In light of the Free Agency period starting next week, the following is a run-down of recent developments in the FA market. I've concentrated on the three main areas of need for the Colts – OL; CB; WR.
With the deadline passing on Monday for teams to use the franchise tag, the picture became clearer with regard to potential Colts targeta in the offseason. For posterity, the list of franchise tags is as follows.
Branden Albert – Kansas City Chiefs – OT
One of the better pass protectors league-wide, Albert received the tag in light of the Chiefs' successful contract negotiation with Dwayne Bowe. Would seem to be a curious situation in light of yesterday's release of Eric Winston – Albert has steadfastly maintained that he's a LT, and to use the #1 overall pick on a future RT would seem to be folly. Look for Albert to hit the market next year.
Jairus Byrd – Buffalo Bills – FS
As expected, the Bills tagged their marquee playmaker on the back end.
Ryan Clady – Denver Broncos – OT
Same as above, a tag everyone expected. Anyone willing to give a first and a third for a franchise pass protector?
Anthony Spencer – Dallas Cowboys – OLB/DE
This was a bizarre one – and as a Colts fan, i'm fairly grateful. The Cowboys opted to pay Spencer over $10.6m for 2013 despite a position change from 3-4 OLB to 4-3 DE. Had a feeling that the Colts might've pursued and overpaid for Spencer, so we should be thankful for small mercies and Jerry Jones.
The other tags utilised by teams across the league didn't have a particularly significant effect on our free agency plans, given schematic and positional depth differences. Michael Johnson of the Bengals, Randy Starks of the Dolphins, Henry Melton of the Bears and our very own Pat McAfee were the other players to receive the tag.
The aforementioned release of Eric Winston has further bolstered the free agent OT market, with Winston, Vollmer and Andre Smith all excellent options for teams seeking upgrades at RT. While I think the Colts will be open-minded about where to take the OL in light of last season, it'd make the most sense to keep Anthony Castonzo where he is and opt for a free agent tackle.
The release of Winston effectively confirms the Chiefs' desire to draft one of the young OTs in the 2013 NFL Draft – with Luke Joeckel the clear favourite.
Anyway – In light of Grigson's comments illustrating his preference for young CBs over young OL, the following list should be a who's who of Colts OL targets over the next few weeks. Improvement on both the exterior and interior of the line is clearly required – only Castonzo can be considered a mainstay.
Eric Winston – RT; Andre Smith – RT; Sebastian Vollmer – T; Sam Baker – T.
Andy Levitre – G; Louis Vasquez – G; Brandon Moore – G; Brian Waters – G.
Brian De La Puente – C; Fernando Velasco – C.
Elsewhere on the FA board, supposed 'information' has to come to light in the last week regarding Greg Jennings' contract demands, while the 5-year $56m deal signed by Dwayne Bowe clearly sets the market for Mike Wallace in the young receiver bracket. The strange relationship enjoyed between the Patriots and Wes Welker became even more evident over the weekend, as they failed to lock him up on a long-term deal and avoided the use of the franchise tag. The Welker situation in turn has led to speculation regarding Danny Amendola and the inevitable Patriots pursuit, given the lazy comparisons which are easy to make between the two.
I'd look for the Colts to pursue a variety of different options at WR to at least survey the territory regarding contracts. The names of Jennings; Welker; Wallace, Amendola et al are likely to be heard in relation to the Colts in the next few weeks – though Grigson's proven ability to acquire weapons for Luck (Hilton and Allen spring to mind) makes a left-field signing more palatable if it were to come. Possibilities on that score range from Devery Henderson to Jerome Simpson, though the amount of activity will undoubtedly be determined by the confidence of the coaching staff in LaVon Brazill and T.Y Hilton.
Delving into the corner market is always a quick recipe for lost cap space. Corners tend to warrant very lucrative contracts relative to their skill set in FA, and I don't expect this year to be any different. Recent developments on the corner market have focused on the trade side of things – the Eagles' apparent desire to cut or even trade Nnamdi Asomugha and the Jets' stumbling effort to move Darrelle Revis. I've spoken my mind previously regarding Revis and the potential to at least explore the parameters of any deal. Asomugha is an interesting case – the skills on show in Oakland seemed to disappear completely upon his arrival in Philadelphia – and may well have been a casualty of poor coaching and a toxic locker room. A potential reunification with the position coach who helped truly propel him into the limelight – Chuck Pagano – is an intriguing idea, dependent on cost. I'll be watching how the situation develops.
On the true FA side of things, the deep class of CBs should offer the Colts a variety of different opportunities dependent on the coverage they want to play on the back end. Lightning speed is available in the form of the mercurial (but in my opinion, dreadful) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, while the diametric opposite in the form of the high-risk Brent Grimes would help any secondary provided he's recovered from last year's torn ACL. The accession of Sean Smith to UFA status makes the 'Dolphin Duo' at CB an interesting proposition at the least, though Vontae Davis' slip of the tongue might point to him signing elsewhere.
Chris Houston is another option at least worthy of examination in my book – I don't trust the coaching in Detroit, and I trust Pagano more than most to bring along a promising DB. Having brought the best out of Vontae toward the end of the year and Lardarius Webb the year prior, he deserves credit on that score.
Cary Williams of the Ravens is an obvious link given Pagano's history in Baltimore, for those with a penchant for trash-talking. The riskiest option of the lot is Aqib Talib, with a rap-sheet the size of my arm and man coverage skills which would help any team improve their secondary. Given the frequency with which he seems to attract police attention, I'd hope the Colts give him a miss. In any case, the aforementioned Grigson quote referring to rookie DBs over rookie OL hopefully indicates that we're due an injection of talent from the draft – the best place to acquire your defensive pieces.
Ultimately, the CB market is saturated to say the least. The Colts should be able to pick up premium talent at an affordable price if they shop wisely. If I've missed anything, don't hesitate to pull me up. Would be interested in hearing people's final thoughts prior to the FA period.
In Grigson We Trust.