Panthers and Lions, Oh My!

A couple of big names were cut in Carolina, but Detroit severed ties with a couple of interesting prospects as well this week. Will the players be a good fit for the Colts?

Miami made the biggest splash and conquered the most headlines this week when they cut ties with 10 of their veterans by either releasing them outright or placing them on waivers.  But the real story for the Colts may be the other players cut loose in Carolina and Detroit.

The Panthers terminated the contracts of linebacker Dan Morgan and guard Mike Wahle.

But were designated as post-June 1 releases, which means that both men are free to sign with another team as soon as they please, but Carolina will not realize any salary cap savings until after June 1st.  The post-June 1 designation was negotiated by the players union in the last round of Collective Bargaining Agreement talks as a way to keep the books balanced, but allow veterans more time to sign with a team and learn their system.

Detroit released safety Etric Pruitt and defensive end Matthew Rice.  Both players were released because they failed to pass a recent team physical, though neither has an extensive injury history or a current ailment — they simply haven't been on the field enough.

Morgan was drafted 11th overall by the Panthers in 2001, saw significant playing time as a rookie, and was an emerging star after signing a five-year contract extension heading into the 2005 season.  The knock on Morgan has always been that he can't seem to stay healthy.

He has never started all 16 games in a season and finished 2006 and 2007 on injured reserve after starting a total of four games in those two years.

In a system where the middle linebacker is constantly at risk because of the amount of contact he is required to endure, Morgan would be out of place and is thus not a good fit for Indianapolis.  In addition, his agent is Drew Rosenhaus and Rosenhaus is notorious for overestimating the value of his clients.

Mike Wahle
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For a Colts team that pushes toward the 2008 season with a lot of question marks at the guard position, Wahle would add veteran leadership and a steady hand at the position.  He made the Pro Bowl in 2005 and started every regular season game from 2001-2005.

He also started all 16 games in 2007, recovering nicely from a torn labrum injury that ended his 2006 season.  A former wide receiver, Wahle has always had excellent feet and handles his 6 feet, 6 inch, 304-pound frame well.

There are many that feel he was not the same player following the injury and the rushing statistics for Carolina last season seem to agree with that statement.  However, he is a player that is currently in high demand and has already visited with the Seattle Seahawks, which would reunite him with Mike Holmgren, the man who drafted him in Green Bay.

With two unrestricted free agents and a restricted free agent at the position, Indianapolis owes it to themselves to at least have a look at Wahle and see if he still has what it takes, or has indeed lost too many steps to be effective.

Pruitt is not the player jettisoned by Detroit that should catch Bill Polian's eye.  Monday marks the third time in his four-year career that Pruitt has been cut by a team.  He has nine total tackles in those four seasons and also happens to play a position where the Colts have talent and depth, with Bob Sanders, Antoine Bethea, and Matt Giordano.

Matthew Rice with Penn State in 2005
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On the other hand, Rice is an interesting player at a position of dire need.  At 6 feet, 4 inches, 256 pounds, he certainly has the measurables that Indianapolis looks for in a defensive end.  The issue with him is that he is not as powerful through his lower body as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and lacks the critical burst and initial quickness that the Colts defense requires.

Fortunately for Rice, Indianapolis has more issues at defensive end than Rice has issues in his game.  He's certainly on par with Josh Thomas and has greater upside if he can work on his lower body strength with coaches Jon Torine and Richard Howell.

Having just turned 26, he may be too far along in his NFL career to teach him any new tricks, but if anyone can accomplish that feat, it's Tony Dungy, Ron Meeks, and John Teerlinck.

Though he does not have as accomplished a resume as many of the other pending free agent ends that will hit the market, he also has fewer miles on his tires.

Indianapolis should be able to sign him to a very palatable one- or two-year contract, particularly if they act fast.  He may not be glamorous, but he has a better-than-average chance of helping the team and is the most likely of all four of the men discussed to be in a Colts uniform in 2008.

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