Hendricks County Flyer, Avon, IN

February 11, 2013

What awaits the Colts?

By Jake Thompson

— Now that the NFL season has officially ended, what’s a football fanatic to do with their time?

Obsess after their team’s last loss? That’s not very healthy or productive, although I know a number of New England fans doing just that.

Shut off all sports media and take a well-deserved break and spend that time with their families? That seems like a great idea, but one that made some of you laugh out loud.

Begin to think about spring training and fantasy baseball? Probably not.

Look forward to next year as the NFL really has no offseason anymore as everything from the combine and draft preparation, to OTAs and mini-camp are now reported on at great length for each and every team through various media outlets?

Yes, sir! Because who really wants to spend time moping or getting together with your dysfunctional relatives or even waiting on spring training?

Let’s start our journey from the vantage point that 31 NFL teams’ fans are now looking toward. I’m excluding the Baltimore Ravens fans because their collective heads are still stuck in the clouds.

Indianapolis has until March 12, the opening day of free agency, to lock down its own free agents before worrying about the No. 24 selection in the first round of the NFL Draft. Although the Colts are probably doing both at the same time.

Most diehard NFL fans are now focused like a laser on the start of free agency and the 2013 NFL Draft held April 25, 26, and 27.

The Colts have the ability to do something they’ve not been able to do in many years: build through free agency. With a large surplus of cap space at around $44 million of a guesstimated cap of $121.1 million for the upcoming season, Indianapolis can go out and get some players that can come in and help right away.

Let’s talk offense needs, since that’s where Colts GM Ryan Grigson started the rebuild last season.

Indianapolis could sorely use some continuity up front on the offensive line. This is a unit that rotated more than the turnstiles at a New York subway station last year. Injuries, poor performance, and lack of experience all played a part in why this much maligned group did not fully come to fruition. Quality depth is certainly an issue going forward and I expect Grigson to begin addressing that through both free agency and the draft.

Offensive tackle Anthony Costanzo has been pretty solid at left tackle, but what if the Colts could get Jake Long from Miami in free agency and move Costanzo to right tackle, like Baltimore did with Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher late in the season. That move helped solidify the Ravens’ line en route to a Super Bowl run.

While there are some big names on the free agency list, this is a position that also looks to be pretty deep in the draft. Several quality lineman could fall to the Colts in the first and second rounds, if not later. If Grigson and the Colts use free agency to address some other offensive needs, this may indeed be the play on draft day.

Could Indianapolis benefit from more depth at receiver? Certainly.

Reggie Wayne, while having one of his best years ever last season, needs help. T.Y. Hilton came on late last year as one expects any rookie third-round pick to do and looked solid. But what the Colts need for quarterback Andrew Luck is one more consistent receiving option — and a little speed with that wouldn’t hurt.

This, like the option suggested on the offensive line, could be addressed through free agency. Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace comes to mind as a speedster who can stretch the field and at 27 years old, he has plenty of rubber left on the tires.

New England has been playing a cat and mouse game with Wes Welker over the past few seasons and may be forced to use the franchise tag on him if a deal can’t be reached. Welker, who has caught 122 and 118 balls over the past two seasons, would be a great pick.

Green Bay’s Greg Jennings will also hit the market. He provides an interesting possibility, although he has fought injuries over the past couple of seasons and looks an unlikely option for Indianapolis.

Is this a deep draft class for receivers? Not if teams are looking for legitimate first round talent, which I believe the Colts should be. Could quality be found in later rounds? Of course. We need look no further for evidence of that than Hilton.

That brings me to the running back position. I loved the toughness Vick Ballard played with last season. Who could forget the touchdown dive to the end zone in OT against Tennessee last year that was one of the Top 10 plays of the season?

But whom do the Colts have to run in tandem with Ballard?

Donald Brown? While Brown has shown flashes of what was expected out of the former first-round pick, there must be someone out there able to produce more.

Indianapolis needs a quality, dependable back, proven to carry a significant work load that’s still young enough to contribute for several years.

Enter Peyton Hillis. At 26 years old, this running back has a 1,000-yard season under his belt and has shown the toughness and grit needed by a running back in the NFL.

Miami’s Reggie Bush also comes to mind. As a receiving threat out of the backfield, Bush provides matchup nightmares for defenses and rushed for 1,000 yards in 2011 while missing that mark by less than 15 yards this year.

The draft doesn’t have many worthy first-round running backs available, if any. This is a position that could be filled for depth if one of the available free agent running backs slips through the Colts’ grasp. But I hope not, because if there’s anything a quarterback needs most, it’s a reliable rushing attack.

And at the quarterback position, the Colts ... are set.

Luck set the rookie passing yardage record last season and showed great maturity and presence in the pocket. This gem of a quarterback should lead the Colts for years to come and will be a force to be reckoned with, provided he has a line to protect him and skill players surrounding him.

Granted, Grigson believes in the scouting ability of the Colts’ personnel department and finding hidden gems with which to build. He has also proven, through the Vontae Davis trade, he will acquire what the team needs if the price is right. I like his ability to mix it up and build both through the draft and free agency.

Will Indianapolis address all of its offensive needs this season? Probably not. But as long as the Colts continue to move forward and build around what last season became a solid foundation, the sky’s the limit in the coming years.

— Jake Thompson is the sports editor for the Westside Flyer and may be reached at jake.thompson@flyergroup.com.