Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis. Photos – Colts.com.
INDIANAPOLIS – Free agency can be one of the toughest parts of the yearly NFL grind. Teams typically have their hands tied and are not able to bring back all of the players that helped them out so much the year before, and others they will have to overpay for just for their services for the next one to four years or so.
For the Indianapolis Colts, they are lucky enough to not be completely hamstrung by their free agency situation. There are crucial players on their list, but others they can live without. Below are the units of the team that will create a higher importance and attention if they were to lose some of the unrestricted free agents in their group. Now, the Colts will inevitably bring some of these players back and allow others to test the waters of free agency. Here are likely scenarios for each of the free agents in these groups.
Jeff Linkenbach – Although Linkenbach performed well while in the lineup this season, he will not be counted on as a day 1 starter for the 2014 Colts squad. Donald Thomas will be back from his season-ending 2013 injury, Hugh Thornton will be another year entrenched into the starting lineup and Khaled Holmes may force himself into a more prominent role, as well. However, where Linkenbach’s importance comes into play is his versatility. With the exception of center, Linkenbach has had quite a bit of experience playing all over the line.
Without much insurance behind starting tackles Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus, “Link” may find himself back in Indianapolis as arguably the Colts’ best option to fill in for any other offensive lineman.
Mike McGlynn – McGlynn is a more curious situation than Linkenbach. McGlynn’s struggles at the guard positions have been discussed ad nauseam, but he performs much better while at center in place of Samson Satele. Now, people outside of the organization mostly called for McGlynn to start at center over Satele and for Linkenbach, Joe Reitz or Xavier Nixon to take McGlynn’s spot at guard. However, the coaching staff would only make these moves while Satele was injured even though the line looked much better with McGlynn at center.
Because of the coaches’ reluctance to replace Satele with McGlynn, it appears they could let McGlynn leave in free agency. They drafted Holmes last year to be center and there are some attractive free agents on the market at the center position.
LT – Anthony Castonzo, Xavier Nixon
LG – Donald Thomas, Zach Allen
C – Samson Satele, Khaled Holmes, Thomas Austin
RG – Joe Reitz, Lance Louis
RT – Gosder Cherilus, Justin Anderson, Jack Breckner
Aubrayo Franklin – Franklin performed well as the primary starter at nose tackle for the Colts. However, he may fall victim to a youth movement. Josh Chapman, Montori Hughes and Jeris Pendleton are all capable of playing the nose and may make the front office’s decision to let Franklin walk easier.
Franklin’s age (33), veteran price tag and the possibility of the Colts adding another nose in the draft may likely keep him out of the Colts’ plans for 2014.
Ricardo Mathews – Mathews performed at a somewhat average rate during his time thus far with the Colts, including last year after he was one of the defensive linemen to be “chosen” over Drake Nevis during preseason cuts.
Mathews was not a poor performer last year, but he had been outplayed by fellow linemates Fili Moala and former Colt Lawrence Guy during stretches of the season. Mathews likely will not be a high priority signing for the Colts, but if they do not find what they want with other free agent defensive linemen or in the draft, they could bring Mathews back.
Fili Moala – Moala is a player the front office will likely really want to bring back. The Colts hardly seemed to miss a beat when Moala was in for starter Ricky Jean Francois this season. In fact, many could argue Moala would have done just as well or better in the starting role. Moala is not as much of a pass rusher as Francois, but his run defense is better.
Regardless, Moala needs to be somewhat of a priority, and not just on a one-year deal. Unless he wants to test the open market and get wooed by another team with a 3-4 defensive front, Moala should be back as a Colt in 2014.
DE – Cory Redding, Montori Hughes
NT – Josh Chapman
DT – Ricky Jean Francois, Jeris Pendleton, Jake McDonough
Pat Angerer – Angerer cannot seem to stay healthy, and that will likely hurt his chances of being brought back. The Colts need someone next to Jerrell Freeman that can be a constant like Freeman is, and Angerer has not been that. He also has not been as affective as he was in his earlier years in the Colts’ former defensive scheme.
Kavell Conner – On this episode of Unsolved Mysteries, why did Kavell Conner not play more of a prominent role in the Colts’ defense this year? Conner was inactive/injured for six games this year, but while in the lineup he had to split time with Kelvin Sheppard and Angerer.
Conner was the best option for the Colts inside next to Freeman, yet did not play as often as many would think. It is hard to imagine a scenario where the Colts bring Conner back, or if he would want to come back.
Lawrence Sidbury – Sidbury missed the entire season with a shoulder injury, so the Colts would likely give him another shot to see what he can bring to the table. Sidbury is a converted defensive end moved to outside linebacker, so he could have some untapped talent the Colts could use.
Sidbury being brought back on another one-year, minimum payment deal makes sense.
OLB – Robert Mathis, Justin Hickman, Daniel Adongo, Henoc Muamba
ILB – Jerrell Freeman, Josh McNary, Scott Lutrus
ILB – Kelvin Sheppard, Mario Harvey, Andy Studebaker
OLB – Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, Cam Johnson
Vontae Davis – Vontae Davis is most likely the front office’s top priority heading into free agency. Davis is not elite, but he is by far the Colts’ best corner and more than capable of holding his own against most receivers.
The thing that will likely keep Davis in the organization is the trouble the team would be in without him. Greg Toler, Darius Butler and Josh Gordy would be the top three corners and that would be a huge issue.
The biggest issue with signing Davis is his price tag, though. Davis had an above average season, so his asking price may be larger than what the Colts would like to pay.
Cassius Vaughn – Cassius Vaughn has certainly had his critics in Indianapolis. While being forced into action on the outside, Vaughn struggles. However, when he is played in nickel or dime situations he does much better. The Colts should be able to bring back Vaughn for cheap, but it is no guarantee that he comes back.
CB – Greg Toler, Josh Gordy, Marcus Burley
CB – Darius Butler, Sheldon Price
Antoine Bethea – The decision to bring back Antoine Bethea or let him walk will be one of the toughest decisions on the Colts’ list this season. The coaching staff seems to love him and he has done well for many years, but within the past couple of seasons he has become somewhat of a liability in pass coverage. He is an excellent run defender and sure tackler, but he has begun to get victimized in coverage.
There is a way the Colts can make it work with bringing Bethea back, but the combination of him and LaRon Landry at safety does not seem to be all it was cracked up to be before the season. If Bethea is going to be around, the Colts need to have another safety next to him that excels in coverage. It seems the wise thing to do would be to have to choose between Bethea and Landry.
Sergio Brown – There is a good chance the Colts could bring Brown back on another cheap, short deal. He is the Colts’ best special teams coverage man, and he knows the system on defense. The Colts will not have to break the bank to keep Brown around, it just depends on how much cap space they want.
FS – Delano Howell, Corey Lynch
SS – LaRon Landry
Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri. Photo – Colts.com.
Pat McAfee – Pat McAfee is the Colts’ reigning “franchise player” from last year. If the Colts were to tag McAfee again, it would result in an even higher price tag than last year. Luckily, the price would only be the fourth-highest in the league among punters at $3.6 million (Kyle J. Rodriguez/Bleacher Report).
I do not see McAfee going anywhere. He has made it known throughout his time in Indianapolis that he wants to stay. However, giving McAfee a salary in that range (even if he is not franchise tagged) will come with an expectation for him to continue to improve. That seems like it goes without saying, but often times free agent contracts are a payment/acknowledgement of what the player has accomplished, and not necessarily continued development.
Adam Vinatieri – Vinatieri is likely another player that will not be going anywhere. At his age (41) he is much more likely to come to terms with a reasonable contract offer rather than having a gaudy expectation.
This is a situation where, as long as the Colts want him (after a career year last year, why wouldn’t they?), and offer him something reasonable then he should stick around. Vinatieri is not in the stage of his career to be asking for anything unrealistic.
P – N/A
K – N/A
Jake Arthur is the Associate Editor at the Indy Sports Report covering the Indianapolis Colts and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Colts and has full media access. He is a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. You can follow Jake and ISR on Twitter.