Why? It should have come as no surprise. Not only do the Colts have a history of letting quality outside linebackers (look at Marcus Washington, Mike Peterson and David Thornton) walk whenever they start asking for big money, but the Colts have so much money devoted to their stars, they can't afford to keep their near-stars. Like June, who got $12 million from Tampa.
Although June is no doubt a quality player, he's far from irreplaceable. Keep in mind that June was a sixth-round pick out of Michigan (a converted safety yet!) who nobody respected when he stepped in for Thornton in 2004. Likewise, Thornton was a fourth-round pick nobody thought could ever fill the shoes of the great Peterson.
In that vein, the Colts have a likely replacement in the fold. The draft books and websites last year called Freddie Keiaho a fringe inside linebacker who might have a chance to make an NFL roster as a career back-up and special-teamer. But the Colts knew better. They watched him stack up 113 tackles and 11.5 stuffs as a senior and saw something others didn't.
Although he didn't blow anyone away as a rookie (5 tackles, 2 assists, 12 special-teams tackles, 4 special-teams assists), neither did June (1 tackle), Thornton (27 tackles) or Washington (6 tackles). More important, however, was that he showed he had great speed, could tackle and wouldn't back down against NFL players.
Keiaho should be able to step in for June with little or any noticeable drop off.
• Things aren't so rosy on the other side of the defense. The Colts re-signed restricted free agent Gilbert Gardner — a move that shocked many Colts observers. Gardner got his shot as a starter in 2006, and the Colts' run defense was torn to shreds. Once he was benched for Rob Morris (of all people!) it toughened up.
Not only did Gardner lose his starting job after the 12th game last season, but he wasn't even activated for the playoff run, the playoffs or the Super Bowl although he was healthy. That means that the Colts not only didn't want him starting, they didn't even trust him to play special teams.
It makes sense. Whatever attributes Gardner may have, open-field tackling isn't one of them. The Colts were much better served to have proven veterans like Keith O'Neil and Rocky Boiman on kick coverage teams than Gardner. I've heard people say that Gardner was signed to help on specials ... I disagree, he's no asset there. Since he's no help on specials, they must expect him to start.
So the Colts must see something in Gardner they like. It must be the same thing they saw when they drafted him in the third round of the 2004 draft. All I've seen is 48 tackles, one sack and a lot of whiffs in 37 games.
I hope the Colts know what they're doing, because Morris, at age 32, is no sure thing, and the cupboard is otherwise bare unless you think Tyjuan Hagler is the answer.
While the draft should bring in a prospect, don't expect him to start as a rookie — it's just not the team's style.
• All you draftniks may want to watch this year's crop of tight end prospects. With Dallas Clark, Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher on the roster, you may think that's crazy, but you may want to think again.
The Colts run a two tight-end (or tight end and H-back offense) most of the time. So it one of those three goes down, it leaves them with literally zero depth.
Clark isn't the most durable guy in the world and actually played way better outside in the slot last year than he did at tight end. Since the Colts cut ties with Brandon Stokley and have no other legitimate third receiver option on the horizon, expect to see Clark continue playing in the slot.
Utecht has awesome skills, but is as fragile as a porcelain unicorn. Of the 48 games he could have played as a Colt, he's shown up for 27 and been hurt in most of them.
Fletcher? Well, he's just a guy with pretty good skills, not a starter.
• Ever wonder who's a tough guy and who isn't? Here are the the Colts receiving stats from 2006 for catches over the middle:
Marvin Harrison 11-154-1
Reggie Wayne 10-184-0
Dallas Clark 10-147-0
Joseph Addai 7-64-0
Ben Utecht 7-58-0
Dominic Rhodes 4-37-0
Ben Fletcher 2-25-0
Brandon Stokley 1-5-0
Aaron Moorehead 0-0-0
Ricky Proehl 0-0-0
Lay off Stokley for the one catch. The guy's made a career out of catching over the middle and paying for it. That's probably why he's always hurt. More notable is Moorehead's absolute lack of catches. Explains why when Stokley went down, the Colts turned to Clark as their third receiver.
Look for the Colts to draft a receiver who isn't afraid to take on the safeties. Texas Tech's Joel Filani Central Florida's Mike Walker or Boise State's Jerard Rabb all catch over the middle and could be around on Day 2.