When Indianapolis traded Tampa a second-round pick in the 2007 draft during the 2006 season for Anthony McFarland, they were hoping to shore up a run defense that, at that point, was among the worst in the league.
With McFarland, they finished worst in the league against the run during the 2006 season, but were able to clamp down on opponents in the postseason and won Super Bowl XLI.
Many attributed the significant improvement to the healthy return of Bob Sanders. While the Sanders Effect definitely had an impact on the run defense during the Colts run following the 2006 season, McFarland was quickly able to grasp the subtle differences between Tampa's and Indianapolis' defenses.
Though the defensive schemes are rather similar, there are different cadences, different gaps, different responsibilities, and, generally, different things to adjust to throughout the course of the game. The feeling inside and outside the organization was that McFarland had assimilated the system during the 2006 post-season and was going to build upon that knowledge in the offseason, making 2007 his breakout campaign for Indianapolis.
Anthony McFarland fights through a Washington block
Getty Images/Andy Lyons
Unfortunately, McFarland was placed on injured reserve during training camp with a torn patella injury and never got to play a down during the 2007 season.
Therefore, the Colts — with McFarland coming off injured reserve for the third time in his nine-year career, and entering into the final year of his contract — have a decision to make.
On the one hand, they have McFarland, a tremendously gifted athlete that is familiar with the system and is a proven run-stuffer. On the other hand, they have his replacement, Ed Johnson, who already in his young career has more starts at defensive tackle with the Colts than McFarland.
Johnson knows the system, is an excellent run-stuffer, and carries with him a markedly lower salary than the $6.85 million McFarland is due for 2008.
When a team makes a decision such as this, they explore cap ramifications, future potential for the player being released, and future potential for the man that would be his replacement.
As far as the Colts are concerned, they already know what they have in Johnson. With Johnson subbing in for McFarland, Indianapolis finished 18th in the NFL against the run in 2007 — while this is not necessarily exemplary, it represents an improvement from dead last — and his statistics for 2007 (41 tackles, one sack) are similar to McFarland's, including his time in Tampa in 2006 (40 tackles, 2.5 sacks).
In this situation, the ball is decidedly in the court of Indianapolis. They have pass-rushing specialists Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis on the outside, as well as Raheem Brock, who often played end late in the season on passing downs, on the inside, so it becomes a question of how much pressure they want to bring with their front four, since McFarland is obviously more adept at rushing the passer than Johnson.
Ed Johnson started 16 games for the Colts in 2007
(AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
In most schemes, three men who are adroit at pursuing the quarterback would be sufficient. However, since everything that the Colts do on defense begins and ends with the four men up front, Indianapolis may want to consider giving McFarland an audition for this season.
As the New York Giants discovered on their way to the Super Bowl XLII title, you can never have too many talented pass rushers on your roster. With the NFL being a copycat league, it seems logical that the Colts would follow the same logic.
McFarland is entering into what is considered as a "contract year." If he impresses Indianapolis officials, he will be granted a lucrative new contract. If he does not, he will not.
In what will be another fiercely competitive and hotly contested NFL season in 2008, the Colts owe it to themselves to make McFarland prove to them that he is worth it.
As players commonly refer to the NFL as a business, here is a business term to consider: sunk cost. Before Indianapolis executed the trade during the 2006 season, they knew what it would cost to employ Anthony McFarland throughout the length of his contract.
Before the final whistle sounded in the divisional round loss to the Chargers, Colts officials knew what their salary cap position was for 2008. At that point, they had accounted for Anthony McFarland and what he was going to count for against the cap.
At that point, they wrote him off as a sunk cost, something that they were going to have to pay for regardless, and, that, they would still be comfortably under the cap in 2008 if they decided to keep him on the roster.
Since Indianapolis knows what they have in Johnson, they owe it to themselves to find out what they have in McFarland. Due to unfamiliarity or injury, the Colts currently have no idea what McFarland brings to the table.
Since they are dealing with a sunk cost in regard to his contract, they should roll the dice and find out what he can bring them. If nothing else, he could have a monster year playing on a very talented defensive line, lead the Colts to a very successful regular and post season, and depart via free agency in 2009.
But if the Colts cut ties now, they will never know.