Much has been speculated about the state of the roster heading into the 2014 season, and the new NFL Calendar year has not even started yet. The Colts finished another phenomenal year with an identical record (11-5) as the previous season. Last season provided an influx of new talent acquired during the Free Agency signing period. Overall, if one was to judge the effect on the roster compared to the money spent acquiring these players there seems to be a perception that Irsay’s money may not have been spent effectively. 2014 appears to be more of the same when examining what the front office plans to do to improve this team. The team will have around $35 million, possibly more, depending upon the final cap numbers that the NFL will give the teams prior to the start of the new calendar year.
What impact does this have on the current roster? Quite a lot- the Colts will have 18 unrestricted free agents that will need to be addressed once they can negotiate with the players. If you want to mark your calendar, circle March 11, 2014 as the date the free agency begins and signings can take place. As fans, we fall in love with players and have a hard time quantifying the value and all the ramifications tied in with the player. Often we can’t see the pitfalls of a signing and major ramifications to the salary cap and the overall make up of the roster. That’s why Grigson was brought into Indianapolis, and not one of us. Does the front office always make the right decision? No. Look how disastrous not signing Wes Welker was to the Patriots. They felt he wasn’t worth the value they assigned and let him go to Denver, and tried to replace him with another player. (Promise, only shot against New England in this article). Same thing can be said for the move by our Colts not signing Don Avery, as bad he played last season, he was no where near as bad as signing a wide receiver who can’t catch a ball with any regularity (DHB). The front office thought it would work out, but it didn’t- and ultimately had ramifications upon the offense once Reggie went down for the season.
Here is the list of the Free Agents and my assessment of their status:
Pat Anger: LIKELY GONE
Antoine Bethea: LIKELY GONE
Ahmad Bradshaw: LIKELY GONE
Deion Branch: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Donald Brown: LIKELY GONE
Sergio Brown: HIGH PRIORITY IF PRICE RIGHT
Kavell Conner: LIKELY GONE
Vontae Davis: NUMBER 1 PRIORITY, WILL BE SIGNED
Aubrayo Franklin: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Darrius Heyward-Bey: LIKELY GONE
Jeff Linkenback: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Ricardo Matthews: LIKELY GONE
Pat McAfee: HIGH PRIORITY IF PRICE RIGHT
Mike McGlynn: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Fili Moala: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Lawrence Sidbury: LIKELY GONE
Cassius Vaughn: LIKELY SIGNED TO SMALL CONTRACT
Obviously, Vontae Davis is the highest priority signing as far as player retention is concerned. The front office gave up a second round pick for him last season and the change in scenery resulted in mostly positive results for both him and the team. Vontae has shown that he has shut down capabilities, is physical with receivers, good size and speed, able to tackle in open field, and good to above-average hands. His negatives include: tendency to get burned by elite receivers, often seems to get lost when tracking the ball, and overall consistency. He has been largely reliable where injuries are concerned. All in all, taking the good with the bad Vontae Davis fits perfectly with the Colts’ defensive scheme and is likely to receive a high offer for his services from the Colts. He is as close as it gets to being considered a lock to be re-signed.
After Vontae, it becomes much murkier as to who should be retained. Of the remaining free agents, I would suggest Pat McAfee & Adam Vinatieri are the next likely to be signed by the team. I lump them together because in some ways they are tied to each other because it seems if one is signed, the other will as well. They really compliment each other well. AV showed he still had it this year, hitting 35/40 field goals for 87% with a long of 52yds. and hitting 34/34 PAT’s. Vinatieri appears to have plenty leg left and likely would not break the bank and add stability to a position that is extremely important to Pagano’s football scheme. The only negative that can be brought up about Vinatieri is his age, and some may question how much leg strength he has left, but last season seemed to show he still has enough.
McAfee comes into the equation by providing Vinatieri with young leg to handle the kickoffs, saving wear and tear by handling those duties. Although McAfee’s numbers were slightly down from last season, they were still very comparable to all of his averages. For 2014 his numbers were: 76 attempts for 3,499 yards, 46 yds. average, long of 65 yds., with a net of 38.5. One stat that doesn’t always follow kickers are toughness. I can’t think of any kicker tougher than him, in fact, McAfee was insulted by talk of the kicker being labeled “defenseless” the status the NFL & rules defined kickers. He has a knack over the years of making touchdown saving tackles as the last line of defense on special teams. We all remember Pat laying out Trindon Holliday on SNF.
Again, if Pat can be signed for a price that won’t break the bank, it should be a no-brainer to retain the services of the “Boomstick”. Just as AV is important to the system Pagano has installed, McAfee is equally important in the yards he gives his defense and his toughness that he brings to the field as kicker on special teams. McAfee really had another solid season and did all he could do to warrant his case for remaining with the team. Now it will come down to a number that works for both sides, unless he’s looking for top dollar.
Sergio Brown also deserves consideration from the front office to be re-signed for his play on special teams. Brown had such a great year on special teams, I’m not sure how he didn’t make the Pro Bowl this year. He had a knack for being at the right place at the right time and making several big plays on special teams that often changed the game.
Some players that I feel could be brought back to the team for depth and shouldn’t break the bank include: Jeff Likenbach, Mike McGlynn (because they have some versatility on offensive line but shouldn’t be starting), Fili Moala, Aubrayo Franklin, and Cassius Vaughn on the defensive side of the ball because they are good players that provide depth- and in Franklin’s case may be the best solution at nose tackle on the team. Again, as long as they aren’t too expensive I wouldn’t be surprised to see them back in Indianapolis.
One player that as a fan that I would love to see on the 2014 roster but don’t think will be is Antoine Bethea. He has been an iron man- work horse in his ability to stay on the field and produce at a high result. Bethea has been the glue that has held things together in the secondary and as a part of the defense. He is one of the veteran leaders in the locker room and will be hard to replace, but judging by his comments he seems to be preparing for his career out of the circle city.
Other players I would be surprised to see return for various reasons (performance on field, injuries, money may not fit scheme, age, etc.) include: Sidbury, Conner, Angerer, Bradshaw, Matthews, Heyward-Bey, and Donald Brown.
Donald finally showed some great play this season even though it seemed as if he was always having to justify his position on the team this year to the coaching staff. Up to this point, he really couldn’t stay on the field because of health issues or serious deficiencies in his game. This year was different, he showed that he was the best option this year offensively.
The timing for him is probably just too late with the team favoring Trent Richardson because of the trade involved bringing him in, and Vic Ballard returning from injury and a younger back with lots if carries left. If Ballard isn’t healthy enough the front office may bring Brown back, but I think it is highly unlikely given the interest he will probably draw from various organizations with Colts ties: San Diego, Jacksonville, and Detroit.
Lots of decisions have to be made, and that’s the advantage we have as fans. We never have to answer for the sometimes tough decision they make, however we get the opportunity criticize as much as we like. 2014 presents many challenges but also gives the front office a chance to improve the team and redeem theselves.