Since the playoffs are still a month away and the seeding picture will hopefully become clearer after this week’s games, I have decided to hold off on my playoff preview series until next week. I know you’re all devastated by this news, but to tide you over until that time I thought I’d stop in with a preview of a different sort.
I know it’s kind of crazy to be doing this now (that’s sort of my motto at this point), but while watching that abysmal first half performance at home against the lowly Tennessee Titans I couldn’t help but ask myself how the Colts are going to address this horrible offensive line. Since the trading deadline has passed and the Colts are basically stuck with what they’ve got this season, my only choice was to look to next year.
I realize we are in the midst of an all-time great story here with a team that wasn’t expected to win 4 games let alone 9+, and believe me, I’m as thrilled as you are, so don’t take this article to in any way represent feelings that I am unsatisfied with the team we have. Quite frankly this has been one of my favorite teams since I’ve been a football fan (going on 20 years). This article comes from a place of genuine curiosity regarding our 2013 cap situation and the recent rumblings that free agents are expressing interest in playing with Andrew Luck and the new look Colts.
The current cap situation: As many of you already know, the Colts have been operating under what can only be described as a financial handicap this season. Entering 2012 they had about $5 million in cap space (due in large part to dead weight created by contracts of players no longer on the team, like Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, Gary Brackett, Melvin Bullitt, and others), but according to various sources, which are surprisingly hard to find by the way, the Colts should have about $43 million in cap space for the 2013 season (the exact math of it is all a bit fuzzy to me), that’s the most in the NFL.
Undoubtedly some of that money will go to resign players with contracts expiring, the list of Colts’ free agents is quite long but includes starters and key backups Donnie Avery, Dwight Freeney, Darius Butler, Antonio Johnson, Winston Justice, Pat McAfee, Cassius Vaughn, Jerraud Powers, and A. Q. Shipley. Of those players I would expect the Colts to resign only a few: Pat McAfee, maybe Donnie Avery (depending on who else they could get), perhaps Winston Justice (for depth if nothing else), and A. Q. Shipley (Satele just isn’t good). None of them should be particularly huge contracts.
Okay, so with all that nonsense out of the way, here are some players I think the Colts would do well to target this offseason along the offensive line. If this goes over well I might do a follow up for defensive line, secondary, and other positions we need. I’m sure we will be revisiting these discussions many times to come, but for now here’s a look at my wish list for the Colts offensive line in 2013. Understand these are just some players I would personally like to have, free agency is complicated and there are a lot of factors at play, I don’t pretend to understand all of them (or any of them really).
Andy Levitre (LG, Buffalo, Age: 27)
Current contract: 4 years – $3.5 million
Levitre is in the final year of his rookie contract with the Buffalo Bills. His name might not come immediately to mind when thinking of the top level offensive linemen in the NFL as he’s quietly been toiling away in relative obscurity up there in Buffalo (or is it Toronto now, I don’t know what they’re doing), but he’s actually the best free agent guard available in 2013. Buffalo has a somewhat problematic salary cap situation with the major contracts they have given Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mario Williams, as well as the expiring contracts of Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and their other talented young guard, Kraig Urbik. Levitre may very well be the casualty, and the Colts are in a prime position to capitalize.
Ryan Lilja (G, Kansas City, Age: 31)
Current contract: 3 years – $7.5 million
This one might seem odd considering he was a Colt barely three years ago, but it’s those very Indianapolis ties that makes Lilja a likely option to come in at guard in 2013. While he’s technically been playing center for most of this season, Lilja’s natural position is guard and he would represent an immediate and substantial upgrade over our current stable of players at the position. He’s relatively old at 31 years, but he’s also consistent and cheap (currently making about $2.5 million), exactly what the Colts need. He’s better as a run blocker than as a pass blocker (where he is not exactly poor either) but that’s actually okay, the Colts have voiced an emphasis on the run game which could make Lilja an ideal fit. His experience playing center could also serve to give us depth just in case.
Ryan Clady (LT, Denver, Age: 26)
Current contract: 5 years – $17.5 million
Ryan Clady is of course a left tackle, like Castonzo, so it’s maybe unlikely that the Colts would go after him, but imagine if Castonzo were moved to the right tackle spot and Clady were planted on the left, we’d have dominant tackles on both ends, that would be something. I have no problem with the Colts keeping Castonzo at left tackle next year, he’s been nearly dominant for about 8 straight weeks now, but the Broncos already have some massive contracts on their books (Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Champ Bailey, and of course the biggest of them all, Peyton Manning) and paying Clady what he’s undoubtedly going to be worth will be tough for Denver to pull off (there’s a reason the Colts could never have a dominant offensive line, Peyton Manning ain’t cheap). The Colts might be better off taking a cheaper option at right tackle (a generally cheaper position), but the prospect of Clady and Castonzo playing together is a juicy one.
Sebastian Vollmer (RT, New England, Age: 28)
Current contract: 4 years – $3.1 million
Supposing the Colts decide to go the cheaper route and forego an attempt to bring in the talented but high priced Ryan Clady, Sebastian Vollmer might be their best option. Few teams are as top heavy on the salary cap as the New England Patriots, they tend to pay big money to their top players and fill in with low level contracts and rookie deals everywhere else. Sebastian Vollmer represents one of the best values currently in the NFL, he’s being paid less than $1 million a year on his rookie deal, meaning New England might struggle to fit him in financially. Vollmer isn’t elite level yet but he’s close (his PFF grade of +14.8 puts him just ahead of Castonzo, +10.1, at 17th among all tackles), and he likely won’t bring the price tag that other high level free agent tackles will. It would also be a nice bonus to poach a major player from the Evil Empire.
So there are four players I would love to see the Colts go after. Whatever the case, they need to address this offensive line in a major way. There are some other options out there, Buffalo’s other guard that I mentioned, Kraig Urbik, is also young and might be a solid option if Buffalo chooses to keep Levitre locked up instead, and Minnesota’s RT Phil Loadholt, has been solid this season as well and he’s only 26.
The Colts have some thinking to do. Let me know if there are some I’ve missed or what your dream offensive line would be for next season. We will unfortunately have to watch this ragtag bunch for at least another 4 games (hopefully 7), but the future may be bright with so many talented linemen hitting the open market this off season and the Colts looking to spend some money in hopes of protecting their budding young quarterback.