Hey there Colts’ fans! It has been a crazy busy month down at the Colts’ Corral, so let’s dive right in to the many moves being made by new GM Chris Ballard as he purges the roster of all vestiges of the failed Grigson regime and moves ahead towards restoring the roster. I will look at it unit by unit, to see the overall impact on each of the comings and goings.
QB: This is about the only position in which the team will make zero changes. QB Andrew Luck is a stud and they have a solid backup they trust.
RB: The relentless RB Frank Gore keeps plugging along and will return as the starter for his 14th season. He will be 34 years old this year, so change is in the future soon. I do expect that the back of the future will be drafted in the first half of the draft, with a class that is deep at the position so bargains can be had. The backup is a bit of a surprise to me as I suspected RB Jordan Todman would be resigned to serve as the #3 due to his special teams value over RB Robert Turbin. However, this week Turbin signed a $4.1 million deal for two years to serve as a very capable goal line hammer and backup. Turbin might be able to carry the load if needed and this contract signals to me that he is in the mix to replace Gore in 2018; he certainly should still be the #2 this season. At the very least, the Turbin signing means that the Colts are absolutely out of the running for any of the veteran backs like Latavius Murray or even Charles/Peterson/Lacy
WR: There has been nothing that has happened during the offseason thus far, with depth at the position being the key need. I suspected that a veteran possession guy with some size might be a target in free agency as a #3-#4 guy in the rotation, but there have been no nibbles thus far reported. I thought a guy like Justin Hunter might be an option until he signed with Pittsburgh this week. Probably nothing exciting to watch here unless the new management punts on WR Philip Dorsett already.
TE: The first splash the Colts made this offseason was suddenly resigning young TE Jack Doyle to a 3-year $18.9 million deal, and simultaneously trading underachieving TE Dwayne Allen to the Patriots along with a 6th rounder for a 4th round pick. This may seem like a lot to give up to move up 1.5 rounds, but consider that the Titans only moved back 13 picks to snag DeMarco Murray last year! This was also a bit of a salary dump to counter the fact that Grigson had overpaid the oft-injured Allen last season. The 2018 draft class is very deep at tight end, so this likely entered into the equation as well. The Colts are thin at the position and a veteran bargain backup is not out of the question down the road or into training camp.
OL: This unit went through some growing pains as they totally retooled last year, but showed some promise with the new guys late in the season. There will be continued flux as there will be several slots up for grabs. OG Hugh Thornton has yet to be resigned and is only 50-50 to return due to his injury history. A big loss is the retirement this week of versatile veteran OL Joe Reitz after nine seasons with his hometown team. He started at four positions on the line and was often called on to fill in off the bench due to injury or ineffectiveness -- or sometimes just proving to be the best guy available. He was also the team’s Walter Payton nominee this year, so he is valued off the field as well. His loss and versatility will be missed greatly. They did sign a younger free agent in OL Brian Schwenke from the Titans, who primarily started at center there but has also played both guard spots. He may compete for the right guard starting slot, but I see him more likely as a versatile interior backup in the mold of OL Johnnathan Harrison last year, but more talented; he certainly will not unseat the entrenched OC Ryan Kelly.
DL: There is a lot going on for this unit, both with players on the way out and the way in. Veteran DT Art Jones has never lived up to his big money contract and will surely be let go if they make a splash in free agency in the interior of the line. Also, promising young DT David Parry is facing several felony counts stemming from an incident in February, and could also be released or at least suspended by the NFL. This, plus the team’s ineffectiveness in run stopping makes the pursuit of Chief star NT Dontari Poe make a ton of sense. The only big name free agent that the Colts have so far pursued, he would be a great addition to a team that is need of a playmaker and leader on defense. There is little to be gained at nose tackle in the draft this year as well, so free agency seems like a good place to make a move. Poe did visit this week and left without a deal, but he is not off the board yet. Ballard making this deal (or a cheaper one for the Giants’ Jonathan Hankins) happen would make his first year here a success no matter what else he does. They also signed the raw giant DE Margus Hunt from the Bengals for an undisclosed amount over 2 seasons. Hunt is no more than a backup in the base defense, but adds some real special teams value as a kick blocking specialist, having knocked down three just last season.
LB: This unit has been totally overhauled in a major way already, and this is a good thing since it was in the most dire need of a purgative cleansing. Released are veterans LB DQwell Jackson and LB Erik Walden – the two guys that led the team in tackles and sacks respectively in 2016. Veterans LB Trent Cole won’t be resigned and LB Robert Mathis retired. The only significant contributor from last year still around is LB Edwin Jackson who is currently a starter on the inside but hopefully will return to a backup role if the cards fall right. There were three big signings immediately on Day 1 of free agency which helped the team, but none of them broke the bank or were individually game-changing. First was signing LB John Simon from division rival Texans, where he was productive in a limited role over the last few seasons and was a key rotational player on a top-notch defense. He is a high-motor and high-character guy that could move inside to man one of those spots although he has played the SAM backer slot the last few years. Then the team signed two physical specimens who each started with the Browns and played last year for the Patriots, although they have taken different paths and have different trajectories. LB Barkevious Mingo has vastly underachieved despite his freakish size and athleticism ever since being drafted 6th overall in 2013. LB Jabaal Sheard, on the other hand, has gotten better each season and was very productive the last two years for New England, notching 13 sacks in 28 games. Sheard got the bigger and longer deal, but Mingo has a lot to prove and might be a little motivated. If at least one of them pans out, they will be far better on the outside. The rumor has it that the team is looking to target one of the top remaining veteran inside linebackers like Barry Minter or Zach Brown, and the real nice thing is that inside backers do not command the top dollar so they can make a cap-friendly offer for an impact starter inside, perhaps to pair with Simons. All of the guys they signed and the ones they are targeting are under 17 years old, so there is a chance to make a dent for the next few years as well.
DB: This is another unit that is undergoing a lot of change, although not as drastic as the front seven. Disappointing CB Patrick Robinson has been released and veteran slot CB Darius Butler is considering a move to safety. Backfield leader veteran S Mike Adams will not be resigned, leaving a gaping experience and talent hole in the secondary. I suspect that the secondary will be a focus with several draft selections, including a good chance at 15th overall. They definitely need a second starting corner with the losses of Robinson and maybe Butler, and star CB Vontae Davis is also in a contract year so they have to cover themselves with a top pick and make it a good one. I think the depth at safety will likely be addressed with a later pick, although there are a couple of experienced safeties that are still reported to be on the team’s radar for free agency like Tampa’s Brad McDougald.
ST: Future HOFer PK Adam Vinatieri will return for his millionth season, but he will have to get used to a new holder as popular P Pat McAfee abruptly retired. His replacement has been signed in P Jeff Locke formerly of the Vikings. His punting was below average yardage-wise, but the lefty does generally hang it high and give up few return yards, being one of the best in avoiding touchbacks and pinning the opponents inside the 20. If Locke cannot handle kickoff duties with some reasonable aplomb and take that duty off of the veteran Vinatieri, they might yet have to find a different replacement for "The Boomstick"
That is a lot of action, but I suspect there is more yet to come. I believe that the team will still sign a free agent on all three levels of the defense, and might yet target a few more depth pieces. As mentioned earlier, there have been no real "Aha!" signings of impact players, but Ballard has gone about methodically reassembling the team and addressing the atrocious lack of depth across the entire roster. He has not yet hit any home runs, but he has rapped out a bunch of solid singles and has set the stage for good things hopefully yet to come. I think his big signing may yet be Poe or Hankins to anchor the front seven, and this coupled with a solid need-filling draft at running back, corner, o-line and a pass rusher could put him in line to be anointed the next savior of the franchise. Time will tell, I suppose….
That is all for this month from the Crossroads of America. Until next month friends, remember to stay….COLTSTRONG!!!!