Last week's 24-9 loss to the Baltimore Ravens ended a fairy tale season for the Colts, but as the playoff door closes, the offseason door opens.
The Colts are set to embark on one of the most fascinating offseason periods in recent franchise history. With Ryan Grigson at the helm, the Colts are bound to be aggressive in their spending, which is something former GM Bill Polian never really believed in.
When trying to identify potential free agency targets, it's always interesting to pinpoint players that have ties with the organization. During this “new era” for the Colts, they've already shown a willingness to sign players that have been 'their guys'.
For instance, when Chuck Pagano was made head coach, he brought Tom Zbikowski and Cory Redding with him from Baltimore (not in a Mayflower truck, though), whilst we've also seen Trai Essex, Mewelde Moore and Weslye Saunders join the team having worked with offensive co-ordinator Bruce Arians in Pittsburgh.
So with a rumoured $47m of cap space to spend this offseason, it's likely that we'll see some more players enter the building that have previous connections with our coaches.
CHUCK PAGANO: Head Coach
As mentioned above, Pagano brought a couple of Ravens across with him when he became head coach, having worked as Baltimore's secondary coach and eventually defensive co-ordinator. In 2013, a number of Ravens could hit the free agency market and there's a chance that Pagano will look to bring some of them in as well.
An ESPN report last week suggested that the Colts will actively target Ravens outside linebacker Paul Kruger, a player who demolished Winston Justice and Bradley Sowell in the playoffs last week. His 2.5 sacks on Sunday took his season tally to 11.5, and his displays in 2012 have guaranteed him a big paycheck, whether he stays in Baltimore or moves on.
With Dwight Freeney struggling to transition to the 3-4 defense and almost certainly set to leave in free agency, adding another pass rusher will be one of the primary targets of the organisation this off-season. Kruger's previous association with Pagano will make him stand out as a potential target.
In addition to Kruger, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and cornerback Cary Williams will find their contracts expire this year, but Ellerbe looks an unlikely target, as he's lined up to be the heir to Ray Lewis at linebacker.
Williams was coached by Pagano when he was the Ravens' defensive backs coach, but also when Pagano moved to defensive co-ordinator. With the Colts needs at cornerback, moving for Williams makes some sense, but he's yet to prove himself as an NFL starting caliber cornerback.
HAROLD GOODWIN: Offensive Line Coach
Goodwin came over with Bruce Arians from Pittsburgh to take the offensive line coaching job. The line has been a problem all season long, but the caliber of players available has been less than impressive. With so much money to spend, the Colts now have the opportunity to bring in some high quality starters to protect Andrew Luck.
If they are to seek upgrades in free agency, then Goodwin could return to Pittsburgh for recruits. Tackle Max Starks, Guard Ramon Foster and Centre Doug Legursky are set to hit the market, though they would only be marginal upgrades over what is already a collective turnstile of an offensive line.
GREG MANUSKY: Defensive Co-ordinator
Manusky actually did a fairly good job with a defense lacking in top talent, but upgrades will be expected in 2013. Manusky's career has seen him feature in San Francisco and San Diego, where a number of free agents are hitting the market – and many could help the Colts improve their defense.
We'll start with his time in San Francisco, where many of his pieces on defense still play. Nose tackle has been an issue for the Colts this season – veteran Brandon McKinney was placed on IR before the season started, leaving Antonio Johnson and Martin Tevaseu to rotate for the season. Rookie Josh Chapman is yet to play, so get ready for the franchise changing moment when he steps onto the field.
Manusky had two nose tackles during his time with the 49ers that are hitting the market; Isaac Sopoaga and Aubrayo Franklin. Franklin signed a one year deal with Manusky's former employers, the Chargers, but has only featured in 12 games. Sopoaga on the other hand, has been a regular in the 49ers defense and has played 15 games this season.
Recruitment at the nose tackle position depends heavily on how McKinney and Chapman return from injury, but bringing in a veteran option would be appealing in the current circumstances.
Safety is a position that many people want to upgrade given the disappointing performances of Tom Zbikowski, and Dashon Goldson's availability may force the Colts into a change at the position. Goldson was a key part of Manusky's defense in San Francisco and would offer more to the Colts defense than Zbikowksi currently does.
Outside of these players, there is also Ricky-Jean Francois, a player that would be a rotational option on the defensive line.
From Manusky's time in San Diego, there are a few players that could help the Colts. Cornerback Antoine Cason has average coverage skills but would fill a need position, whilst defensive tackle Vaughn Martin would, like Francois, prove to be a good rotational option on the front 3.
Finally, outside linebacker Antwan Barnes represents another potential signing as a pass rusher. Barnes is a prolific speed rusher off the edge who struggles to be effective against the run, but racked up 11 sacks under Manusky, but just 3 this year under John Pagano.
GARY EMANUEL: Defensive Line coach
Defensive line coach Gary Emanuel was largely working with cast offs this season, such as Clifton Geathers, Martin Tevaseu and Lawrence Guy, but now there are a number of players that are available that Emanuel will be familiar with.
The big name is Cowboys outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who will be allowed to leave Dallas with Monte Kiffin installing a 4-3 defense. Spencer's reputation was mostly built on being a first round bust and primarily a run defending linebacker, but after an 11 sack season, his stock has never been higher.
Spencer is an Indiana native and worked with Emanuel at Purdue University, so it's conceivable that Spencer will “come home” and be the player that can set the edge in the Colts defense, improving a run defense that has been leaky all season.
Emanuel also coached Chargers outside linebacker Shaun Phillips at Purdue, and the 31 year old hits free agency this year. Phillips is particularly intriguing, as he featured heavily in Greg Manusky's defense in San Diego.
Turning an eye to the draft, Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short looks like a great fit as a 3-4 defensive end, and was a key player on the Boilmakers defense under Emanuel. Short is predicted to be drafted in the middle to late stages of the second round, so the Colts may need a trade down to be in a position to draft him.
JEFF FITZGERALD, Linebacker coach
Inside linebacker looks to be fairly deep for the Colts, with Jerrell Freeman starring in 2012, whilst Kavell Conner, Pat Angerer and Moise Fokou all look at least serviceable at the position. However, Fokou is set to hit free agency and it remains to be seen whether he will re-sign or not, so the team may look for some depth options at the position, whilst outside linebacker will be a high need position.
Jeff FitzGerald has spent many years working with linebackers in the NFL, so there are a number of players available that could find themselves linking up with him again.
Three prospective signings are currently with the Cincinnati Bengals – Rey Maualuga has struggled to make an impact, whilst he's also had some off-field problems. It's doubtful that Maualuga will draw a lot of attention in free agency, and it's also unlikely that he would add much to the Colts defense.
Another player, Manny Lawson, was actually a target for the Colts in 2012. As well as working with FitzGerald, Lawson was a favourite of Greg Manusky in San Francisco, and could conceivably be a target again this off-season as a cheap veteran.
The third, Michael Johnson, is a particularly intriguing possibility. Standing at 6ft 7in, 266lbs, Johnson is an athletic specimen. With 11.5 sacks this season, he's bound to get paid a lot of money, but he's played both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Bengals, and his pass rushing skills make him an enticing option to play 3-4 outside linebacker. Given the amount of snaps he's played in Cincinnati this year though (911), it seems unlikely that they will let him walk, but if he fancies testing the market, then Indianapolis could be good home for him.
Finally, Giants linebacker Keith Rivers has had an injury ravaged career, playing only 11 games after his trade from Cincinnati. FitzGerald may want to be reunited with Rivers, but any move would surely be a very cheap, risk free contract.
Of course, many of the names listed won't play for the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, and the list of potential names could even grow if Bruce Arians stays with the team, though that seems unlikely right now. A new offensive co-ordinator may also want to bring in some of his own men, but it's particularly interesting where players, such as Manny Lawson and Shaun Phillips, have multiple links to the team.