Colts Offseason Needs Indy's plan the past few seasons has been to spend whatever it takes to keep their offense intact. This season they have only a few worries on that side of the ball, but now they'll need to perform some cap gymnastics to keep quality defensive players around. As fun as the Colts' AFC title ride has been, the offseason promises to be just as interesting.
We wrap up our team-by-team look at offseason needs with the Colts, who have spent a small fortune keeping their offense together but enter this season faced with the prospect of holding togetherâ€”or possibly even rebuildingâ€”their defense. Can the AFC champions pull off yet another offseason of cap gymnastics?
Areas of Need: Indy's management hasn't been shy about opening up the checkbook to keep their offense intactâ€”Edgerrin James notwithstanding, though the Colts managed to replace him more than adequately through the draft. And while Joseph Addai should be the starter heading into 2007, the NFL is becoming a two-back league; that means re-signing Dominic Rhodes may become a priority, and he should come back at a reasonable rate unless another team throws a bucketload of money at him.
The passing game is set with Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, and Reggie Wayne all under contract, but depth could become a concern. Backup Jim Sorgi can test the free agent waters, as can third receiver Aaron Moorehead. It's unlikely either leaves, but it certainly wouldn't hurt for the Colts to explore some contingency plans.
Indy is more than set at tight end, with Dallas Clark ably backed up by Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher. The Colts have had plenty of success at this position turning low-level free agents into productive members of the team, so if they do feel the need to add another tight end odds are it won't cost them much to do so. The offensive line needs to address the potential free agency of guards Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott, and tackle Tarik Glenn is entering his second decade in the league. Expect whatever mid- and late-round draft picks that aren't spent on defense to be devoted to rebuilding the offensive line.
Yes, the Colts have a defense, as we learned this postseason. However, Dwight Freeney will be among the most sought-after free agents this offseason and the Poulian family will need to crack open the vault yet againâ€”not to mention twist like a pretzel to get under the salary capâ€”to keep him in blue and white. Four of the team's top five linebackers can also work the free agent market this offseason, making this the team's primary need. Oh, and both cornerbacks can also be free agents, and the team could use some secondary depth anyway. So Indy's offseason moves will be heavily devoted to the defensive side of the ball, and fantasy folks can make the Colts' transaction report one of their last and most infrequent stops of the offseason.
Help is on the Way? The Colts are roughly $5 million under the capâ€”this is before any attempt to resign Freeney, Cato June, Nick Harper, or either offensive linemanâ€”and send their second-round pick to the Buccaneers for Booger McFarland. So whomever the Colts go after with their pick at the bottom of round one, they can't afford to miss. In a way it's good that Indy has so many needs, because they won't be locked in to one position. Expect the Colts to jump if Florida State linebacker Laurence Timmons or Ole Miss backer Patrick Willis are still on the board when they pick; otherwise, they'll need to dig deeper and go after a guy like Florida's Earl Everett, Michigan's David Harris, or Willis' teammate Rory Johnson. If the Colts don't like any of the linebackers on the board, they could add defensive line helpâ€”Florida's Jarvis Moss or Georgia's Charles Johnson, perhapsâ€”or secondary players like Texas' Aaron Ross or Cal's Daymeion Hughes.
Most, if not all, of Indy's free agency focus will be retaining Rhodes, Freeney, and linebacker Cato June. Don't expect them to be in the running for any of the big-name linebackers (aside from June, of course), and any signings they do make will likely prompt a "who?" from all but the most devoted of NFL fans.
Indy's plan of hoarding offensive talent got them to the Super Bowl; now they'll need to find a way to keep and even improve the defense that played a major role in getting them there. Yep, the moment the gun sounds on Super Bowl XLI the Colts' front office will have to get right back to work.
Wants and Needs: The Colts enjoyed their Super Bowl XLI victory for all of about a month before the vultures started swooping in and picking off parts. The vast majority of the hits came on the defensive side of the ball, an area that was expected to get most of the attention this offseason anyway. Indy needs to replace Cato June, Nick Harper, and Mike Doss, amongst others, and outside of an impressive playoff performance the defense was shaky to begin with. Expect the Colts to address a defensive need with their pick at the end of the first round, or quite possibly trade down to acquire multiple Day One selections. Their second-round pick belongs to Tampa Bay courtesy of the Booger McFarland trade, but they own two late third-rounders that are also expected to fill defensive needs. Multiple fourths and fifths could give Indy some flexibility, but all the picks come at the end of the round so they're not particularly valuable. However, they should allow the Colts to add depth at offensive line—which already includes two starters taken in round four or later and a college free agent—and receiver in addition to the defensive needs.
Potential Selections: Most mocks have Indy selecting Tennessee defensive tackle Justin Harrell in round one. Harrell's draft stock has fallen due to injuries, but when healthy he was regarded as a top-10 pick so Indy might be getting a coup. If the Colts don't want to take that risk, they could seek defensive line help elsewhere in the form of Oklahoma State's Ryan McBean, Tennessee's Turk McBride, and Penn State's Jay Alford. The secondary also requires attention, but picking so late in round one likely takes the top corners off the board. Still, in Indy's Cover-2 scheme Cals' Daymeion Hughes or Syracuse's Tanard Jackson could fit right in. Conventional wisdom suggests Cover-2 corners can be had in round three and later, so the Colts may wait and target Fred Bennett of South Carolina, DeAndre Jackson of Iowa State, or Corey Graham of New Hampshire. Indy also needs to shore up its linebackers, so they could pick from amongst Hampton's Justin Durant, Brown's Zak DeOssie, and Alabama's Juwan Simpson in the middle rounds or look to convert a bigger safety (like they did with June) such as Oregon State's Sabby Piscitelli, Arizona State's Zach Cantanese, or Elon's Chad Nkang. A polished late-round receiver like Laurent Robinson of Illinois State or Central Florida's Mike Walker could be a fit, and Indy will also likely target a developmental offensive lineman such as Hawaii's Tala Esera, TCU's Herb Taylor, or Scott Stephenson of Iowa State.