off field issues
This is something Colts fans aren’t used to experiencing in recent years. Off the field issues just didn’t happen under the previous regime, or if they did, it wasn’t reported nearly as well.
To start off, back-up WR LaVon Brazill was suspended for 4 games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Reportedly, it was for testing positive for marijuana for a second time. Brazill issued a back-handed “apology” - stating something to the effect that “only God” could judge him. Not exactly the words of a contrite man. Some even speculate that he may not stay on the team, though I am inclined to believe that if he hasn’t been released by now, he’ll be there at least until the final roster cuts before the season starts.
Then, back-up safety Joe Lefeged, who plays a key role on special teams, was arrested in Washington, D.C. on June 29th for carrying an unlicensed pistol and ammunition. He was released from jail on July 2nd.
Finally, back-up tight end Weslye Saunders (sensing a theme here?) was suspended 8 games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The thing that all these guys need to realize is that none of them or indespensible and all could be cut from the team without a second though. I think Saunders is the most likely to be let go, followed by Brazill, and finally Lefeged, but all three may stick on the team for now. We’ll have to wait and see.
I’ll be posting my “5 Big Questions” for the team entering the 2013 season shortly. The Colts training camp begins when the full team is due to report on Saturday, July 27th, at Anderson University in Anderson, IN. The first practice will be on Sunday, July 28th at 1:50 pm.
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