Re-Sign or Release? LB Cato June

Barring a last-minute surprise, Colts LB Cato June will hit the open market as an unrestricted free agent. This year's talent pool at that position is thin, but the draft class is fairly deep. Jerry Langton provides his analysis on the likelihood June will return to Indianapolis.

Cato June, LB

2006 regular-season stats: 96 tackles, 46 assists, 1-3 sacks, 5.5-12 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery, 3-14-0 interceptions, 2 passes broken up

2006 playoff stats: 12 tackles, 14 assists, 1-3 tackle for loss

The player: I remember seeing June play safety for Michigan and thinking that he wasn't going to impress NFL scouts with his coverage skills, but that he tackled like a linebacker. I guess the Colts agreed, because they picked him in the sixth round of the 2003 draft and converted him to outside linebacker. People scoffed at the idea of a 6-foot, 220-pound NFL linebacker, but June was doing all the laughing after the 2005 season when he went to the Pro Bowl.

June is sort of the poster boy for the Colts defense. He's quick, fast, strong and passionate. He plays the game like he loves every minute of it and has a quick analytical mind that helps him understand what the enemy is up to. He gets better not just as the season progresses, but often during individual games. The flipside of that is that he's tiny by NFL standards and can be engulfed, out-leveraged and overpowered.

(Getty Images/Jed Jacobsohn)
Against the pass, June can be a weapon. Not only does he show an outstanding understanding of zones, but he has a defensive back's ability to get his hands on the ball and run with it. It's a cliché, but it's true — June is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He can be had, however, by quick backs and tight ends in man coverage, and often doesn't take deep enough drop, inside depending too much on closing speed.

Against the run, he tracks exceeding well and pursues like a Doberman. Not surprisingly for a guy his size, he has trouble with plays run straight at him — which teams took advantage of last season. Early in 2006, teams ran through the holes created by Dwight Freeney's being pushed outside, forcing June to make the play (often facing the lead blocker as well). Things got significantly better once Rob Morris took over the strongside spot, because middle man Gary Brackett stopped cheating to that side and gave June a little more help.

Should he stay or should he go: There's no doubt that June is not just a quintessential Colts linebacker, but a quality NFL player who could help any team's defense. That said, he will command a huge salary the Colts probably won't be able to afford and might not pay even if they could.

For some reason known only to Bill Polian and perhaps some others, the Colts traditionally don't mind allowing free-agent linebackers — even quite good ones — to leave. In previous seasons, Mike Peterson and David Thornton — both of whom are about as good as June — left the team without so much as a hearty handshake.

With the Cover-2 becoming the rage throughout the NFL and every team this side of Oakland having more cap room than the Colts, I think the idea of June returning is little more than a wish.

Who'd replace him: The Colts drafted Freddie Keiaho in the third round last year, perhaps specifically to replace June. Another undersized overacheiver, Keiaho may be even more wild about the game. At least as good of an open-field tackler as June, Keiaho is also more likely to lay some highlight-reel-worthy hits. The only dropoff Keiaho represents is that he doesn't have June's mental handle on the game yet -- and whether or not he will get there remains to be seen.

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