Five Plays in Free Agency – Roundup of the Rest & Conclusions

First off, many congratulations to the New York Giants and Eli Manning for another great Superbowl win – as I’m sure was the case for the rest of you, I was rooting for the Giants all game. Despite the ‘Eli > Peyton’ articles which are sure to spring up (and already have), the thought of Tom Brady with four rings was too much for me to bear. Much credit also goes to to the city of Indianapolis, which by all accounts hosted the most fan-friendly Superbowl in years.

From a Five Plays perspective, I’ve decided this week to summarise the Free Agency pieces so far and list those who I haven’t assessed yet. I haven’t done so for a few reasons – players like Jeff Saturday on the interior line simply aren’t worth the creation of a whole article by virtue of the rather ‘boring’ nature of their position. Players like Ernie Sims have meaningful time on defense this year, but aren’t likely to be brought back and don’t hold a worthy place in Colts fans minds. Not only that, but the timing of doing every single free agent when I have other pieces planned simply doesn’t work. I’ll address potential cap casualties in a new series of Five Plays in a fortnight or so – so players like Gary Brackett, Dwight Freeney, Dallas Clark and of course Peyton Manning will be evaluated in due course. I’ll time the latter so it’s nearer the deadline for the roster bonus, and if the decision is made before that time, i’ll rustle up something special for 18.

After the jump, the summary begins..

I’ll begin by listing the meaningful Free Agents for this year in alphabetical order.

Position Player
DT/DE Jamaal Anderson
DT/DE Tyler Brayton
OG Ryan Diem
DT/DE Eric Foster
WR Pierre Garcon
WR Anthony Gonzalez
DE/OLB Robert Mathis
C Jeff Saturday
TE Jacob Tamme
WR Reggie Wayne
LB

Philip Wheeler

Within that group, there are two ‘priority’ signings, in my book. If you’ve read in previous weeks, you’ll know that those two are Robert Mathis and Pierre Garcon.

After that, things become necessarily more clouded. I’ll run down in alphabetical order my opinions for clarity:

Jamaal Anderson – As covered in last week’s Five Plays, Anderson is a versatile run stopping defensive lineman who showed some improvement in his pass rushing skills in the past year. He would be a worthy retention for the Colts, and with the uncertainty of our future in terms of defensive front would give us the versatility required, whether it be inside and outside in the 4-3 or outside in the 3-4.

Tyler Brayton – Another versatile presence willing to play inside or outside in the 4-3, Brayton made less of an impact than his fellow ex-first rounder. Occasionally came into the game to spell Dwight Freeney earlier in the season when we had health at the DT spot, before moving inside due to necessity. Wouldn’t be a choice of mine for retention, given his lack of athletic ability and effectiveness when compared to Anderson.

Ryan Diem – One of the longest tenured Colts, the case of Ryan Diem is an interesting one. After a period of decline at the RT position (where he underwent a miraculous transformation into a turnstile), the Colts decided to bring Diem back last year in order to kick him inside to RG. The subjectiveness of judging the O-Line notwithstanding, I felt that Diem played well at the Guard spot and helped our running game bear the brunt of the load by the end of the year. With a new front office in place, who knows whether the same sentimentality will prevail regarding Diem, though his renegotiated deal last year and a willingness to possibly take another pay cut may see him back on the Colts – and I’d have little objection.

Eric Foster – Ah, Eric Foster. I’ve felt for a while that Foster was a fairly underrated player, though he came into the spotlight with a horrific injury against the Buccaneers in Week 4. When healthy, he provides a situational rush from the DT or DE spot, much like Anderson and Brayton above. I’d slot him in between the two when considering priorities, though again we have little idea as to defensive front, and I can’t see him playing anywhere on the front in a 3-4 with a 6’2, 265lb frame. Chuck Pagano’s ‘bigger, stronger’ style of defense may decide Foster’s future.

Pierre Garcon – As I’ve stated before, Garcon should be the priority for this team. He has a unique ability to make spectacular catches, he showed great improvement this year to become the team’s #1 receiver and he’s always represented the organisation in a first-rate manner. Concerns over drops may linger, but there is little doubt that with the other WR free agents, someone needs to be re-signed. That man should be Garcon.

Anthony Gonzalez – An incredibly poor run of luck with injury throughout his time on the Colts has made this a relatively clear-cut decision. An inability to get on the field isn’t something that any front office will be looking for, and Gonzalez perhaps requires a change of scenery to kick-start his career. I do however question the decision to keep him on the sideline this year for no clear reason – it would’ve been useful to see what Gonzalez has in the tank instead of seemingly punishing him for being injury-prone.

Robert Mathis – As with Garcon, Mathis should be a priority for the front office. Unlike Garcon where you’d question the use of the franchise tag, Mathis would be a worthy candidate. Another 10 sack year at Top 5 DE money (where he’s there or thereabouts) is a worthy trade. Failing that, a 3 year deal averaging $8m or so a year could work. Pass rushers don’t grow on trees.

Jeff Saturday – Saturday is a guy who i’ve probably disrespected when prioritising Free Agents. My rationale is as follows – Center is a spot which can be easily filled in the draft or otherwise, as Jeff’s situation illustrates. He’s undoubtedly one of the most respected figures within league circles, but I don’t necessarily think that’s something the front office should prioritise. Jeff’s play was reasonable enough last year and he could do another, but with a new QB under Center, it surely makes sense to make a fresh start with Luck and a new man in front of him?

Jacob Tamme – Tamme is another interesting situation. He was very productive when introduced to the offense last year in the absence of Dallas Clark, that much is clear. I would however place most of the responsibility for that jump on Peyton Manning and his unique skills rather than any prodigious talent or skill on behalf of Tamme. His lack of speed and real technique in blocking to make up for it was clear for all to see last year in the Wildcard game against the Jets, and as a result I’d be hesitant to bring him back for the money he’ll command. There will be a team out there willing to overpay for Tamme, and it shouldn’t be us. If Dallas Clark becomes a cap casualty, this situation becomes more important – though in that scenario I’d advocate taking a TE in the draft. One guy worth keeping an eye on is Coby Fleener out of Stanford. He’s used to playing with Luck, he’s got a 6’6 245lb frame, and speed concerns could well see him fall in the draft.

Reggie Wayne – If Garcon proves too expensive or we’re able to wring out some cap space, Reggie is a clear possibility. Providing that type of veteran outlet to a new QB could do great things for Andrew Luck’s development – though Reggie’s inability to gain clear separation should be taken into account when offering him a new deal. His one great attribute (route-running) isn’t as ever-present as the great height of Calvin Johnson or the strength of Anquan Boldin, as we saw to our detriment in SBXLIV. Financial considerations will likely see Reggie leave, given it’s his one last chance to cash in. There’ll be a team that will overpay, there always is. Don’t rule out the possibility of Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne being reignited elsewhere.

Phillip Wheeler – Previously a scapegoat for everything that went wrong within the Front 7, Wheeler this year improved to mediocrity. He’d be a relatively cheap retention, and questions remain as to his usage in the past few years. He clearly has some skill in the pass-rushing department, and has unfortunately been used as a conventional 4-3 OLB for years. Truth be told, I’d hope we have better options on the table for our new LB corps.

And so, here’s my prioritised Free Agent Table:

Position Player (by priority)
WR Pierre Garcon
DE/OLB Robert Mathis
WR Reggie Wayne
DT/DE Jamaal Anderson
C Jeff Saturday
TE Jacob Tamme
OG Ryan Diem
DT/DE Eric Foster
LB Phillip Wheeler
DT/DE Tyler Brayton
WR Anthony Gonzalez

Let me know your thoughts.

Note: Five Plays will be taking a week off next week because of an obscene workload, i’ll then return to do my Salary Cap permutation pieces.

Go Colts.

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