Tough Road Ahead for the Colts?

The Indianapolis Colts have built the most consistent team in NFL history, setting the NFL record for consecutive seasons with 12 or more wins (7).  Needless to say, the single biggest reason for the Colts’ rise to NFL greatness is Peyton Manning, who is the unquestioned team-leader and may go down in history as the best quarterback to ever play the game.  But no single player can carry a team to the Colts’ level of success, and Indianapolis has developed one of the most talented units in the league.

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have become the most feared and powerful pass-rushing tandems in the NFL.  Bob Sanders won the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007.  Antoine Bethea has been selected to two Pro Bowls and has been the most consistent safety on the team.  Gary Brackett is one of the best linebackers in football, and has been dangerously close to winning a Pro Bowl bid each of the last three years.  Dallas Clark, Reggie Wayne, and Jeff Saturday are also key offensive facets that have been around for a long time, during the Colts’ run to greatness.

Getty Images

Getty Images

The picture above is an example of the kind of contributors that have played on this team, and each of them is no longer on the team for a number of different reasons.  Marvin Harrison suffered a knee-injury in week four of the 2007 season against Denver, and never fully recovered from that injury.  Harrison’s age, slow healing process, and inability to fully regain his speed and agility led the Colts to release prior to the 2009 season.

Darrell Reid was one of the team’s best special teams coverage players, serviceable depth at defensive tackle, and a situational defensive end, particularly in goal-line situations.  His development made him too costly for the team to retain purely in a special teams role so he was allowed to enter free agency and landed with the Broncos.

Roy Hall was a 2007 draft pick who was retained for development as a wide receiver and immediate special teams contributor.  A series of injuries derailed his development and landed him on the injured reserve each of his three seasons with the team.

The Colts have had to overcome the loss of players like Harrison, Reid, Jake Scott, Tarik Glenn, David Thornton, Brandon Stokely, and Edgerrin James.  Of course, they have been lucky to find players who served as serviceable replacements like Pierre Garçon, Austin Collie, Anthony Gonzalez, Clint Session, Charlie Johnson, Kyle DeVan, and Joseph Addai.  The Colts have been able to handle many of these transitions in stride because each of them came over a number of years.

At the end of the 2010 season, however, the Colts may be in store for the biggest transition they have had to overcome yet.  Joseph Addai, Charlie Johnson, Clint Session, Melvin Bullitt, Daniel Muir, Antonio Johnson, Kyle DeVan, and Eric Foster will all need to be re-signed or sign contract extensions in order to stay on the roster in 2011.  Those eight players are either starters or regular contributors for the offense and defense of the Colts.

Added to this potential transition and the financial complications that will need to be overcome to retain these players, the Colts have just lost Raheem Brock, are working on a long-term contract for Antoine Bethea, just signed Gary Brackett to a new contract, and will likely make Peyton Manning the highest paid quarterback in the NFL sometime this summer.

Despite the fact that the Colts are a small-market team, it may be in the team’s short-term interest for the CBA to remain unresolved and the NFL to remain uncapped.  If there is a cap, the Colts may need more short-term development from young players than the team has ever overcome in the past.

Will 2010 be the last year the Colts have promise to retain a streak of 12 win seasons?

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