Analysis: What Colts Must Address

Bolstering offensive line and outside pass rush top offseason list.

The list of offseason objectives for the Indianapolis Colts is rather lengthy after the team finished 8-8 and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Building blocks are in place, but as the 2015 season revealed, the Colts are thin at several key positions and lacking in consistency in too many spots.

Here’s a quick look at what this team will be concentrating on in the next few months:

* Getting younger — Owner Jim Irsay said the team needs to get younger during his press conference to announce head coach Chuck Pagano’s four-year contract extension. The first step is shedding some veteran contracts to free up salary cap space for new blood. Wide receiver Andre Johnson, outside linebacker Trent Cole and outside linebacker Bjoern Werner are the most obvious cuts. Outside linebacker Erik Walden and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson are also possibilities.

* Keepers — The first step before free agency is deciding which if any of the 15 players about to become available are worth keeping. The most obvious, despite the edict to get younger, would be the NFL’s oldest player in 43-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri. He hit 25-of-28 field goals including four-of-five from 50 yards or longer last season to prove there’s still plenty of life left in that trusty right leg. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman will be looking for big money and, considering the Colts’ investment in Nate Irving, probably won’t be re-signed. Veteran safety Dwight Lowery played well in his first season in Indy, but rookie safety Clayton Geathers has been groomed for the position. Backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck turns 41 in September, so will the Colts decide to pay more millions for this insurance policy? He proved worth the $3 million with five wins in eight starts last season.

* Free agency — As recent years have reminded, paying a lot of money to fill spots doesn’t always pan out. Sometimes, it’s smarter to spend less on experience and add more players in that category. Offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, safety LaRon Landry, offensive guard Donald Thomas, wide receiver Hakeem Nicks, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and defensive tackle Arthur Jones didn’t live up to their contracts. Jones is still on the roster. The Colts need to add depth on the offensive line and on defense, particularly the pass rush if Cole is cut after an underwhelming first season in Indy. That would leave just outside linebacker Robert Mathis as a productive pass rusher on the edge. But affordable pass rushers aren’t as easy to find. And if building an O-line was this simple, Grigson would have accomplished this oft-uttered goal by now. Because tight ends Dwayne Allen, Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle are all free agents and it’s unlikely all three are re-signed, the Colts could look at this position for a solid role player.

* Draft — The No. 1 are of emphasis is offensive line. Colts quarterbacks have taken 118, 107, 109 and 116 hits in the past four seasons. The first and last numbers ranked second-worst in the league. Running back Frank Gore was unable to rush for 1,000 yards last season. It all starts up front, where the Colts were forced to use versatile backup Joe Reitz at right tackle for much of last season. Reitz is important as a reserve who can play anywhere, but the Colts need to address that roster spot and would be wise to add an offensive guard and look to upgrade at center, where Jonotthan Harrison and Khaled Holmes haven’t impressed.

The No. 2 need is a pass-rushing linebacker. Mathis had seven sacks in his first season back from missing a year with an Achilles tendon tear. Presuming the team’s all-time sack leader returns, who else gets after the quarterback? It’s a vitally important job in this 3-4 blitzing scheme which relies on pocket pressure with cornerbacks playing tight man coverage. When the pressure isn’t there, the secondary is exposed. That’s why the Colts ranked in the bottom third in most categories last season and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky, among other assistants, was replaced. New defensive coordinator Ted Monachino needs pass rushers. After Mathis, no other edge rusher had more than three sacks. The defensive line almost had as many sacks (12) as outside linebackers (14).

Other draft areas of need include cornerback Greg Toler isn’t expected to be re-signed), tight end, running back (presuming they aren’t sold on Josh Robinson as a backup to Gore), safety (even with Geathers the team lacks depth and Mike Adams is entering a contract year) and inside linebacker (Freeman’s exit thins the position, which needs defenders fast enough to provide pass coverage since Jackson and Irving are run stuffers). The Colts might also look to get stronger on the defensive line, considering Henry Anderson is coming off knee surgery and Jones has been unable to stay healthy for two seasons due to ankle injuries.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.


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