Monday, February 13, 2012

NFL Offseason Preview -- Indianapolis Colts

On the bright side, Colts fans, at least you won't have to see this anymore!
Though the Super Bowl is over and games don’t begin until next fall, the NFL season never truly ends. In many ways, the “game” that goes on in between the games is just as important, if not more so, than what happens on the field. Here, in the offseason, is where the course of all 32 NFL franchises is determined. To highlight the importance of this period, and to take a peek at what each team is facing, I’ll be embarking on an ambitious series in which I briefly preview each team’s offseason. We’ll examine the major questions each team faces, what type of cap room they have, who they should be targeting in the draft, etc. My goal is to complete this prior to the start of free agency (March 13). Please understand two things:

1. There is almost no chance I actually get through all 32 teams before March 13. I’ll make an effort, but I’ll probably fail. Oh well.

2. As always, everything you will read is totally opinion based. I read an awful lot of stuff from some very smart people, and I’ll undoubtedly use and cite that information. However, I am not beholden to conventional thought or media bias and I am quite capable of forming my own opinions. If you’ve spent any time reading or listening to Boris Diaw Time stuff, you know this well. Honestly, I hope my opinions start a bit of discussion.

I’ll be running down teams by draft order, starting with the Indianapolis Colts.

*Cap figures are taken from South Florida Sun-Sentinel.  Estimated cap is $124 million.*

Indianapolis Colts

2011 Record:  2-14
PPG For:  15.2 (t-28th)
PPG Against:  26.9 (28th)
2012 Cap Number:  $116,773,288
Draft Position:  #1 Overall Pick

Oh what a fall for one of the most consistently dominant teams of the past decade! Of course, when you lose the greatest QB of all time (arguably), what can you expect? Wait, wait…let me re-phrase that. When you lose the greatest QB of all time in an oddly mysterious fashion that almost assuredly shook the team to its core, and then replaced him with Curtis Painter, what can you expect?

No matter your thoughts on the overall talent level of last year’s roster, or the Colts competitive chances with a healthy Peyton Manning, the reality is that the page on that era of Colts football is almost assuredly being turned. Manning looks to be on the way out, and several key veterans look to be close on his heels. The extent of the rebuild has yet to be determined, of course, but the impending arrival of this year’s “once in a generation prospect,” Andrew Luck, makes me think the team could, and should, go all in on it.

Of course, that sentiment all starts with the Peyton Manning decision, which our friend Nate Dunlevy says is not much of a decision at all. I can only agree with that thought, as keeping both Manning (and his massive cap figure) and Luck on the same roster seems to be the exact type of wishy-washy, “half-in, half-out” type of thinking that delays many a rebuilding project. No matter what the reports are on Manning, even Polian’s highly optimistic one, it is in the franchise’s long term interest to end the relationship in the next month.  After that, there are still plenty of decisions to make.

Key Free Agents:  DE Jamaal Anderson, DE Tyler Brayton, G Ryan Diem, WR Pierre Garcon, CB Jacob Lacey, DE Robert Mathis, C Jeff Saturday, TE Jacob Tamme, WR Reggie Wayne

3 Key Questions:

#1 – What to do with the vets?

Mathis, Saturday, and Wayne have long been cornerstones of this franchise, and it would be a tough blow to wish them farewell. Unfortunately, the realities of the Colts cap situation and rebuilding status makes it untenable to hang onto all of them. Wayne, in particular, strikes me as a bad investment. After all, what good is a 33 year old receiver to a team that is hoping to be back in playoff contention two years down the road? In that same vein, the soon-to-be 37 year old Saturday might also be deemed expendable. Mathis, on the other hand, should absolutely be a huge priority. Pass rushers of his caliber are extremely hard to come by, and we’ve witnessed far too many dominating seasons from DE’s in their mid to late 30’s to think that Mathis is nearly washed up at just 32 years old. Assuming Luck is all that he’s cracked up to be, there’s no reason to think Mathis can’t be a major part of another contending team.

#2 – What to do with Pierre Garcon?

Garcon is an interesting case that I wanted to keep separate from the others, as the Colts must decide whether he’s a cornerstone or not. The talent is clearly there, but questionable hands and inconsistency leaves plenty of doubt as to whether he can be to Andrew Luck what Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne were to Peyton Manning. Ideally, Indy would reward him with a nice pay bump and make him Luck’s primary target. And ideally, that pay bump would be within reason. As we all know, free agency seldom works that way. At 26, Garcon is the perfect combination of production and potential for a free agent market that lives to grossly overpay undeserving players. Not that Garcon doesn’t deserve some cash, but I get the feeling that at least one idiot team will decide he’s worth #1 receiver money. Think Alvin Harper. Will the Colts pony up that type of cash? Should they?

#3 – What philosophy will the new regime employ?

Maybe this is only interesting to me, but I’m always fascinated by the inner workings of things, and what theories/strategies/philosophies invariably lead to success in the NFL. The outgoing regime of Bill Polian was unquestionably successful, and I’m curious to see if the new regime of Ryan Grigson is a radical departure from how Polian ran things. Under Polian, the Colts rarely dipped into free agency, instead relying on the draft to re-stock the roster. Though one could certainly argue for a bit more action in the free agency period, I’m of the mindset that Polian’s way is the right way. Does Grigson agree? Who knows? He comes from an Eagles franchise that just set a new standard for free agency recklessness, so there’s at least some reason to believe he’ll be a total 180 from Polian. Then again, Grigson wasn’t the guy in charge when the Eagles spent all that money. All I know is that Polian set the standard for rebuilding around a “once in a generation” QB, and it will be interesting to see if Grigson takes the same path.

Draft Thoughts: 

Andrew Luck. Nothing else to be said for that #1 pick. As for the rest of the draft, there are any number of directions the Colts could go. Offensive line is certainly a need, as is defensive secondary. Given their abundance of needs, they’d be wise to just stick with the BPA strategy all the way through.

Summary Thoughts:

This looks to me like a team ready to dive into a complete rebuild. My only reservation against it is that we’ve seen teams make surprising runs before, even with rookie QB’s. Look at what Cincinnati did last year with Andy Dalton! Assuming Luck is as NFL ready as he appears, the Colts could theoretically find themselves much closer to playoff contention than they think. I highly doubt it…but still. That having been said, the rebuild is probably the best way to go. Stockpiling picks, taking chances on younger players, and letting the team grow organically is what made the Peyton Manning era Colts as consistently excellent as they were, and following that same blueprint would be wise. As long as Luck is indeed a franchise QB, there is no reason Indy shouldn’t be back in the hunt within a few years. Of course, there’s always the chance that the “can’t miss” prospect….well, you know. Sorry, Colts fans, it has to be mentioned! If that happens, then it could be a very long decade or so.

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