Jason David: Draft Pick Bait?

When the Colts issued their contract tender offers to their restricted free agents, all of them made sense except for one. And with Jason David's recent visit to New Orleans, you have to wonder if the Colts are on the verge of getting exactly what they wanted.

In previous years, the Colts didn't put much of a premium on re-signing offensive guards who were restricted free agents. And with this year's change in the NFL system where you could put a tender on a player high enough to command a second-round pick compensation level, it was even more surprising to see the Colts put that higher tender on both of their starting guards, Ryan Lilja and Jake Scott.

Just as surprising was to see them put a lower tender on starting cornerback Jason David, leaving him exposed to signing elsewhere for a very reasonable fourth-round pick as compensation.

Or was it?

In the Super Bowl, the Colts' offensive line was collectively as deserving of the title of MVP as quarterback Peyton Manning. The Bears defense sacked Manning just once, and the Colts rushed for 191 yards in their 29-17 win. Lilja and Scott were key contributors to that effort.

Kelvin Hayden returns an interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl (Getty Images/Doug Benc)
And while cornerback Jason David had yet another solid outing, Marlin Jackson moved into his likely spot for 2007, replacing Nick Harper early in the game. Kelvin Hayden saw increased field time as a result, and snatched a Rex Grossman pass that would result in the final points scored in the game as Hayden raced 56 yards for a touchdown.

It was likely the icing-on-the-cake moment that the Colts reflected on as they decided what level of tender to place on David during the offseason.

At the time the decision had to be made, the Colts didn't know how many compensatory picks they might get, or how high those picks would be. Dangling David out on the free agent market for a mere 4th-round pick, even though they were certainly going to lose Harper as an unrestricted free agency, provided them with an option to either match an offer or bolster their arsenal of draft picks.

It was a bold move.

Was it one that the Colts would make again today if they had known that they would have ended up with three picks--a third, a fourth and a fifth-rounder--through the compensatory draft pick process?

Probably.

There's been one report that the Saints, who hosted David last week for a free agent visit, are high on him and are likely to put an offer sheet on the table. And it would be surprising to see the Colts even attempt to match it if New Orleans makes an attractive offer.

Rather than possibly overpay for David, they will likely be content to put Jackson and Hayden, their top two draft picks from the 2005 NFL draft into the slots they had selected them for as part of their succession plan. Second-year players Tim Jennings and T.J. Rushing would take another step up the depth chart while the Colts reloaded at the position with a pair of rookies to backfill the vacancies created by Harper and David's departures.

And with that fourth-round pick they would get for letting David sign elsewhere, the Colts would be loaded with middle-round picks--two third-rounders, three fourth-rounders and a two fifth-round selections--in addition to their first and seventh-round picks.

Indianapolis would be in prime position to package some of those picks to gain a low second-round pick back, slightly higher than the 64th overall that they gave to Tampa Bay last year in exchange for defensive tackle Booger McFarland. Or maybe they'd drop down out of the first round and into the middle of the second-round, using some package of picks to end up with that mid-second round selection and perhaps a low second-rounder as part of the package.

Wouldn't that be swell?

And even if they just give up on having a second-round selection, they could easily move up substantially in the third by packaging some picks.

Suddenly, the potential loss of David doesn't sting quite so much as it did at first blush.

Assuming that the Saints would sign David away, here's how the Colts would head into the draft at the end of the month:

1-32
3-95
3-98 (compensatory pick)
4-126 (from New Orleans)
4-131
4-136 (compensatory pick)
5-169
5-173 (compensatory pick)
7-242

And here are the vacancies in their starting lineup, assuming that they don't lose restricted free agent Jake Scott:

Slot receiver: Aaron Moorehead could return, but the Colts will need to draft some wide receiver talent regardless. They actually may need to spend two picks in this draft on rookie receivers, including a high one if there is a guy worth it when they make their pick. Think Steve Smith out of USC or as a third or fourth-round option, Central Florida's Mike Walker. Both are sure-handed guys who aren't afraid to go across the middle.

Rutgers running back Brian Leonard (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Running back: Another high quality back is needed in the mix, preferably a real pounder who can get the tough yards, to compete with DeDe Dorsey and provide additional depth behind or preferably share carries with Joseph Addai. Maybe someone like Rutgers' Brian Leonard.

Weakside LB: Freddie Keiaho, Tyjuan Hagler and possibly Gilbert Gardner will battle it out for this spot, but if the Colts don't use a high pick on this position, they'll certainly look for some depth across the whole spectrum of the linebacker corps. This draft is very deep in linebacker talent, so unless the guy they covet is there at No. 32, don't be surprised to see them wait until the third round to make their first linebacker choice.

That's it. Believe it or not, the Colts have players clearly in place or established as being capable of starting at all other positions.

Even at the returns specialist position, T.J. Rushing can capably handle the job if unrestricted free agent Terrence Wilkins doesn't re-sign.

So they'll be drafting for depth at other key positions like the defensive line, safety and more than likely an offensive tackle. All of those positions could be addressed in the 4th through 5th rounds unless they just happen to see someone they highly value sitting on the board in the third round.

If they use that strategy, don't be surprised to see the Colts grab a WR, RB and LB with their first-round pick and their two third-rounders (in no particular order) while Indy fans across the nation wonder what in the world the team is thinking.

With all of the picks the Colts currently have, and tossing one more fourth-rounder in the mix, this could be one of the most entertaining NFL Drafts for Colts fans in years.


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