Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tender and juicy

The Colts virtually never deviate from the Polian doctrine. As soon as the Colts cleared $8 million off their salary cap by cutting two capable, but expensive and ultimately expendable players in Rob Morris and Booger McFarland, they tendered all of their restricted free agents — Matt Giordano, Dylan Gandy, Ben Utecht, Bryan Fletcher and Darrell Reid — with enough left over to cover the rookie pool.

As is standard operating procedure in Indy, each of the restricted free agents received a $927,000 one-year tender. That allows the Colts to match any offers these guys get and, if they choose not to match, they get a draft pick in compensation matching the pick originally used on that player.

In this case, though, the situation isn't as bright as it sounds. Everybody with a passing familiarity with the NFL knows that the salary cap room-strapped Colts won't match any decent offers these guys get. If any gets a decent offer, the Colts will be forced to wave good-bye. And I wouldn't get too excited about the draft-pick compensation, either. while Giordano and Gandy were both fourth rounders, the other three were all undrafted.

But keep in mind that Colts usually find a less-than-welcoming reception on the free agent market

So let's take a look at who they are:

Dylan Gandy
Why he'll get an offer:
A skilled guard who can also play center, Gandy has starting experience in a high-powered offense. An active player with good athleticism, Gandy plays with discipline and is durable. A smart player, he understands zone blocking and blitz pickup responsibilities. Why he'll stay: Ex-Colt linemen have bombed after leaving Indy, and teams are cautious. Gandy is undersized and any GM who signs him will have to explain why he spent a fourth-round pick, cash and cap space not just for a guard who couldn't crack the starting lineup in three seasons, but also such a small one. Percent chance he'll stay in Indy this year: 85. There are lots teams with offensive line woes and cap space (they tend to go together), so Gandy will be checked out. But guards rarely get much attention in free agency unless they are really good or really big — and that fourth-round pick looms large. There are tons of guards on the market this year, and Gandy's just another guy to most teams.

Matt Giordano
Why he'll get an offer:
A hard-hitting safety with starting-quality skills against both the run and pass. A natural runner, Giordano's a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He'll never get a chance to start in Indy with Bob Sanders and Antoine Bethea in town and may be looking for a shot elsewhere. Why he'll stay: The Colts really like Giordano and realize that self-destructive Sanders won't last a 16-game season, and know that Giordano can step in without a significant dropoff. As with Gandy, any GM signing him will have to explain why he invested in a guy who never cracked the starting lineup and lacks deep speed or size. Percent chance he'll stay in Indy this year: 75. While fans around the league don't know him, GMs do. Giordano could well start for many teams in the NFL, or at least be a very good No. 3. But why spend a fourth-round pick on a guy who's going to be unrestricted next season?

Ben Utecht
Why he'll get an offer:
A proven receiver with good hands, sharp routes, the ability to get deep and starting experience; Utecht can even block a little. Utecht can play tight end, H-back, fullback, slot receiver, wide receiver and even long snapper. Oh, and he's an honest 6'6 and a solid all-around guy. Why he'll stay: Utecht is almost laughably injury-prone, and what receiver gives up a chance to play with Peyton Manning? Percent chance he'll stay in Indy this year: 80. Utecht is a player of rare ability and signing him would cost nothing more than his paycheck. But he's missed an average of six games a seasons as a pro — try explaining that to the media when you've spent millions on him.

Bryan Fletcher
Why he'll get an offer:
While he's not quite as reliable a receiver as Utecht, Fletcher is proven commodity with some red zone flair — and he's far more durable. Though not likely to start elsewhere, few teams wouldn't welcome a player as versatile and useful as Fletcher. With no compensation due and the Colts unlikely to match, it wouldn't take much to pry Fletcher away from the Colts. Why he'll stay: Coming off a down year, Fletcher's bargaining power is way down. Percent chance he'll stay in Indy this year: 60. Essentially an unrestricted free agent the Colts have invited back, Fletcher has a good thing going in Indy but could easily be swayed by a longer-term deal.

Darrell Reid
Why he'll get an offer:
Known for his highlight-reel special teams hits, Reid has experience playing both tackle and end. An active player, he could be better off as a 3-4 end than he has been a 4-3 tackle. Why he'll stay: While you'll see his big special-teams hit on ESPN, you won't see his just-as-frequent whiffs — but scouts will. Few teams have much respect for the Colts defensive tackle corps, and Reid hasn't come within sniffing distance of regular playing time. A marijuana arrest won't help his case, either. Percent chance he'll stay in Indy this year: 90. The Colts like their top trio of tackles — Raheem Brock, Ed Johnson and Quinn Pitcock — and are unlikely to invest much in the position in this year's draft. Instead, Reid will probably be allowed to compete with undersized soph Keyunta Dawson and any late-rounders or undrafted free agents the team acquires.

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