|Free-agency preview: Colts||
Team overview: In many respects, Andrew Luck had a better season in his rookie year in 2012 than Peyton Manning did 14 years earlier in his first season in the NFL. Luck, Manning’s successor with the Indianapolis Colts, finished with 635 more passing yards, 10 fewer interceptions and a higher passing rating when comparing their rookie seasons.
Luck, though, struggled down the stretch when he failed to finish with a completion percentage above 54.1 percent in any of his last seven regular season games. In Luck’s first 10 games, he averaged 296.5 yards per game. In the Colts' final six games of the regular season, he averaged nearly 52 yards fewer. Luck could benefit immensely from the hiring of Pep Hamilton, his former offensive coordinator at Stanford.
What the depth chart tells you: Luck arguably played behind one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season. The Colts’ rookie quarterback was sacked 41 times in 2012 -- only Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton were sacked more.
Sturdier protection from the Colts’ line could result in a marked improvement by Luck in his second season. When not facing pressure in his rookie year, Luck completed 60.7 percent of his attempts, according to Pro Football Focus. The figure dipped to 39.4 percent on throws when Luck was pressured.
Pro Football Focus, which analyzed every snap in the NFL in 2012, also gave a poor grade to Anthony Castonzo, a first-round pick in 2011. The Colts’ starting left tackle ranked in the top 10 among all tackles in sacks, quarterback hits and quarterback hurries allowed, according to the website.
At right tackle, Winston Justice had one of the best seasons of his seven-year career but missed four games with a litany of injuries. A long-term deal for the former USC lineman carries substantial risk. Versatile lineman Jeff Linkenbach, another free agent, started four games at left guard and four at right tackle in place of Justice.
In the secondary, fourth-year cornerback Vontae Davis proved to be a valuable acquisition from the Dolphins. Opposing quarterbacks responded by targeting third-year cornerback Cassius Vaughn often. Vaughn and fourth-year defensive back Darius Butler were forced into action after veteran cornerback Jerraud Powers suffered a season-ending toe injury in Week 9 vs. the Dolphins. Vaughn, Butler and Powers are all free agents.
On the defensive line, a healthy Drake Nevis and Fili Moala could help the Colts up front. With both on injured reserve late in the season, Indianapolis surrendered a season-high 352 rushing yards in Week 16 vs. the Chiefs. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has promise after a strong rookie season and is a nice complement for Reggie Wayne. Fifth-year wideout Donnie Avery will likely command a significant pay raise from the $615,000 he earned in 2012.
Ideal free agency and draft strategy: The Colts must find a replacement for Dwight Freeney after the team announced that it wouldn’t re-sign the seven-time Pro Bowl pass rusher. A deep class at outside linebacker in free agency includes Paul Kruger of the Ravens and Connor Barwin of the Texans. Kruger is ideally suited for the rush linebacker spot after spending three seasons under coach Chuck Pagano in Baltimore. With only $80.49 million committed to active salaries for 2013, the Colts will likely be one of the biggest spenders in free agency.
Pagano could also be reunited with Ed Reed if Indianapolis outbids the cap-strapped Ravens for the one-time AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Colts could be wary, though, of offering the 34-year old Reed a multi-year deal. There are a plethora of options at the position with 49ers safety Dashon Goldson, Jets safety LaRon Landry and Falcons safety William Moore available in the open market. At cornerback, the Colts could make a play for Dolphins defensive back Sean Smith, who played alongside Davis for three seasons in Miami.
A capable veteran wide receiver such as Steve Breaston or Domenik Hixson could fit in well with Wayne and Hilton if Avery is not retained. In terms of draft strategy, there is tremendous depth at both offensive tackle and offensive guard. Without picks in the second and fifth rounds, however, the Colts must draft efficiently.
What will happen: A dearth of draft picks could force Colts general manager Ryan Grigson to break the bank in free agency. Grigson comes through by landing Kruger and Smith to help correct their 21st ranked pass defense. Indianapolis passes on Reed, but adds a more affordable option in a veteran such as former Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh.
If former Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker remains on the board late in Round 1, the Colts will take him with the No. 24 pick. Indianapolis will then address needs at guard and wide receiver in Rounds 3 and 4. In the late rounds, the Colts will look to find an upgrade for center Samson Satele.
-- By Matt Rybaltowski
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