As far as the NFL is concerned, the pending free agents for the Colts fall into three categories: Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs), Restricted Free Agents (RFAs), and Exclusive Rights Free Agents (ERFAs).
UFAs are free to negotiate and sign with any club under any terms once free agency begins on midnight, February 27th. Unless that player negotiates a new contract before 2/27 or is designated as a Franchise or Transitional player, they are considered a UFA.
RFAs are explained in great deal by Scout.com's Ed Thompson here.
ERFAs are players who have completed between 0-2 accrued seasons of service whose contracts have expired. If tendered, they have no negotiating rights with other clubs and must sign their tender with their old club or sit out the season.
Colts RFAs: Freddy Keiaho.
As for the context of this article, the pending free agents for Indianapolis fall into three major categories: High Priority, Low Priority, and Thanks For Playing.
Thanks For Playing:
Although it's difficult to dismiss Davis and Muir, since, as ERFAs, they'll be exceedingly easy to re-sign, they could also be taking up a roster spot that a player that has a better chance of making the roster could fill.
The market may determine Hayden's level of priority
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Davis managed a few starts due to injuries to other starters, but the fact that those starters are returning healthy and that rookie Jordan Senn will be more comfortable with the defense next season, and has shown plenty of promise, makes Davis expendable.
Thomas seems to hang on each year as the fifth-best option on the roster when the Colts decide to keep five men at the defensive end position. However, if Raheem Brock is designated as an end or Indianapolis drafts or signs a young free agent, Thomas will be the first to go. The Colts would be best served by wishing him well and assuming he is signed by another team while looking for other options.
If he's willing to take less, he's the highest priority of the low priority free agents, which is still not a good negotiating position. When the Colts were ravaged by injuries at the cornerback position during the 2008, the coaching staff and the system kept everything together and Indianapolis allowed only six touchdown passes.
Hayden missed time with injury as well. They excelled without him in 2008 and they can do it again in 2009.
Of Rhodes and Ball, neither has that much of an advantage, but one needs to be re-signed. If Rhodes is willing to come back at the veteran minimum, it is worth signing him and keeping Ball on at the ERFA price on the chance that Mike Hart falls behind in his recovery.
Ball — and Federkeil, for that matter — plays a position where depth is important, he knows the system, and will be cheap labor for next season. Both men will be signed before the free agency period starts and Rhodes, if not signed, will be on the Colts radar.
Giordano and Reid have their roles to play on special teams, but have been unable to consistently break into the lineup. While the importance of the kicking game cannot be overlooked, Indianapolis coaches would have been willing to sacrifice the 15 plays Reid or Giordano were in on if they felt they could get 50 or 55 quality plays from them on defense over a replacement player.
Jamie Silva is a solid special teams contributor and, if Muir is offered a tender, Muir could replace Reid. The Colts will not break the bank for either player, so it will be up to Giordano and Reid as to whether they think the grass will be greener in another NFL precinct.
Hunter Smith is as high a priority as any punter can be on any team. Although he was clearly outdueled by Mike Scifries in the Divisional Round game against the Chargers, Indianapolis at least owes it to themselves to sign him and see what happens, possibly even with a rookie such as SMU's Thomas Morstead.
The Colts probably won't let the consistent Smith get away
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
With the talent they have on offense and defense, they need to make sure that they do not have any glaring weaknesses in the third phase of the game. While Smith is not a strength, he is also not a glaring weakness.
Hagler's priority is dependent upon what kind of compensation he is seeking and what kind of compensation Keiaho is looking for. Keiaho is younger and has been more reliable in terms of his injury history and production. He is also a restricted free agent, which will make him easier to retain.
The best possible situation would be for the Colts to sign Hagler to a palatable four-year deal and to sign Keiaho to the one-year tender at the second-round compensation level and see if other teams make him an offer. From there, they can decide whether or not they want to match the offer, knowing all the while that they have Hagler as their ace in the hole.
Ratliff is younger, less expensive, and has a shorter injury history than Hayden. He made just as many game-changing plays when asked to this season and Indianapolis has a long and distinguished history of letting players walk at the cornerback position only to watch them flounder with their new teams and their replacements flourish.
Provided he doesn't retire, Saturday is the highest priority of the high priority free agents. Without him, the offense stumbled almost as badly as they did with a hobbled Peyton Manning.
It's true that Jamey Richard and Steve Justice will be another year older and wiser — and Saturday will just be another year older — but too many pieces are in place for the Colts to trust the protection calls and the responsibility of "quarterback of the offensive line" to anyone but No. 63 for the 2009 (and possibly 2010) season.
Although it's unlikely that Saturday would jump to another team without giving Indianapolis the chance to match the offer, he's too important to risk.
Do you agree with Brad's analysis? Disagree? Think he's crazy? Let us know in the ColtPower forums!