Colts Authority Fireside Chats: Free Agency Frenzy

With the NFL Scouting Combine in the Books, the football world turns its lonely eyes towards Free Agency, which opens March 11th. Flush with cap space for the second consecutive year – they could have as much as $40MM in cap space before making any roster moves – the Colts are expected to once again be major players in the free agent market.

Last year at this time, coming off of a magical 11-5 season that saw them shock the world and make the playoffs only months after releasing QB Peyton Manning, GM Ryan Grigson and owner Jim Irsay celebrated their success and new-found cap space by making it rain. And rain. And rain. After Irsay's glorious monsoon of contracts dripped its last drop, the Colts had signed Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry and Donald Thomas to above-market contracts, and threw gobs of cash at a handful of other role players, such as Erik "SET THE EDGE" Walden, Greg "WHERE'S MY GROIN?" Toler, Ahmad "sigh, nothing about running backs is funny after the TRich trade" Bradshaw and Darrius "I have 3 names and none of them is 'hands'" Heyward-Bey.

At the time, the Colts were handed the ever-insightful "12th Annual Washington, D.C. Football Team Off-Season Championship Memorial Trophy" trophy. As with the previous 11 winners, the Colts reaped very little rewards for their gluttonous spending.

With those lessons learned, how should Grigson and Irsay approach this year's shopping spree? We'll discuss our philosophies and the one key position/player we'd target after the break, and you'll give us your insights in the comments below.

Nate Dunlevy

I'd add another pass rusher.

 
Even with the amazing season of Robert Mathis, the Indy pass rush was substandard. Mathis can have another great year, and still get five fewer sacks in 2014. Where are they going to come from? 
 
Rushing the passer should be the top priority followed by upgrades at safety.
 
Kyle Rodriguez
I'd go safety just based on who are free agents in 2013. Obviously it depends on who ends up leaving their respective teams, but of players who are pending free agents, I'd go with Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward (I'd be surprised if either left their respective teams, but hey, we're pretending we're GMs here). 

 
For pass-rushers, Lamarr Houston is really the only one that I'd want in Indianapolis, when it comes to big-name guys. I'm with Nate with that being a big need, but I just don't see the fit out there, especially not after they gave Walden $4 million a year and drafted Bjoern Werner (Otherwise, I'd be on the Anthony Spencer train again). 
 
The team has a clear gap at safety with Bethea leaving, while they have a lot of mediocre-slightly above average bodies on the DL and OLB. An impact safety can have a huge effect on a defense, and Byrd or Ward would each bring skills that would give the Colts more flexibility.
 
Marco Gutiérrez

I would get an upgrade at center no matter what. Mack or De la Puente would be improvements over Satele (then again, who wouldn't?).

 
Another alternative for me would be a safety and Byrd sure is a nice candidate. 
 

I wouldn't mind getting a new wide receiver. Maybe Jeremy Maclin or Golden Tate. It's likely that Grigson will try to cover the position through the draft though.

Ben Gundy

 

I'd approach free agency much like the Seahawks did last year: bring in a few cheap veterans for depth, then wait for the market to sort itself out, pick out the talented guys who didn't get paid in the first rush and give them short, below-market contracts. I hope Grigson learned from his missteps and doesn't get carried away early again. The Colts need both a few surprise home runs, a la Michael Bennett on the 2013 Seahawks, and a lot more depth. No more Jeff Linkenbach and Cassius Vaughn as top backups, please.
 

This will surprise no one, but if I were to splurge on one position, it would be center. Unless Khaled Holmes is some sort of super secret weapon, they badly need to upgrade there (GO AWAY, SAMSON). The offense is much closer to championship level than the defense, but they still need to fix the line. I really like Alex Mack after watching him closely for a few games. I think he'd stabilize the pass blocking and create more holes for Pep's beloved power running game. I heard Mack originally wanted a three-year contract from the Browns, so maybe he'd take something short and front-loaded and provide a couple good years while Holmes or some other young guy develops. As good as he is, a big, lengthy contract would be a dumb move in the long run, as it is for most free agents.

Marcus Dugan

If I was a general manager, and I’d be a terribly underqualified one, I’d have two overarching rules for this year’s free agency period:
 
1. No second chance guys.  So, no picking up players who’ve been in trouble off the field and/or in the doghouse performance-wise with their former team – no players looking for career redemption.  The Colts need guys who can contribute before the 2012 class’s contracts expire.    
 
2. Do not, under any circumstance, sign a player who’s trying to live down the “injury prone” label.  No exceptions.  (This all could've been one rule, but it made for a drawn out manifesto-like rule, and nobody likes those.)
 
Signing a big name starter isn’t necessary on offense right now (we don’t need another “whopper”).  Indy needs playmakers on defense.  I like Tony Dungy’s theory that a team should have a difference maker at each level: defensive line, linebacker, and secondary.  For a 3-4, that’s probably more like d-line/OLB, ILB, and secondary. 
 
The Colts have Jerrell Freeman in the middle and a couple of potential game changers in the secondary (assuming they re-sign the mercurial Vontae Davis), but none of that matters without something special up front besides Robert Mathis. 
 

I’d like to see the Colts acquire a serious wrecking ball pass rusher or a mammoth, ill-tempered run stopper with a proven track record.  I believe doing so would greatly improve the rest of the defense and mask some of their deficiencies.  The issue, of course, will be availability.

Greg Cowan

Unlike Marcus, I think I'm eminently qualified to be an NFL GM. I love judging people, I love ordering people around, and I love spending someone else's money. I'm pretty sure this encapsulates 99% of what a GM does. So if I were the GM of the Colts, the first thing I'd do is binge eat out of self-hate for what I did 12 months ago.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not opposed to spending in Free Agency – as a matter of fact, I believe the Colts need to spend, given the number of holes on the roster and their severe lack of draft picks.  That said, it's how the Colts spent their money last year that really bothers me.

Grigson and Irsay threw oodles of cash at back-ups, players with injury histories, and players who were buried on depth charts due to their previous team's depth. These kinds of players can be starters, sure, but they should also come a tad cheaper than your proven commodities. Instead, Grigson and Irsay not only paid them starter prices, but in some cases went above and beyond, such as the contracts signed by Cherilus and Landry.

Instead of trying to find those hidden gems, I'd limit my signings to two categories: sure things and depth players. I'm fine over paying for an Alex Mack, a Jairus Byrd, but not for the backup center for the Browns who is obviously a Pro Bowler who has been buried in the shadows of Alex Mack. Find 2 or 3 surefire players and pay them whatever you have to to get them on your roster and then fill out the rest of your team with 1-2 year stopgaps. Eventually, Grigson is going to have to resign himself to building his depth through the draft. Unfortunately, that'll have to wait for a year in which he actually has a full complement of picks.

If I were limiting myself to one signing, I think I'd go with the aforementioned Jairus Byrd. The Colts secondary is one of the weaker units on the team, and the departure of Antoine Bethea only makes it worse. The Colts have made it pretty clear that they aren't going to part ways with Landry, so it would be in the team's best interest to find a true FS who can look competent in passing situations. Byrd would be the perfect complement to Landry's "skill set." 

This does nothing to fill the obvious holes at OLB/DE and C, but of those three needs (pass rusher, center, free safety) Byrd is likely the best, most-attainable player available. Prepare yourselves for another season of Satele.

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