How many times did we hear the philosophical underpinning of the coaching staff was running the ball and stopping the run? At least once a week. They were 22nd in rushing offense, 29th in run defense.
Their spectacular, record-setting rookie quarterback directed an offense that ranked 18th in scoring, dead least in completion percentage, 23rd in sacks and 23rd in yards per play.
The Colts were outscored by 30 points (21st)) and minus-12 in turnover margin (26th). In both categories, they were a distant last among playoff teams.
Which is to say as General Manager Ryan Grigson heads into his second offseason at the helm, he has an unusual scenario: evaluating and upgrading an 11-5 team that clearly overachieved and despite its successful season has a preponderance of major needs.
The good news is he has $47.5 million in cap space to fill them with. Since it’s not my money, here’s how I’d invest – or, in some instances, save.
>> Big Problem: Much of the local focus has been on the offensive line. While Andrew Luck’s protection must be better, it should be remembered the projected starting unit – Anthony Castonzo, Joe Reitz, Samson Satele, Mike McGlynn, and Winston Justice – was together for just four games. It’s difficult to measure the quality of an offensive line, the most symbiotic unit within a team, with so much shuffling due to injuries. At the very least, greater depth is needed to better withstand injuries.
>> Solution: I’m going to go ahead and peg Alabama’s Barrett Jones as the team’s first-round pick (No. 24 overall), not only because of his versatility – not many guys can win national best-player honors at three different positions – but because he has obvious leadership skills. As for veteran help, this is a strong free agent class for tackles – as many as nine quality starters are unrestricted, including Ryan Clady and Sebastian Vollmer – so some money could be spent there.
>> Bigger Problem: The secondary clearly has been a priority area with Grigson, who kept the revolving door spinning in search of the right bodies at cornerback. Vontae Davis is a lock on the left side but there is much uncertainty on the right. Jerraud Powers and Darius Butler both are unrestricted free agents, Cassius Vaughn restricted – but all three want to come back, and any would make a respectable starter.
>> Solution: This area is not as needy as you think. Re-signing any or all of the three free agents would produce a solid group of corners. To acquire someone along the lines of Brent Grimes or Aqib Talib via free agency would risk overinvestment in one area. And there’s another, potentially better, way to upgrade coverage than constantly changing the cover guys. Read on.
>> Biggest Problem: The Colts’ greatest need is a defensive playmaker, a disruptive force in the front seven, someone capable of anchoring the entire unit. In a 3-4 defense, that typically means a dominating outside linebacker. With Dwight Freeney likely to return to the comfort of someone else’s 4-3 scheme, there is a gaping hole at this critical position. One of the Colts’ greatest defensive weaknesses was pressuring the quarterback; that they ranked 23rd in sacks (32) and 20th in interceptions (12) are inextricably linked.
>> Solution: No beating around the bush here. It’s Anthony Spencer. With the Cowboys shifting to a 4-3 scheme under new coordinator Monte Kiffin, they very likely will be unwilling to franchise him again because that would cost more than $10 million for a team nearly $20 million over the cap. Spencer is 29, coming off his best season (11 sacks) and the fact he’s a Fort Wayne native who played at Purdue would only strengthen the Colts’ case. He’s going to cost, but it’s a price the Colts are positioned to absorb nicely. There are few viable alternatives in free agency — ex-Colt Philip Wheeler is among the best of the rest — and the draft is not particularly fertile in the Colts’ turf. There will be plenty of competition for his services and age might be a factor. It would be more of a factor if the Colts were coming off a 6-10 season, but they’re already established as a playoff team and are thus positioned to pursue immediate help.
If not Spencer, this defense needs someone like him – if any can be found.