"Off-season Champs, 10-years running." That's the typical barb tossed in the general direction of Daniel Snyder's Washington Redskins, who make a point of winning every free agency period with big splashes and fast money. Colts fans would eagerly join in the bashing, reminding everyone the key lesson they'd learned under their tutelage with Bill Polian: the best teams build through the draft.
Now, with a new GM, a new CBA, and, most importantly, nearly $50-million in cap space, Colts fans are singing a different tune. As Santa would call his Reindeer to the ready, so are Colts fans calling on recently-teamless NFL players: "On Levitre and Vasquez, and Paul Kruger, too. On Avril and Reed and Asomugha."
While 2012 will always be Grigson's most memorable off-season as GM – it was his first season ever as a GM, he cut Peyton Manning, drafted Andrew Luck, hired Chuck Pagano, saved a child from a runaway bus and put out 3 forest fires – 2013 may be his most critical. Not only will Grigson be doing something his predecessor never did – filling multiple gaping holes during a free agency period that demands you overpay anyone you sign – but he'll be irrevocably changing the roster and salary cap structure for the next 5 years.
If he nails it with the same skill and finesse as his 2012 work? The Colts will be Super Bowl contenders for the first decade of Andrew Luck's career. If he pulls off a flub job worthy of mention alongside Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones? Well let's just say he'll likely be looking for his 2nd GM job sooner than we all imagined possible after the Colts remarkable 11-5 season.
But with that new CBA, the Colts must spend – at least 90% of the cap under the new rules – so Grigson won't have the option to be patient, to be choosy, to build entirely through the draft. He'll have to be aggressive, he'll have to spend money, and, most important, he'll have to be right.
[Tangential Aside: Am I the only one who thinks the players hit a home run with this CBA? By forcing each and every owner to spend to 90% of the cap – and by not having money-trading procedures built into the CBA – the players are now forcing not only the rich owners, but also the cheap ones, and the the draft-centric ones, to spend all the money. I don't know if it's good for the long-term health of the game, and I'm almost positive that it (along with Joe Flacco's new contract) will be a major bone of contention in the next CBA negotiations, but it's a great deal for the players for the next decade. Ok, off that soap box, back to the Colts.]
So who should the Colts pursue? Well, personally, I live my life a quarter mile at a time. Wait, wrong script, hold on, let me look through these papers, this desk is a mess. Okay, personally, I live by the philosophy of passing the ball and stopping the pass. With that in mind, I'd look to upgrade the two weakest areas on the team last year: the offensive line and the pass defense.
Offensive line is simple: find the best players and offer them contracts you're comfortable with. If they accept, do a little dance. If they decline, move on to your next target. Easy Peasy. Pass defense, on the other hand, could be upgraded through multiple avenues, all of which were weak spots on last year's squad.
First, we have OLB, where former Ravens LB Paul Kruger seems set to make a lot of money. Too much money, if you ask me. Kruger is a good, but not great player, but there are rumors of a bidding war that seems destined to drive his cost into the "great player" range. Texans OLB Connor Barwin could be a dark horse candidate for a contract.
If the Colts don't go the OLB route, they could use an upgrade in the secondary, either at CB or S. Cornerbacks are often in the LT category for FA contracts – way overpaid. Still, reformed bad boy Aqib Talib and former Dolphins CB (and Vontae Davis running mate) Sean Smith are interesting options.
But while both of those positions are in desperate need of a play maker, they aren't the biggest need on defense. That gaping hole belongs to the safety position, which actually received a huge boost from the insertion of S Joe Lefeged into the lineup. If Joe Lefeged is the answer, you need to fire the guy writing the questions. Keep an eye on Dashon Goldson, Ed Reed, and Louis Delmas.
Whichever position(s) Grigson decides to upgrade, he'll be "right." Other than QB, his roster is in need of a serious influx of young, dynamic talent. And while all Colts fans want him to build an all-star roster full of the greatest players ever, remember, Bill Polian avoided free agency for a reason. First, everyone who signs a contract today will be overpaid, it's just how the market works. Second, you never know every detail about these players – what are their personalities like, what's the chemistry like, how will they fit in your locker room. Finally, while it's not impossible to do, you have to be very smart as you navigate the salary cap land mines that free agency lays out for you. Dodge em, and you're fine. One misstep and you're in cap hell and looking to start another rebuild.
Note: Colts Authority will be hosting a live "radio" show/podcast at 4pm ET today (the start of Free Agency). Will discuss every piece of FA news as it breaks. Links and discussion thread will be posted here at 3:30pm ET. I hope you'll join us!