Although economics played into the Colts decision to offer all five of their restricted free agents — defensive tackle Darrell Reid, guard Dylan Gandy, tight ends Bryan Fletcher and Ben Utecht, and safety Matt Giordano — the minimum tender of $927,000, the front office may win a gamble with most, if not all five players.
The ColtPower staff recommended the minimum tenders for Utecht and Fletcher and the second-round tender of $1.417 million for Reid, Gandy, and Giordano, with the rationalization being that one, but not both men would depart and the Colts could choose who they wanted to stay and who they wanted to go.
As it turns out, for one reason or another, Indianapolis has decided to roll the dice and see what happens with all five men — and there is the potential to lose them all.
The player who has garnered the most attention thus far is Utecht, who has visits scheduled with the Bengals and Saints over the course of the next few days. If Utecht is signed to an offer sheet by one of those teams and the Colts choose not to match it, they receive no compensation since he was undrafted.
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However, Ed Thompson and other members of ColtPower's staff have determined that Utecht was going to be the odd-man-out this offseason and were prepared to let him go. Where it gets interesting is if Utecht is signed away by Cincinnati or New Orleans and Fletcher also receives an offer from another team.
Indianapolis would feel very compelled to match whatever offer Fletcher received, since they would be down to Gijon Robinson and Dallas Clark without him. While it's unlikely that Fletcher will draw enough interest on the open market for this to happen — especially considering that he was drafted in the 4th round originally — Colts fans must also bear in mind that it is certainly not the end of the world if both men depart as restricted free agents and that Indianapolis will absolutely not overpay to retain either player.
In the case of Reid and Giordano, it is very possible that our staff was not thinking about their status with the team and within the rest of the league as clearly or in as detached a manner as the Indianapolis front office.
Both men are important to the team, both contribute heavily to special teams, and both have displayed the kind of hustle and determination that Colts fans have come to expect ... but both men are reserve players that, for the most part, have their value in the kicking game. As a result, paying almost $3 million for two players of this caliber seems excessive.
They both have tremendous potential, no doubt, but that potential will likely be fully realized — or not — during the 2008 season and, at that point, the Colts would need to make a decision based on the 2009 salary cap and the market. While many have criticized Polian's administration for its tendency to wait until the last possible moment to sign a player, the Colts have always been able to identify and sign "core players" to long-term contracts and backfill any other position through the draft.
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On the subject of backfilling non-core positions through the draft, Polian has done an exceptional job of plugging in young players at guard and trusting the coaching staff to develop them into serviceable starters. Jake Scott has entered into the free agent market, but has not drawn any offers yet.
Gandy has been floating about with the minimum tag placed on him and has likewise not received any offers.
For five reserve players that are more important to the kicking game than offense or defense and have only a handful of starts between them, the Colts made the right offers and left emotion and preference out of a very critical business decision.
In 2007, the team needed to use the second round tender on Lilja and Scott or risk losing both their starting guards. This year, they have enough depth and enough options through the draft and free agency to lose one — or all — of these five players and recover.