The More Things Change..

There is an old saying that goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same. ” That adage seems to apply to the Colts, and more namely the AFC South. Since the AFC South was formed in 2002 the Colts have been the dominant factor in the division, winning eight division titles, going to two Super Bowls, one of those they won. The Titans and the Texans have both won two division titles, and the Jaguars have shown flashes at times of being one of the those teams you don’t want to play. However, all things changed in 2011 when the Colts finished 2-14, and the Texans seized the opportunity and won their first of what many thought would be an extended run similar to that what the Colts did. But, it didn’t quite work out like that. They did win two back to back division titles but in a similar manner the Texans fell apart and finished 2-14 similarly to the Colts. The Texans now have to decide how they want to move going forward with the first overall pick in the draft.

Also contributing to change is that there are two new coaches on the sidelines next season. Houston decided to go with QB guru and former Penn State Coach, Bill O’Brien, while Tennessee decided to go with former Arizona head coach, Ken Wisenhunt. Add in second year coach, Gus Bradley in Jacksonville and Coach Pagano entering his third season, the AFC is rapidly changing with new coaches in a division that has been fairly reluctant to make changes and has favored a reluctant to make changes approach. The Colts decided to be the first to make wholesale changes now the rest of the division is taking a similar approach. 2014 will include more change by teams that have to address the direction they will move forward in the South.

As bad as the season went for Houston, there is really a chance for them to turn around as quickly as the Colts did after their disastrous season. Houston is really just a quarterback away from challenging the Colts for the division crown. Tennessee and Jacksonville are probably a little further back, but both teams will be improved from last year and given time and some luck on their side, it’s not out of the realm of possibility for either to sneak up and stick a dagger in the back of the perceived favorites. Jacksonville has improved their team by drafting well last year and going in a similar manner scheme-wise as the defending Super Bowl champions, Seattle Seahawks. Tennessee was not that far off last season other than not having a good quarterback and missing some offensive personnel, but with Wisenhunt’s background on the offensive side, I would expect this to be fixed sooner than later.

What does all this mean for the Colts? In my estimation it is one of those make or break years for them. The Colts have clearly swung on the pendulum again as the leader of the pack, but that pendulum can easily swing back the other direction if they don’t take care of business. Last year Luck and the gang accomplished a lot by taking back the division and also winning a game in the playoffs. Yet, when they faced arch rival New England, the Colts were shown again what they have to do punch the bully in the mouth. The Colts learned that they must be able to stop the run consistently; and equally as important, protect Luck. Defensively the Colts seemed to address this issue this offseason, but the protecting Luck part still seems to be a work in progress. The interior of the line last year was brutal due to injuries and personnel who just didn’t play that well. Grigson seems very confident with what they have so as they say, time will tell. The biggest need on defense comes in replacing safety Antoine Bethea (who now is a 49er). His shoes will be hard shoes to fill but someone either via the draft or who is currently on the team will have to step up and try.

The Colts will have the draft to help fill out the rest of the roster, and Grigson will look in all the places he looks to find talent the others often overlook. The Colts will need all of this to help fend off the Texans, as well as Tennessee and Jacksonville in order to stay one step ahead. I suspect that division will be much tougher than last year, so the Colts’ margin for error is reducing and their need to ascend to next tier is also inching closer. The Colts last year showed that they could play with the elite teams, yet often struggled with the teams that were considered inferior. This type of play will not work for them this year if they want to hold the Lombardi trophy up. They must win their division and then advance further than last year. That saying, “The more things change the more they stay the same” is as true as it ever was. The Colts must continue to worry about themselves, but also look for that dagger coming, because it is coming. Sooner or later, that dagger is coming!

Grading Colts ’14 Free Agency


     Simply stated, the ’13 and ’14 free agency periods could not be more night and day.  Last March  we were seeing  tweets from the Colts owner about getting on planes with $100 Million to throw at whomever he wanted.  This year only “Roster Updates” from the boss, before the situation that involved his arrest and admittance to a treatment facility.  Last years signings failed to live up to the hype, collectively as a group, either because of injuries or mediocre performance- or both in some cases.  How will this year’s additions look next year at this time?

It’s almost impossible to realistically project what you’ll see from any one player, with all that could possibly happen in an NFL season, as we witnessed last year.  Some work out and some do not.  With that I’m going to grade the Colts ’14 free agency on who they’ve retained, added and allowed to walk, up to this point.

Key Retentions- Pat Mcafee, Adam Vinatieri, Vontae Davis, Justin Hickman, Sergio Brown, Fili Moala, Ahmad Bradshaw

Grade:  B-

I think Grigson took a great approach this year in who he felt he could sign, as well as where he wanted that money to be spent as a priority.  Defense and special teams were atop that list as was expected.  Getting a deal done with Davis keeps the #1 CB spot filled, while re-signing McaFee as well as Sergio Brown and Vinatieri suring up both the field position game and clutch field goals, that we have come to appreciate and expect.  All of these were must-haves out of this off-season, and Grigson did right by getting them to stay in Indy.

Moala is a competant depth guy who can “fili” in as needed (see what I did there), and will add to an improved rotation at DE as well as give good rips on special teams.  I worry how effective Bradshaw will be coming back after surgery on his neck last season.  However, he is coming back cheap and has a huge ceiling when he’s healthy, which is what you like to see in free agency.  Hickman is a guy that I thought was 50/50 to be re-signed.  The coaching staff are very high on what he can bring to the table however Hickman has been injured much of the last two seasons -but has shown that he’s an animal in limited time.

I really only have one knock in this area, and that is that Kavell Conner wasn’t re-signed.  He had been predominantly durable, was a solid contributor on special teams and, in my opinion, the #2 line backer on the team last season. Love him or not, he’ll be missed.

Key Additions- D’Qwell Jackson, Arthur Jones, Hakeem Nicks, Phil Costa, Lance Louis, Henoc Muamba

Grade: C+

The signing of Jones and Jackson have me cautiously optimistic coming into 2014.  D’Qwell has proved that he is both physical inside stopping the run and well adjusted enough in coverage.  Jackson was far and away one of the best players on Cleveland’s defense in ’13, and is a serious upgrade to Angerer for the Colts.  He’ll also turn 31 early in the upcoming season, which is my only turn off from him.  That being said, he hasn’t missed a game since ’09 in which he only played in 6 games.  Jones comes in as a “Pagano” guy out of Baltimore that is familiar with this defense and will add much needed pass rush from the DE spot that the defense lacked last season.  Jones has great potential to be a huge signing, as he has come along nicely in the last two seasons with the Ravens.

Phil Costa was signed presumably for depth at Center soon after Satele was released.  There were alot of groans and confusion as to why the Colts were not pursuing DLP or Goodwin to fill this position of need, especially due to them both being reasonably priced starters.  However, Goodwin is 35 and I’m not in love with De la Puenta so i’m not overly broken up about this.  In my opinion Center is a position that couldn’t possibly be worse than it was in 2013, therefore allowing Holmes, Costa, and a rookie to battle it out in camp is ok with me for now.

I really like bringing in Muamba into the mix at LB as well as Lance Louis at OL.  Both of these guys have the possibility of making a real impact this season for the Colts and are very high reward/low risk signings. Louis has shown great ability to run block but has struggled at times protecting the QB.  Coming off an ACL tear in 2012, he should be anxious to prove he belongs in the NFL and can contribute to a Colts line that has struggled mightily in recent years.  Henoc Muamba is a former CFL stud who recorded 106 tackles in ’13 for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.  Some other guy was also was acquired out of the CFL by Grigson, and he turned out pretty well- Jerrell Freeman- maybe you’ve heard of him.  Like Freeman, Muamba hunts the ball carrier and has good range.  If he can transition to the NFL game the way Jerrell has, the Colts ILB’s could be a real strong point for the defense this season.

Hakeem Nicks has proven that he can be a go-to reciever. He has also proven that he can not be depended upon to run solid routes at full speed when the going gets tough.  He wasn’t a great locker room guy last season in New York, and attempting to be realistic, that would have been a difficult year to excel in all of these areas. Isn’t that the kind of guy we want in Indy though?  A Reggie Wayne guy, that keeps himself and the rest of the locker room afloat when times are bad…  I do anyhow.  Yes, Nicks has all the potential you could ask for but has 3 touchdowns in the past 28 games.

’13 was looked at as a down season for Nicks, but many forget that he had his worst output as a pro in 2012.  These are concerning to me, but for the price and getting him on a 1-year deal I won’t bang my head on the wall just yet.  It could be worse, the Colts could have re-signed DHB to another agonizing season! The jury is very much still out on Nicks, but he doesn’t have to be a world beater to have an immediate impact.

Key Departures- Antoine Bethea, Donald Brown, Kavell Conner

Grade: B

Bethea looking to go elsewhere was somewhat of a foregone conclusion in my opinion ever since he vocalized his excitement on hitting the market.  He could have stayed and the Colts would have liked to have kept him; as he had been a locker room leader and extremely durable throughout his career in Indy.  In the end he was too expensive, and for the length of contract he would seek, it’s unlikely that he will continue to be  as durable moving forward.

I have no issues with letting him walk, but now the Safety position is seen as a “camp battle” area as the Colts failed to address it in free agency with any splash signing.  It will be interesting to see if Grigson chooses to draft a Safety of starting caliber, or if he sees a diamond in the UFA pool to bring in and compete in camp. Howell showed he belonged with good tackling and above average coverage while filling in for Landry last season, and Sergio Brown is there for depth as well.

Nearly the same goes for Donald Brown.  The Colts had to chose giving a contract to Bradshaw for virtually nothing or to bring back Brown for a much heftier price tag. They chose to save the cap space and sign Bradshaw. Brown had his most productive season as a Colt in ’13, and he knew that he would likely get paid for it this off-season, we couldn’t reasonably expect him to take less money just to stay and likely get pushed down the depth chart again.  The backfield is pretty crowded to boot, but with Richardson disappointing in ’13, along with Bradshaw and Ballard coming back from season ending injuries, it’s conceivable DB could become the biggest loss from last years roster unless production greatly improves.

While Kavell Conner was very productive in his tenure in Indy, the coaching staff was not as keen on him at ILB as a lot of the rest of us were.  Kelvin Shepherd saw increased playing time starting in San Diego, which also started the fall for Conner as he was limited to special teams for much of the remainder of the season.  Like Donald Brown, Conner would sign with San Diego this off-season.  His knack for being in, or near almost every tackle on virtually every snap he got was not enough to keep him for the front office.  His, along with Angerer’s void have hopefully been filled by Jackson and Muamba, however it’s way too early to say.

Overall Off-Season Grade: B-

All in all, I feel Grigson and the Colts have done a great job this off-season.  They have filled some holes, left some to be filled through competition or the draft, and have kept some key pieces around all while refraining from jumping at every big name or making any rash marginal signings.  Grigson and company have done a phenomenal job with contracts as well.  They could have done more possibly, but have done plenty without having a repeat of last year’s off-season.  I am very happy with where our Colts are, and feel 2014 will be an even more successful year than the last two under the Pagano/Grigson era.  GO HORSE!

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Matt Danely  @The_Blue_Shoe

Center of Attention

The Colts’ interest in Mack as all but over, yet the interest is/was real in the center, who is trying to move on from his playing days as Cleveland’s center. Ultimately, he will cash in big. He has recently signed a tender from one of the Colts’ AFC South Rivals, the Jaguars. Cleveland has the ability to match the offer if it so chooses within five days. As I am writing this, news just came down that the Browns will match the offer likely ending the pursuit of Mack by any team this season. Continue reading

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