Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New players coming ... in April

Now maybe the e-mails will stop. I get a lot of them this time of year from people who want to talk Colts free agency. Should they sign Randy Moss? How about Rex Grossman (1)? Wouldn't Lance Briggs look good with a horseshoe on his hat? The Pats cut Rosevelt Colvin, should the Colts grab him? I generally tell them that the Colts will do what they always do: Take of their own guys first, set aside the rookie allotment, and — if there is any money left — think about a veteran free agent or two.

Well, this year, there is no money left. The last report I saw had the Colts about $230,000 OVER the cap. Not only aren't the Colts not going to sign anyone from another team, they are unlikely, he said, to re-sign any of their "own" free agents — restricted or unrestricted. That means good-bye to Aaron Moorehead, Ben Utecht, Bryan Fletcher, Mike Seidman, Jake Scott, Dylan Gandy, Josh Thomas, Darrell Reid, Rocky Boiman and Matt Giordano. Bill Polian said so himself.

Actually, I think Polian is, as he often does, overstating the case. Some restructuring and/or a cap casualty or two (Booger McFarland and Rob Morris, valuable as they are, could figure here) could free up enough room to allow the team to retain, in order of import): Giordano, Gandy and/or Utecht. (2)

If it sounds sad, keep in mind that Polian did sign the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year in Bob Sanders, one of the best-catching tight ends in the league in Dallas Clark, a solid veteran starting guard in Ryan Lilja and a serviceable if not exciting backup quarterback in Jim Sorgi. The fact that they were on the roster last year doesn't make them any less valuable. I sometimes think that many fans believe the Colts could have lost them all, signed Ken Hamlin, LJ Smith, Jacob Bell and Josh McCown just for the sake of something to talk about, or the chance to re-sign Gandy, and come out no worse or even better. (3)

It doesn't work that way. Free agency isn't like Christmas morning, it's more like Christmas shopping. You only get what you pay for and have to brave the other shoppers to pay inflated prices for something that you may not want or may not work anyway. The Colts quite correctly put a major emphasis on continuity. Players, especially on offense, who develop a rapport for one another usually perform better, especially in clutch situations. Of course, there are exceptions. You can have a guy like Wes Welker whose show will play anywhere or a guy like Randy Moss who needed to get out of an awful situation so he could blossom elsewhere. But more often than not, as the old saying goes, a free agent hurts the team he leaves more than helps the one he goes to.

So if any new blood is arriving, it'll be from the draft. The Colts traded away their 2008 first-rounder last year for starting left tackle Tony Ugoh (4), but they still have a pick near the end of every other round.

The Colts may be awarded a compensatory draft pick or two, but I tend not to rely too heavily on the kindness of the league for those. They are determined by the difference in free agents lost and free agents gained. The Colts gained Seidman (IR all season), Rick DeMulling (cut), John Navarre (cut) and Craphonso Thorpe (a serviceable depth player, 12-70-1 receiving, 15-318-0 returning kicks and 6-31-0 returning punts). So, basically nothing. (5)

And they lost Cato June (a competent starter, but hardly the star he was with the Colts after injuries and an ill-advised move to strong side hobbled him), Nick Harper (a decent starter who quickly adapted to the Titans' philosophy), Jason David (a nominal starter with the Saints who was benched, but figures to start this year unless they bring in new talent), Dom Rhodes (likely to be cut by the Raiders after a lackluster first season) and Mike Doss (after an injury-plagued first season with the Vikings that saw him record one tackle in eight games, he figures as no better than the team's No. 3 safety). On paper, their case looks good for a pair of picks, but you never know for sure. (6)

No matter how many draft picks they have, their needs would appear to be (in approximate order):

• the best pass-rushing defensive end possible (7)
• a No. 4 receiver with upside who can play in the slot or outside
• an athletic interior lineman who could evolve into a starter
• a tight end with reliable hands, blocking skills would be nice (8)
• an explosive halfback who can catch and pass-block
• a backup middle linebacker who could eventually start
• an athletic quarterback who could also play other offensive skill positions
• speedy players at any position who can tackle and/or block on special teams

More details as I do my positional analyses.

1. This one really gets me. I mean, I know Sexy Rexy has fallen on some hard times, but how many former first rounders who have taken their team to the Super Bowl — without a premier back, receiver, tight end or offensive line — would accept a job where he's virtually guaranteed no playing time and a tiny paycheck?
2. Most of the remaining free agents I could easily live without, and Utecht is always in the whirlpool, but why let Giordano go? What has he not done? I realize he's no Sanders, but I don't think it will take Sanders money to keep him. The Colts have Melvin Bullitt and Brandon Condren waiting in the wings, but do you really think either of them could step in when Sanders has his annual injury? Giordano can and has.
3. I love roster turnover too, when the team is bad.
4. A good move, no?
5. Not to dis Cro, but those numbers would not be hard to replicate.
6. If I had to guess, I'd say a fourth and a fifth.
7. If you're looking in draft books, most of the Colts'-style DEs will be listed as OLBs
8. With Utecht and Fletcher apparently cut loose, it looks like Roy Hall is the "starting" H-back. Which puts Clark back at tight end. Oh, I bet Manning and the Colts' backs are looking forward to that! Clark is subpar as a blocker at tight end and Hall is, well, if he stayed at wideout, he wouldn't be the Colts' best blocker there.

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