NFL free agency is right around the corner, with the draft coming up next month. Teams everywhere have plans in place to upgrade their roster in preparation for the 2013 season. The team I care most about, obviously, is the Indianapolis Colts, so I thought I would take a look at what their plans might be for this off-season. It’s the strategy that I might attempt to follow were my last name Grigson rather than Henning.
Free Agency: This off-season seems more apparently to work in the Colts’ favor than it did last year. Last year, the Colts had the top pick in the draft in a year that featured one of the best quarterback classes since the early 80s. Of course, the Colts had Peyton Manning on the roster, and getting rid of a Hall of Fame fixture of the roster and the community is not an easy decision. It was, in retrospect, the correct decision but it wasn’t easy. This year, the Colts know exactly what they need to do. The defense needs immediate upgrades, especially with Dwight Freeney moving on. Chuck Pagano is a defense oriented coach and now with a full off-season and a complete appraisal of the talent he has on the team, he can start to get better player fits. I think this is how the Colts will go with free agency, towards the defensive side of the ball.
I think the preferred signing for the 3-4 defense, especially given Pagano’s history with the Ravens would be Paul Kruger. A lot of people have insisted that Kruger could end up with the Browns, and it’s a little “pie in the sky” to hope that the Colts end up with one of the top FA’s this season.
Other options would be guys that would fill that same role, as a rush linebacker. Cliff Avril has been widely linked to the Colts and would be a good addition to the flagging defense in Indianapolis. Another Purdue grad, and one that I even had a class with, Shaun Phillips is a free agent from San Diego. He will be 32, only a year younger than Freeney, but is a better fit for the 3-4. I would expect the Colts to come away from the month of March with one of those players wearing Colts blue.
The Colts secondary has been so bad that it made Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea look really good. Still, Indianapolis has managed to get to the playoffs despite their DB’s. The safety position looks better than the corners. With Jerraud Powers a free agent, expect the Colts to look for an upgrade across from Vontae Davis. Maybe Cary Williams, another former Raven who played under Pagano? That would be two big upgrades on defense, someone like WIlliams and a rush linebacker, which would help bolster the defense, a unit that has struggled with player development since Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Draft: With the draft, I would like to see the team go offensively. If you look at the way the Colts built their team in the last decade, it was from the ground up on offense. They drafted most of the talent that stuck and led the team to two Super Bowls. There was a chemistry there that evolved over time and made the team better. I would like to think that, even with the regime change, the Colts still see some parallels.
They already drafted some guys that will be key factors going forward. Obviously, it all starts with Andrew Luck, but there is also Vick Ballard at running back who turned into a better acquisition than I expected, TY Hilton at receiver and Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen as tight ends. The skill positions appear to be set, especially if Reggie Wayne has another season or two in him.
As it turns out, the 2013 draft isn’t rife with skill players, but it IS replete with heavies from the front line. Not only that, but talent that is expected to fall to the mid to late first round, where the Colts are picking, is full of diverse, multi talented interior linemen. There are still some questions about finding a tackle opposite Anthony Castonzo, but watching the game against the Ravens in the playoffs this year, it was very clear that the guard play was abysmal.
I could see them looking at Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) or Chance Warmack (Alabama) if they were available (not terribly likely). They still might go after an offensive tackle. Walter Cheripinsky has had them taking DJ Fluker (Alabama) and Menelik Watson (Florida State) in his most recent mock drafts. I actually think if Cooper and Warmack are gone, that the Colts will trade down in an effort to fill two spots. Perhaps they would manage to get two of Larry Warford (Kentucky), David Bakhtiari (Colorado) Barrett Jones (Alabama) or Dallas Thomas (Tennessee). As with every year, teams will want to move up to grab a quarterback on day one far too early. Christian Ponder, Josh Freeman (this actually seems to have worked out) and Brandon Weeden say hello.
In later rounds, defensive depth will be added. Another receiver or two should probably be drafted as well in order to prepare for a future without Donnie Avery and Reggie Wayne.
The Colts are fortunate this season. Their needs are clear and the market is chock full of talent that suits those needs.