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.