More than a Player…

As a fan, how do you say goodbye?  One could argue that Colts fans should be well versed in doing this; we first said goodbye to Marvin Harrison, then Peyton Manning.  We should be good at this by now, but the announcement this week that the Colts would not be resigning Reggie Wayne seems to be a different kind of parting.  Reggie, like Marvin and Peyton, was more than just a player, he was, and always will be a Colt.  Marvin was easier…he never had that connection to the fans that Reggie had, saying goodbye to Peyton was really hard, but everyone in Colts Nation knew that the time had come to pass the gauntlet to another great franchise quarterback in Andrew Luck and we all knew that it was in Peyton’s best interest to not play behind this offensive line.  Reggie is just…different, though.  In the end, I think that it’s just for the best to let the memories say goodbye to one of the greatest men to ever play professional sports in the great state of Indiana.

Reggie comes to camp:

2009:

2012:

2013:

2014:

And, of course, we can’t forget his fantastic game winning catches:

2009 vs. New England Patriots:

2011 vs. Houston Texans:

2012 vs. Green Bay Packers…this wasn’t a game winner, but it was such an awesome catch in a day where Reggie put up the best game of his career in his Chuck Pagano tribute game:

We may see #87 in a different uniform next year, but he will always be a Colt.

Goodbye, Reggie.

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Looking ahead (Part IV)…

What a difference a few days makes.  After my last post, the Colts made me a happy fan by releasing LaRon Landry.  I must admit, I was totally blindsided by this move; given the fact that he was a “Colts guy” and the dead money that the Colts have cutting him ($3.5m in 2015, $1.75m in 2016), I never imagined that Grigson would do it.  Color me happy to be wrong.  This move makes it even more imperative that Indy resign Sergio Brown, as I am still convinced that Mike Adams will not be the answer at free safety this season. Moreover, Indy now finds themselves in desperate need for another safety.  This move also makes it highly unlikely that the cure for the pass coverage disease that is Greg Toler will be found via free agency, nonetheless I will still address the CB position in this installment.

DISCLAIMER:

I feel that I must make something clear, I do not subscribe to the idea that teams can effectively be built via free agency.  Free agents are frequently under productive for the amount of money they are paid (see LaRon Landry.)  However, since the entire point of this series has been about how Indy can become a true Super Bowl contender starting in the 2015 season, there is no choice but to fill some of the holes with free agent signings.  Additionally, I am not saying that the Colts should sign all of these free agents I will be listing, these are just guys I believe Grigson should target if he intends to fill that particular hole with a free agent.  Finally, as I was researching available free agents, I discovered that I was remiss in not mentioning how important it would be to resign A.Q. Shipley in my last article.  Believe it or not, Shipley was the 14th ranked center(PFF +4.5) in 2014; in my opinion, A.Q. is still better suited to be a depth player, but he represents quality depth that needs to be retained.

NOSE TACKLE:

Nose tackle is a position that must be upgraded immediately for the Colts to be legitimate contenders.  According to nfl.com, Indianapolis was the 26th ranked defense against the run in 2014, and it was a glaring fault against New England in week 11 and the AFCC.  The 3-4 defense is predicated on defensive linemen occupying the offensive line, allowing the linebackers to stay clean and make the stop in the run game; this all starts with the nose tackle.  An effective nose tackle will consume two blockers and, at least, hold his ground. Indy’s nose tackles were unable to do this for the most part.  Their best nose tackle, by far, was Josh Chapman (PFF +2.1 against the run), but the rest of their tackles all had negative scores against in this category.  In pass defense, the nose tackle’s job is to collapse the middle of the pocket, taking away the opposing quarterback’s ability to step up into the protection and avoid the edge rush.  In 2014, none of the nose tackles scored better than a -0.1 in this category and that score does not belong to Chapman (-9.3).  Indy must build its defense on a foundation of a strong nose tackle that can produce against both the run and the pass if they wish to be a true contender.  Now, I have been involved in a lot of discussions about this and I’ve heard a lot of people saying the player Indy needs in Ndamukong Suh.  Please, don’t get me wrong, Suh is an absolute force of nature at the DT position, but this is a really bad idea for two reasons…first and foremost, Suh is a 4-3 defensive tackle.  Undoubtedly, he has the talent to be an effective 3-4 DT, but this would not take full advantage of the talents he possesses; simply put, Suh would not be the same player in Indy as he has been in Detroit.  Second, Suh is going to command a massive contract…the likes of which would cripple the Colts in regards to signing and/or retaining quality players at other positions, possibly even Andrew Luck.  Please, let’s not go there.  No, Indy needs look no further than Dan Williams from the Cardinals.  He’s the prototypical size for a 3-4 DT, standing 6′ 2″ and weighing in at 327 lbs.  His overall PFF grade was a +14.4, his PFF run defense score was a +13.7 and his pass rushing graded out to a +3.  Williams is quick and powerful off the snap and rarely gives up ground to the double team; additionally he is only 28 years old and could potentially be the anchor for the Colts defensive line for the next five to six years.

EDGE RUSHER:

It’s no secret that, without Robert Mathis, Indy had to employ an array of exotic blitzes to get to the quarterback in 2014.  This frequently left the middle of the field exposed to opposing tight ends, who torched the Colts defense frequently, it also lead to Toler just getting torched…frequently.  Mathis will be back in 2015, but at 34 years old and coming back from a torn achilles, it’s very unclear if he will be able to return to the form of 2013.  Jonathon Newsome was a pleasant surprise, but will he be able to continue to improve and become the replacement for Mathis?  Bjoern Werner is quickly starting to look like a bust and should not be counted on to fill this crucial role moving forward.  The free agent market for 3-4 OLB is not very promising this year; teams have their choice of players who are outstanding, but will command a high dollar contract or players who are one-dimensional pass rushers, still commanding a high dollar contract.  The obvious name that comes to mind is Justin Houston, but his stellar 2014 campaign will likely put him out of reach, money-wise, for Indy.  Jason Worilds is another option, but, unlike Houston, he is not strong against the run and will still cost quite a bit of money.  If Indy is looking to address this hole in free agency, I suggest that they look no further than Pernell McPhee from the Ravens.  At 26 years old, he is young enough to sign to a long-term contract; his PFF grades (+28.4 overall, +3.9 run def, +26.5 pass rush) are outstanding and his size (6′ 3″ 278 lbs) allow him to play standing up or with his hand in the dirt, perfect for a hybrid 3-4 like the Colts run.  McPhee still won’t come cheap, but he’s by far the best bang for the buck at this position in this offseason.

SAFETY:

With Landry’s release and the horrible draft class available, I have little doubt that Ryan Grigson is looking to spend some serious money for a safety in the offseason.  The question is, who should he be looking at?  In my research, I found three players that would fit the bill.  The first and obvious choice is Devin McCourty from New England.  Many think of McCourty as mainly a ball hawking safety and his PFF numbers (+11.2 in coverage) bear this out, but his defense against the run (+4.7) is very solid; he actually ranks higher against the run than Seattle’s Kam Chancellor, largely regarded as one of the best run defending safeties in the NFL.  At 28 years old, he still has a good four of five years of gas left in the tank and would give Indy back the play making ability that was lost with the departure of Antone Bethea.  Unfortunately, his price tag may be out of reach for Indy, but if Grigson is going to spend big money here, this is one of, if not the, best choice.  Another player that Indy may be interested in, assuming they are looking to get an all around player at safety, is Will Hill from the Ravens; at 6′ 1″ and 207 lbs, he possesses the physical size to play strong against the run (PFF + 3.8), but he grades out (PFF +10) as effective against the pass, too.  Unfortunately, Hill is a restricted free agent, making it more difficult for Indy to pry him away from the Ravens.  If Indy wants to have an “enforcer” at strong safety to help against the run, they should take a long look at Da’Norris Searcy from Buffalo.  Searcy is a big safety (5′ 11″ 223 lbs) that is solid against the run (+5.6), but would still provide an upgrade at SS against the pass (+2.7) and he’s only 26 years old.  I think Indy should pursue McCourty as their first option with Hill and Searcy as plans B and C, respectively.

OFFENSIVE LINE:

The Colts offensive line has been much maligned this season, but, contrary to popular opinion, it’s not because they aren’t any good.  The fact is, this year’s line was decimated by injuries that made it almost impossible for the unit to play with a consistent lineup.  Upgrades at center and right guard are sorely needed as well as quality depth.  These positions are most likely to be found in the draft, as the lack of a deep free agent pool may cause bidding wars to break out, but if Grigson is intent on improving the line via free agency, here are a couple of players to look at.  Rodney Hudson, from the Chiefs, is a well-rounded free agent at the center position.  He doesn’t excel at either pass blocking (+4.7) or run blocking (+4.2), but he does both well; he is also a solid screen blocker (+2.5) that would allow Indy to make its screen game more effective, adding another dimension to their offensive attack.  He’s not a big guy, measuring 6′ 2″ 299 lbs, but his technical soundness allows him to play beyond his size.  Hudson is the only quality center I see in free agency, so it may be difficult for Grigson to land him without grossly overpaying, but if Indy can add him to the roster, that immediately adds strength to the middle of the line and gives the unit strong depth to draw upon if needed and, at only 26 years old, would give Luck a long-term man in the middle like Peyton had in Jeff Saturday.  Guard is a discussion that is dominated by one name…Mike Iupati.  This is good, because, with any luck, teams will pursue him and let some of the other members of the pool fly below the radar right into Indy’s arms.  I don’t care what anyone says about Iupati, his pass blocking (-7.5) is terrible.  Iupati gave up 7 sacks, 2 hits and 22 hurries in 2014…sorry, I’d rather sign talent for the O-line that won’t get Luck killed.  Instead, Grigson needs to look at Orlando Franklin from Denver; unfortunately, Franklin is pretty unlikely to be an under the radar player, but his level of play is astounding (+9.8 run blk, +9 pass blk, 1 sack, 2 hits and 8 hurries.)  Franklin is a massive guard, standing 6′ 5″ and weighing in at 316 lbs,; he is also only 27 years old, so he would give the Colts a very talented interior lineman for the next several years.  Franklin’s only problem is his penalties…he had ten of them in 2014, so there is the potential for a few drive killers there, but I think his upside helps to negate that somewhat.

CORNERBACK:

I don’t see Grigson pursuing any free agents here, but he must address this position long-term; if not with a free agent, then in the draft.  Quality free agent corners don’t come cheap in the NFL, but there are some talented prospects that Grigson may be able to land at a cap-friendly cost to play across from Vontae Davis.  As I said before, I really don’t think that Indy will pursue the CB position in free agency, so I’m not going to do an in-depth analysis, but here are the players I’d like to see Indy make an effort to sign:

Brandon Flowers (SD)
Sterling Moore (DAL)
Chris Culliver (SF)
Kareem Jackson (HOU)

Indy may have a realistic shot at Sterling Moore (PFF +3.7); he plays on an underrated Dallas defense, so he may get overlooked, especially when there are a lot of corners on the market this season.

RUNNING BACK:

Okay, we all know that running back is an area that Indy needs to address, but this year’s draft class is very deep, so there’s really no need to address this in free agency.  However, if they do, I’d advise Grigson to avoid the higher profile running backs and target either Miami’s Daniel Thomas or New Orleans’ Mark Ingram.  With the devaluation of the position, both players are likely to come fairly cheap and should be able to contribute something to the Indy ground game.  Frankly, I’d wait until the draft, though.

Well, that’s it for now.  There will be future installments in this series as we get closer to the draft.

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Looking ahead (Part III)…

CORRECTION: In my previous post, I mistakenly listed Josh Cribbs as a potential cut for the 2015 season.  He is a free agent, calculated cap space for Indy is updated to $23.88m.

CLARIFICATION: I failed to include the proper interpretation for the Pro Football Focus grading system.  A score of 0 indicates an average player at the given position, positive numbers are above average, negative numbers are below.

Before the Colts can start looking to free agency, there is work to be done in-house.  Indy has 18 players that will be free agents when the clock strikes 4:oo PM on March 10th.  It’s likely that Reggie Wayne(36), Cory Redding(34) and Matt Hasselbeck(39) will retire before then, but if not, Hasselbeck should be allowed to try his fortunes with another team if he intends to continue playing.  Given the fact that Wayne is unlikely to get much in free agency, retirement is likely, but Indy may be able to get him to sign a Santana Moss type deal worth about $1.5m with a cap hit of about half of that, his value as a mentor to Moncrief and Carter would be immense.  Cory Redding is a similar story…Redding’s overall PFF score was a +6 with a pass rush score of +12.4; unfortunately, his run defense score, a -5.4, was miserable.  Redding would be valuable as a situational pass rusher, depth and for his leadership, again, only if he’s willing to take a significant pay cut.  I see Redding being worth a deal similar to the one I put forth for Reggie, again, with a low cap hit.  Both of these contracts could be done, but Jim Irsay would have to pony up considerable signing bonuses to make them more cap-friendly, but it would be possible to get these two back for a year and suffer a cap hit of less than $2m.

Now, we come to Mike Adams.  Adams, very quietly, had a stellar year in 2014, garnering a PFF rating of +11.7, highest in the NFL…no, that is not a typo.  Here is the problem…Adams will be 34 when the regular season starts this year, it’s highly unlikely that he will have a repeat of the 2014 season, his play against New England was terrible (-2.3 in week 11, -3.3 in the AFCC) and it’s unlikely that he will be willing to take a cap-friendly contract.  Compounding this is the fact that the Colts have three other safeties that will be free agents this year, the draft class is terribly weak at this position, two of the four good free agent prospects are restricted and the other two may spark a bidding war, considering how important this position has become in today’s NFL.  I’m sure his agent knows this and, as we all know, someone will be willing to overpay for his services in the coming season; I just don’t think it should be the Colts.  If Indy can get him for a 2 year deal worth around $2.75m, including a modest signing bonus that leaves a cap hit of about $1m this year and next, I say get him, otherwise let another team give him his payday.

Indy carried a total of seven(!) safeties on the roster in 2014; of these players, three are still on the roster (two were almost exclusively special team contributors), and four are free agents this season, including Adams.  The other free agent safeties and their 2014 snap numbers are: Sergio Brown(539), Colt Anderson(38) and Delano Howell(0), who went on IR during the preseason.  Sergio Brown has played well for the Colts this season, garnering a score of +4.7.  Despite getting “kicked out of the club” by Gronk in week 11, Brown scored better than Adams against the Patriots(-.1 in wk 11 and -.6 in the AFCC.)  Delano Howell’s neck injury, though not career ending, is a major concern moving forward, but he is a restricted free agent, so could likely be resigned cheaply; the rest of the safeties are very inexperienced.  Assuming Adams is allowed to walk, resigning Brown becomes a big priority as it is unlikely that we will be able to adequately address the safety position in either free agency or the draft this off-season.  There’s a very good chance he could be signed to a deal like the one put forth for Adams; Indy would be wise to sign him and pursue one of the second tier free agents in free agency, pick up a project player in the draft or develop one of the younger special teams players.

Darius Butler should be another target for resigning, once again, if the price is right.  His previous contract(2 yr/$4m) was not the most cap friendly in the second year, accounting for $3m in cap spending, which sounds high, but, if you take out a horrendous performance against the Steelers, his PFF score would have been a +5.4, good enough for 23rd in the NFL.  Indy has gotten plays when they were needed from Butler, he needs to be resigned.  Joe Reitz is another player Indy should try to keep on the roster; he’s not a starter by any means, but makes for good depth at guard, which Indy desperately needs.  The biggest problem with the offensive line this year was the fact that we had to rely on depth too much this season…Reitz played every position this year, except for C and LT and started seven games…and he wasn’t the only one.  No offensive line will look good when their depth players are utilized to that extent.  Jerrell Freeman is yet another player that needs to be kept.  Look, I know that Indy needs to improve at the ILB position, but it’s pretty unlikely to happen this year and a large part of the reason the inside linebackers struggled this season was due to bad defensive line play, especially at NT; sign Freeman to the right contract and he will make for a solid depth player after 2015.

That leaves us with only two really talented players left on the free agent list…Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Nicks is going to be looking for someone to pay him this year, and with teams like Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland, the Jets, Tennessee and Cincinnati having more cap space than the Colts and desperately needing receiving help, he’ll likely get it; let him walk.  Bradshaw has been very good out of the backfield this season, but his injury history and the fact that he will be 29 when the regular season begins, make him a player that the Colts can’t really afford to keep.

These signings are little more than stop-gap measures and do little, if anything, to fill the holes that must be filled for the Colts to be a true Super Bowl caliber team.  Moving forward, Ryan Grigson must find long term players to fill holes at NT, OLB, OL, CB, RB and FS.  The odds are astronomical that he will not find all of them this off-season, but he only needs to find studs at a couple of those positions to put Indianapolis into serious contention next season and have at least a respectable showing and not be the whipping boy for New England yet again.  It may even be enough to get Indy to the Super Bowl.

Next time, I’ll take a look at potential targets at these positions on the free agent market.

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Looking ahead (part two)…

In my previous post, I called out the Colts front office and coaching staff for not providing adequate talent around Andrew Luck to metamorphose the Indianapolis Colts into the AFC’s dominant team.  In this and subsequent segments, I will put forth that which I am convinced the Colts need to do in free agency and the draft to address the shortcomings which have prevented them from taking their rightful place among the elite teams of the NFL.  In this installment and the next, I’m going to take a look at the following:

  1. The team’s overall cap situation, including some cuts that can be made to improve that number.
  2. The team’s own free agents and who they need to keep for either the future or to fill holes that they will be unable to address this offseason.
  3. The holes that need to be filled moving forward to allow Indy to get over the hump and become that team all Colts fans envision.

Before I get into all of that, you need to know where I am getting all of the information that I will be basing my observations on.

GRADING SYSTEM AND PLAYER STATS:

I will be using a grading system in these posts that many may not be familiar with, this grading system is from Pro Football Focus.  PFF is an advanced statistics site that delves deep into player performance based on a number of factors for each position.  They have grades for every single player in the NFL, and they provide grades and stats for not only the season, but for each game, each play and even situational statistics.  Many of the statistics and grades I will be referring to will be unavailable to the reader unless you want to pay for a subscription which, at $27 per year, is well worth it if you are an individual who wants to have access to an incredible amount of data on NFL players.  However, they do offer some of this information for free, it just takes a little digging and you won’t be able to see the overall “big picture” that the subscription package provides.  All grades and statistics will be from profootballfocus.com, unless otherwise stated.

CAP NUMBERS AND CONTRACT INFORMATION:

All salary cap and contract information is provided courtesy of overthecap.com and spotrac.com unless otherwise specified.  These sites are free and offer a wealth of information including team salary cap information and contract numbers, dead money and cap savings for each player.

INJURY HISTORY:

I mine injury data from all over the web, but general information will be provided by rotowire.com, unless otherwise specified.  Rotowire is a subscription based fantasy sports site that provides very detailed information that is valuable for fantasy football owners, but general information, including injury reports, are available for free.

With all of that behind us, let’s get moving on.

SALARY CAP SITUATION:

I would like to start by saying that I am, in no way, a capologist.  These numbers only make sense to me in a raw fashion and I am somewhat ignorant of the nuances of contract structuring in the NFL.  That being said, I do feel that I have a better grasp of this topic than the typical football junkie.  In other words, I am nothing more than an overenthusiastic fan who likes to spend way much more time than I should thinking about this stuff, so a grain of salt is advised.

The estimated base salary cap for the 2015 NFL season is $140m for each team; specifically, the Colts salary cap information is as follows (numbers are rounded to nearest ten thousand, except dead money):

Base cap: $140m
Carryover form 2014: $7.7m
Total cap: $147.7m
Active cap spending: $114.81m
Dead money: $132k
Cap space: $32.76m

The Colts have the seventh most cap money to play with in the NFL, this will be the third straight year that Indy has had a substantial amount of cap money to spend in the offseason.  When you consider the spending spree Ryan Grigson went before the 2013 season, this is really a testament to his ability to negotiate team friendly contracts with free agents that allow the Colts to cut unproductive players after a year or two without a huge dead money hit; of course, the benefits of not having to pay Peyton Manning and the rookie wage scale, which has limited the size of Andrew Luck’s contract has played a significant part in this as well.

Now, that $32.76m is not all available to play with, the draft is coming up and some of that money will have to be set aside to sign draft picks.  Fortunately, since the rookie pay scale was instituted, it’s very easy to figure up what that amount will need to be.  Indy currently has 10 picks in the upcoming draft; 1 pick in rounds 1-5, 2 picks in round 6 and 3 picks in round 7.  These picks dictate that $5.83m will need to be set aside to sign these players to their rookie contracts.

The Colts are now left with $26.93m in cap money to shop around for potential free agents; however, this will be greatly affected by the fact that the outstanding rookie class from 2012 (Luck, Fleener, Allen and Hilton) are all entering the final year of their rookie contracts this season.  Undoubtedly, Grigson will be looking to carry over some money from this offseason into next to resign most, if not all of these players.  Obviously, Luck is not going to be cheap and Hilton is going to require a large contract as well; Fleener will likely wind up being in the top 10 pay scale for tight ends and Allen won’t be far behind.  In addition, Anthony Costanzo will be a free agent at the end of the 2015 season, as will Greg Toler, Adam Vinatieri and several other players, most of whom I don’t foresee being signed to a new contract.  Don’t expect Vinatieri to be on the Colts roster after his 2yr./$5m contract expires at the end of this season unless he’s willing to take a massive pay cut.  Toler, to put it bluntly, is expendable; in 2013, he was ranked 74th among all CB’s and in 2014, he dropped to 99th…Toler will not, and should not be a Colt in 2016.  However, Anthony Costanzo is a player that Indy will have little choice but to resign.  While far from elite, ranking 27th among all OT’s in 2014, he has still been a solid player at a highly valued position; at 27 years old, his ceiling is pretty high and he is definitely worth a contract extension at the end of this season.  It’s impossible to know how much will be required to resign these players at this point, but my very rough estimate is that Indy will be looking to roll over around $15m of this years cap money into the 2016 season to help pay for these players.  Unless my math skills have failed me, this will leave around $11.93m worth of fun money under the cap limit.

Compared to the initial $32.76m amount, $11.93m sounds rather paltry, but this would still leave Indy in a better cap position than twelve other teams before even considering their draft pool and future free agents.  This number can be increased by looking at what players are still under contract that Indy can cut.  I’d like to pause here for a moment and address the “June 1st designation.”  Kind of like a nega-franchise tag, teams are allowed to designate a limited amount of players as “June 1st” cuts; I will not go into explaining what this means, if you are curious, overthecap.com does an adequate job of explaining this convoluted accounting rule here.  It is sufficient to say that it only makes a difference to teams that are very tight against the salary cap, which does not apply to the Colts at this time, so I will not take it into consideration.  That being said, here is a list of players who are making more money than they are worth that Indy may consider cutting to free up cap space.  I’m only including players that I think can be safely cut without significantly hurting the team; additionally, I am not including players that are far down the depth chart, as these players would not represent a significant cap savings number.  I also will not list players, like LaRon Landry, who are not very good on the field but would represent a large amount of dead money even though they would generate more in cap savings.

Player:                    2014 Cap Number:          Dead Money:          Cap Savings:

Greg Toler                 $5.83m                                    $333k                           $5.5m
Trent Richardson*  $3.18m                                     $0                                 $3.18m
Shaun Phillips          $2.65m                                    $0                                 $2.65m
Josh Cribbs               $970k                                      $0                                  $970k

The asterisk next to Trent Richardson means that I’m assuming that the entire $3.18m in guaranteed money the Colts owe him is voided due to his suspension; as I stated in a previous post, the NFLPA is unlikely to stand by and let that happen, but, since there is no way of knowing how that will play out and this number is the standing number at the time of writing, I’m going to go with it.  These roster moves would free up an additional $12.92m in cap space, resulting in a total of $24.85m for potential free agent spending.  I find it unlikely that Grigson will actually spend this much, but, nonetheless, it is our final number that we will use going forward.

Well, that’s all for now.  Next time, we’ll take a look at Indy’s own free agents that need to be kept in the fold and the holes that need to be filled to make this team a force to be reckoned with in the AFC for the foreseeable future.

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Looking ahead…

It’s that time of year again; another disappointing Super Bowl (all Super Bowls that don’t feature a Colts victory are disappointing, in my humble opinion), the Evil Empire of the East is, once again, hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and the Indianapolis Colts had another 11-5 season…complete with a shocking upset over Denver in the Divisional round and an upsetting shock in the AFC Championship game…such seems to be the life of a Colts fan.

Here in Colts country, we have had a lot of confidence in Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson, but one cannot shake that feeling, despite the postseason progression we have seen over the last three years, that Indy has been here before.  The Colts, quite literally, are only going as far as Andrew Luck can take them, just like Peyton did before him…let those words sink in for a minute: just. like. Peyton.  The Colts need to add more pieces to this puzzle if they are going to cross that threshold and become a truly elite NFL team.  In the beginning of the Manning era, Colts fans were convinced that, after years of futility, we were finally going to have our day in the sun; we were going to be one of those great NFL dynasties like the Steelers, the Niners and the Cowboys.  We had the man who would surely finish his career as the Greatest of All Time at the QB position; the world was our oyster and it would soon be raining Lombardi Trophies in Indianapolis, but…it didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining…Indianapolis and its fans were richly blessed to have Peyton Manning leading our team for all of those years, he gave us confidence that, even in the most difficult of challenges, our team would prevail and when they didn’t, Colts fans could honestly look forward to next year.  The cup of Colts fans still runs over to this day; how many teams have we seen lose a legendary QB and spend the next decade or so in football purgatory trying in vain to recapture that glory?  Colts fans didn’t experience that…we bid a fond farewell to “the Sheriff” and welcomed another budding superstar with open arms, and he has given us his all.  No, I’m not complaining at all, but like the fans of any team, Colts fans are not content to have what may well be more than a quarter of a century’s worth of astonishing quarterback talent leading our team and only see a couple of Lombardi Trophies find their way to the Circle City.

Ryan Grigson has done a respectable job of picking a few shimmering gems to surround Indy’s magnificent crown jewel via the draft, while raggedly mending holes in the mantle with a patchwork of free agents.  However, there’s been some missteps, Jerry Hughes was starting to show signs that, just maybe, he was going to be the guy Bill Polian thought he was drafting in 2010; Grigson didn’t see it that way and traded him away to Buffalo for Kelvin Sheppard.  There was the Trent Richardson trade..that 2014 first round pick could have been used to trade down and pick up a couple of players that were desperately needed.  Imagine if Grigs had traded down to pick up Timmy Jernigan to bookend with Arthur Jones and Cory Redding or what if Carlos Hyde had been in the backfield.  Okay, I know that neither of these guys were world beaters their rookie seasons, but either would have contributed so much more than Richardson did.  The 2013 draft was mind boggling in how absolutely bad it was…I can’t think of anyone who thought Bjoern Werner was a good pick, especially with Xavier Rhodes and Datone Jones sitting there; hell, we could have traded down and got Darius Slay to line up across from Vontae…how much better would Indy be with Jonathon Cyprien at safety instead of Landry?  The jury is still out on the only other notable picks from that draft, Thornton and Holmes.  This is the year that Grigson needs to add that key talent around Andrew Luck to make the Colts true contenders in the AFC.  The Colts need a nose tackle that can clog up the middle and allow our linebackers to make plays, a pass rusher that makes opposing QB’s scramble for dear life instead of standing there for six or seven seconds trying to decide which receiver deserves a catch on this play, a strong safety that can range sideline to sideline, ala Earl Thomas, that allows our free safety to be an enforcer against tight ends and receivers running shallow crossing routes.  Finally, he needs to get a running back that doesn’t make Indy’s play action passing game an NFL version of “Stupid Pet Tricks” and some offensive linemen that can step in and take over if one of the starters go down without the entire protection scheme falling apart like a game of Jenga being played by a two year old.

This is the year.

Chuck Pagano has spoken of “Building the Monster” since the first day he came to Indy, but despite the intentions, the results have not been there.  The players love Chuck, for good reason…he’s the consummate players coach; Indy had good coaches during the Manning era, too.  Jim Mora was a good coach, but he wasn’t the guy that could get that team to perform at a championship level.  The Manning Colts never realized their potential until Tony Dungy took over; if this past season has proven anything, it’s that coaching matters.  New England and Seattle both had horrendous starts to the season, but Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll righted the ship and both teams went all the way to the Super Bowl.  Bruce Arians took his Arizona team to the playoffs and, for awhile, had the best record in the NFL while being stripped down to Ryan Freaking Lindley as his starting quarterback, for Heaven’s sake.  Coaching matters.  This is the year that Chuck needs to stop Building the Monster, this is the year when Chuck needs to Release the Monster.

This is the year.

As a Colts fan, I can’t help but feel terrible about the words I have written.  Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano have played a huge role in preventing this franchise from descending into the abyss, like Jacksonville, Tennessee or Oakland, but the fans of this franchise are tired of playing second banana to the likes of New England year after year.  They love seeing the progress this team has made in the playoffs these past three years but are tired of the season coming to an end with a horrendous curb stomping.  In 1995, Indy made it to the AFC Championship game, losing to Pittsburgh in heartbreaking fashion when Aaron Bailey dropped the game winning touchdown in the endzone.  The Colts played with incredible hear and reckless abandon in that game, but the one thing I remember more than anything else was, then Head Coach, Ted Marchibroda stating that “we were just happy to be here.”  There may have been some truth there, considering that the Colts were an 8-8 team going into the playoffs, but I couldn’t help but think to myself “Who in the hell is just happy to be here when they lose the AFC Championship game?”  Lately, it seems as if this front office and coaching staff has been content “just to be there”…and the fans may have felt that way in year one of the Luck era, but now the fans are thirsting for more.  The losses to New England have been humiliating and the fans of the Colts deserve much more than what they have been given.  This is the year that it all must come together…it doesn’t necessarily need to end with Andrew Luck raising the Lombardi Trophy triumphantly, but this team needs to get to the AFC Championship again…and God help the Patriots if they get in our way.  If not, then maybe it’s time to find the leaders who will make it happen.

This is the year.

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Trent Richardson’s Suspension Voids Guaranteed Money…

News out today states that Trent Richardson’s two game suspension voids the roughly $3.8 mil in guaranteed money the Colts owe him for next year.  The suspension was, according to Ryan Grigson, for personal reasons and Trent hasn’t been talking, so we don’t know the exact reason why this suspension was handed out.  Something about this bugs me, I can’t help but feel that this was a calculated move by Grigson to try and salvage whatever he can out of this disastrous trade.  I’ve always felt that the Colts organization has been, more or less, fair and ethical in the treatment of their players, and please, I really don’t want this to turn into a debate about Peyton’s exit from Indy; frankly, seeing the offensive line play Luck has had to deal with for the vast majority of his three years under center for Indy I think we did Peyton a favor by releasing him.  Nonetheless, this raises a big red flag for me.  I mean, Trent has never had issues on or off the field during his time with the Colts, other than his production, and he seems like he’s been trying to do everything the organization has asked of him, the results haven’t been good, but I have no doubt he’s been trying.  Regardless, I don’t see the NFLPA taking this lying down; I’m sure that the ink on the appeal is drying as I write this and it’s unlikely that Indy is going to get out of paying something if they were to release Richardson.  One thing is for certain, it looks like the Trent Richardson project has come to an end in Indianapolis, and it’s going to be interesting to see how Grigson addresses the gaping hole the team has at running back (I really like ‘Boom’ Herron, but he’s not an every down back.)  Will Grigson sign a big name free agent like DeMarco Murray or will he turn to a deep RB draft class for an answer?  Either way, I just hope that the team can produce something to show those of us who see value in the way the organization has treated players are not being let down.

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A New Weapon?

There’s been a buzz in the background of the NFL this week, nearly drowned out by the raging din of “Deflategate”; that buzz is all about a promising young receiver who is being pursued by numerous NFL teams, Duron Carter, son of Vikings Hall of Famer Cris Carter. Carter has spent the last two seasons playing for the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL and has put up some pretty good numbers in that time.

For the record, I hope that this kid can make it in the NFL, regardless of who he signs with.  If he’s successful, it would make for a great redemption story, not quite the scale of his father’s story, but a good one nonetheless.  Indianapolis seems to be the frontrunner to sign him, but before we start heralding him as “Luck’s Megatron”, let’s take a little closer look.

First, a little background on why this is news.  There are many dates on the NFL calendar, and many fans don’t realize that there are actually some red-letter dates between the Super Bowl and the draft.  One of these dates in 2015 falls on February 10th, this is the date when CFL free agents are free to sign with NFL teams; this is the reason that this news is creating such a buzz this year.  Carter is arguably the most sought after CFL import since Warren Moon or Doug Flutie due to his raw talent, his physical size and, of course, the bloodline he comes from.

The Stats:

In his two seasons with the Montreal, Carter has put up pretty good numbers, especially at this point in his career.  He played in 27 out of 36 regular season games, producing 124 catches for 1,939 yards and 12 touchdowns.  He also played in three playoff games for the Alouettes, one game in 2013 and two games in 2014, where his stats were not quite as impressive.  In these three games he was targeted a total of 7 times for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Now, as impressive as these numbers sound, there are a few things to keep in mind when considering them.

  1. The CFL plays and 18 game season, 20 weeks with two bye weeks, that is a full two games more than the NFL regular season.
  2. The clock stops after a completed forward pass in the CFL.  While they still have 15 minute quarters, their play clock is 20 seconds as opposed to the 25 second play clock the NFL uses, this creates more actual playing time, thus more opportunities for a player to touch the ball through the course of a game; additionally, after the three-minute warning (not a typo), the clock stops after every play.  However, the CFL only allows three downs instead of four, so that balances this a bit.
  3. The field is 110 yard long and 65 yard wide, an NFL field is 100 yard long and 53.3 yards wide, additionally, corners are only allowed a one yard contact zone, NFL corners are allowed a five yard contact zone.  There’s much more open space for a CFL receiver as opposed to an NFL receiver.
  4. CFL rules only require that a receiver have one foot touch in bounds as opposed to the NFL, which require that a receiver have both feet touch in bounds.

All things considered, this would tend to temper the “wow” factor of those numbers a bit, especially when you consider that the CFL has had three players in its history eclipse the 2,000 yard receiving mark, the NFL has never had a 2,000 yard receiver.  Still, when you consider Carter’s age, these are still solid numbers.

The Measurables:

Carter is a fairly impressive physical specimen…6’5″, 198 lbs (his father believes he can carry 225), but at his FAU pro day, his number were somewhat lacking.  He ran the 40 in 4.58, but his 10 yard time was 1.54 and his 20 yard time was 2.60, which indicates that his speed is more of a “top end” type of speed rather than someone who is explosive off the line, this could be compensated for with good route running, but he’s not the type of guy who is going to beat his man off the line.  He also declined to participate in the bench press, which may indicate a lack of strength which would make it difficult for him to beat press man coverage where he is jammed at the line and could hamper him when he is in a situation where he has to fight for the ball.

The Intangibles:

Carter had a poor collegiate history, he started out at OSU, but was declared academically ineligible after his freshman year.  He then transferred to Coffeyville Community College in Coffeyville, KS; he dominated while with the Red Ravens and transferred to Alabama for his junior year.  Academic issues followed him to Alabama and he was ineligible to practice with the Tide until late August; in September that year, he was redshirted and would not play at all that entire season.  He was suspended for spring practice the following year, due to issues with marijuana and subsequently transferred to Florida Atlantic University.  He petitioned the NCAA to waive the one year sit-out requirement, but was denied; he never played a down for FAU.  Duron declared for the 2013 NFL draft, but was neither drafted nor signed as a UDFA, he was invited to spring tryouts for the Saints and Vikings, but garnered no interest.  A source with one of the teams said that Carter goofed off and “acted like he had made the team” instead of doing whatever it took to impress his potential employers.  I understand that those issues were when he was mostly still in his teens, and both his father and Montreal’s GM, Jim Popp, have stated that he has matured greatly since 2013, there are still red flags that cannot be ignored.  In his final playoff game with the Alouettes, he was lined up against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats Delvin Breaux, a consensus choice for best CB in the CFL.  Despite being the focal point of Montreal’s game plan, he did not have a single pass thrown his way by the mid-point of the second quarter, leading to Duron becoming frustrated.  He drew two 15-yard penalties, one after punching an opponent and the other after he was supposedly taunting and pointing at an opponent when his hand was bumped into an official’s face. He wound up with three catches for 25 yards in a 40-24 loss.

Final Take:

Duron Carter has many of the physical tools to succeed in the NFL, and if the price is right, I’d love to see him don the horseshoe for the Colts this season.  I’m not holding out hope that he will be Indy’s version of Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall, but I think he has the potential to be that big possession receiver that would complement T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief in Luck’s arsenal.  If Duron can make it with the Colts, he would be a prime target to line up opposite Donte on the outside and allow T.Y. to work the slot, his much more natural position.  In the Red Zone, he would give Luck another big target to go along with Fleener and Allen, Carter would likely, if he bulks up some, win most jump balls in the end zone…which is good, considering Luck’s maddening tendency to throw the ball high.  In short, I hope the Colts can sign Carter and he shows that he has overcome his maturity issues to become a deadly weapon in Indy’s arsenal; which he can certainly do if he adds some bulk to his frame and becomes a precision route runner.  Most importantly, I would love to see it, if for no other reason, to see this kid complete the turn around from the bad decisions that have defined his football career so far.

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