By Matthew Budkofsky
The Indianapolis Colts have enjoyed the past 15 or so seasons with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL (despite the period of bliss being briefly interrupted by Curtis Painter). Still, as long as I’ve been around, the Colts have never really had to worry about their quarterback. Currently, the Colts quarterback is Andrew Luck and he has played brilliantly ever since he first stepped onto the field. In every one of his 3 seasons so far, Luck has carried the Colts one round further into the playoffs. Last season in the AFC Conference Championship, the Patriots obliterated the Colts, which got the franchise wondering how they can take that next step to not only play in the Super Bowl, but also win one.
1) Sign a Veteran Running Back
This year’s free agent class of running backs is actually loaded with talent. The draft class of running backs is also loaded with talent, which is a great situation for the Colts. Last season, the Colts ranked 22nd overall in the league with about 100 rushing yards per game. Their offense was saved by Andrew Luck, who posted over 300 yards through the air which was tops in the league. The Colts need a more balanced offensive attack, and the way to do that is to acquire a running back. The value of running backs has taken a serious hit over the past few seasons. After all, the Eagles just traded LeSean McCoy for an unproven linebacker. There are only 7 backs in the NFL that are making $5+ million annually, so there isn’t really a need to overspend on this position. The best way to go for the Colts would be to draft a running back, and then sign a veteran like Frank Gore or Steven Jackson to a 1-2 year deal to teach the rookie about the NFL. If you pair those 2 with Daniel Herron, the Colts could have a nice running back corps. This would work because one guy doesn’t have to be the every down back, the Colts would still be able to spend some money elsewhere and they would get the balanced offense they have been looking for.
Best Case Scenario: The Colts land Frank Gore who continues to break the mold of running backs and carries the load for the next season or two, and the team lands the next best running back through the draft and solidify the position for the next 5-7 years.
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts are unable to sign anyone in free agency and the running back they draft turns into Trent Richardson 2.0.
2) Sign Devin McCourty
The Patriots decided to use their franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski, which comes as a bit of a surprise for everyone. With the tag being used on Gostkowski, this made Devin McCourty a free agent. The Colts secondary was above average last season. Vontae Davis has emerged as a true shut down corner, and safety Mike Adams was tied for 3rd in the league with 5 interceptions last season. If you throw pair Adams with a ball hawk like McCourty, they Colts could have a lethal secondary. McCourty would give the defensive backfield a lot more flexibility, and he could matchup well with opposing tight ends. Last season, we saw Jairus Byrd get signed for $56 million, and although McCourty isn’t on the same level as Byrd, he could command similar money because he is still an elite talent.
Best Case Scenario: The Colts land McCourty who puts their secondary on the same level as the Legion of Boom. If they could sign him for under $8 million/year, McCourty could end up looking like a bit of a steal in a few years.
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts overspend on McCourty and miss out on other free agents. They get stuck paying $9 or $10 million a year for a guy that turns out to be a midlevel talent.
3) Sign Ndamukong Suh
GM Ryan Grigson has been known to go after midlevel talent to avoid spending a lot of money. He has to break that habit for Suh. Suh has the ability to take over entire games by himself, and it is not often that a player of Suh’s caliber hits the open market. Obviously the talent is there, Suh has been a top 3 defensive tackle over the past 2 seasons. The need for the Colts is there too, with just one defensive lineman currently on the roster. Obviously, the Colts aren’t the only team that has interest in Suh. To be honest with you, Suh could wind up with one of the biggest contracts in the NFL. He could end up making more money than JJ Watt. That casts some doubt over his costs for Indy. They need to extend Andrew Luck and TY Hilton in the near future, and can’t really afford to tie up all of their money in Suh, no matter how good he is.
Best Case Scenario: Suh decides to take less money in order to join a Super Bowl contender. Suh would become the anchor of the defense and become the piece the team needs to get over the hump.
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts jump on the opportunity and out bid the rest of the league to win Suh. Suh comes in and his attitude problems get worse, and he doesn’t really fit the Colts defensive scheme (Albert Haynesworth anyone?) The Colts lose their cap flexibility and have to choose between Luck, Hilton and Anthony Castonzo just to keep the bulk of the team together.
4) Robert Mathis comes back better than ever
Just 2 seasons ago, Robert Mathis led the league in sacks. This past season, he was suspended for drugs and compounded that with an Achilles injury and ended up missing the entire season. Mathis was one of the most disruptive players in the league when he was healthy. Mathis is on the verge of turning 34, and the Colts don’t really know what they are going to get out of him. If he could come back, and be the 20-sack guy that he was just 2 years ago, the Colts won’t have to spend a ton of money in free agency to bolster their defense. The issue is, the front office isn’t going to know until it is too late.
Best Case Scenario: Mathis returns and is the same player he was in 2013. The Colts banked on his return and decided to pass on big free agents but didn’t miss a beat because Mathis has become the heart and soul of a defense that takes the team to the Super Bowl.
Worst Case Scenario: The wheels fall off for Mathis. The Colts felt this would happen and overspend on a free agent that doesn’t really fill the gap for them. Now the Colts don’t have cap flexibility and just wait until Mathis career whimpers out.
5) Acquire Andre Johnson
Over the past few weeks, it has become obvious the Houston Texans are ready to part ways with their all-time leading receiver Andre Johnson. Whether it is via trade or free agency, Johnson should definitely be on the Colts radar. Johnson’s days as a WR1 are certainly over, but that doesn’t mean he has nothing left to give. As I mentioned before, the Colts had the leagues best passing offense last year, could you imagine if they made it better? TY Hilton is a very talented receiver who would take the pressure off Johnson and open up the field for him. Johnson could seriously benefit from not being the main weapon in an offense. His production might take a dip, but it could be for the benefit of the team. He could potentially be a part of a three-headed monster of himself, Hilton and Colby Fleener. This is all just boils down to Johnson’s ego. According to reports, he still feels he is a 90+-catch player. With a guy like Hilton on the opposite side, Johnson could very well exceed his 85-catch total from last season. We see it in Denver, even if you have 2 studs they could both perform at a Pro-Bowl level. I’m not saying Johnson will be a Pro-Bowler but I’m saying he could put this pass offense over the top.
Best Case Scenario: They land Johnson in a trade and don’t have to give up too much to get him. Johnson returns to being the 90+-catch, 1100-yard receiver he has been in years past, and the Colts receiving corps is one that competes with the Broncos and Packers for best in the league.
Worst Case Scenario: The Colts give up too much for Johnson who doesn’t accept his new role and creates a rift in the locker room. The passing game actually takes a step backwards because Johnson demands the ball and doesn’t try to help out the younger guys in the offense.
The Colts could make the argument that they are one piece away from being serious Super Bowl competitors. They need to make some kind of a move that could give Andrew Luck the pieces he needs to take that next step to greatness, but as long as Luck is around, the Colts future looks bright.