5 Moves the Indianapolis Colts Must Avoid in Free Agency
Free agency frenzy is upon us. With the last of the franchise tags being applied, or ignored, on Monday, the group of free agents is all but set. While teams still can sign their own players to long-term deals, there is enough talk and news that we can begin to talk about rumors and negotiations rather than projections.
As I discussed yesterday, the free agent period is arguably going to be more important than the draft for the Indianapolis Colts. While the draft is the best place to build a team, the Colts have $41 million in cap space, per Spotrac, compared to just five draft picks. With no first-rounder, the Colts' chances of getting an impact player are much higher in free agency than with the draft.
It should be noted that free agency, again, is not the best place to build a team. But, this is where the Colts are right now.
So with all that in mind, what are a few big mistakes that the Colts must avoid in this year's free agency period?
Fail to Lock Up Vontae Davis
While not everybody agrees on the worth of Vontae Davis, the Colts have made it clear that he is their No. 1 priority this offseason. The team has continually reaffirmed his importance, culminating in the release of the "We Have a Plan" article on Colts.com on Monday, the same day it was confirmed that they would not be using the franchise tag on Davis.
The Colts need a true No. 1 corner on one side of the field with their defensive system, and Davis is a No. 1 corner. I've talked of my support of re-signing Davis in the past, not just because I believe in his talent but because there's not much else out there for Indianapolis to choose from.
Brent Grimes recently re-signed with Miami, leaving Alterraun Verner and Aqib Talib as the only other corners who could possibly fill the role Davis does. With the Colts announcing their desire to re-sign Davis, Davis' fit in the system and his fit in the locker room, it would be a devastating blow if the team didn't get a deal done.
While they could wait to get it done after free agency begins, to let the market dictate some of the terms, the Colts would be better served to not risk losing Davis and get the deal done before March 11.
Overpay for Eric Decker
Among the teams that have interest in Eric Decker ... Indy. If he can't play with PFM, he'd love to roll with Andrew Luck.— Vic Lombardi (@VicLombardi) February 27, 2014
Decker had the best 2013 receiving numbers by far of any of the 2014 free agents last season with 87 catches for 1,288 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he is considered by many to be the best receiver of this class.
Regardless, the Colts should avoid paying the 26-year-old receiver.
It's not that Decker isn't a good fit; in fact, he's the best fit on the market. Decker is big at 6'3" and is a great red-zone weapon with 32 touchdowns in the last three years, third in the league only to Calvin Johnson and Dez Bryant among receivers. He's versatile enough to play in the slot if needed, which the Colts like, and he's a willing and able run-blocker.
However, Decker wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver, when he really hasn't proven himself to be a true No. 1. Decker has been surrounded by tremendous talent in Denver, with players like Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and tight end Julius Thomas all commanding more defensive attention than Decker.
Decker has gotten inflated numbers by playing with these players, not to mention Peyton Manning. Decker was exposed in the Super Bowl, struggling to get separation even against Seattle's second and third-best cornerbacks.
According to Jeffri Chadiha of ESPN.com, Decker is likely to receive a contract in the $10 million per year range, a price the Colts should avoid with a 10-foot pole.
If they are determined to get a wide receiver, I'd suggest Seattle's Golden Tate, who is better after the catch and has more consistent hands than Decker. Tate doesn't have the size or the inflated numbers of Decker, but he's been in a run-first offensive scheme in Seattle, and he would fit Pep Hamilton's offense, which relies heavily on screens and quick passes, very well.
Most importantly, Tate will be cheaper. Likely by $2 million or more per year.
Let Pat McAfee Walk
While preaching frugality when it comes to Decker may seem hypocritical while I support signing punter Pat McAfee for over $3 million a year, I'm going to do it anyway.
There are those who think that paying a punter over $3 million per year is a bad idea, but McAfee is good enough, and he means enough to the team as a teammate and public figure, that it is worth it.
The next best punter on the market is Zoltan Mesko, who was given a negative grade from Pro Football Focus last season. Contrarily, McAfee had the third-highest punting grade in the league last season, and he has been in the top 10 in four of his first five seasons.
Then you have the public relations side of things. McAfee is one of the most recognized faces on the Colts, a beloved Twitter presence, a host for the Colts' Facebook Friday videos and the Indianapolis Star-sponsored Pat McAfee show.
McAfee is a key locker-room presence and a weapon on special teams. The Colts should do what they can to keep him in Indianapolis.
Pay Injury-Prone Players Premium Contracts
Last season, the Colts paid top dollar for players who had notable injury history, and it came back to bite them.
LaRon Landry, for example, was signed to a four-year, $24 million contract, but he missed four games due to injury and was ineffective when he was healthy enough to get on the field.
Cornerback Greg Toler (three-year, $15 million contract) missed seven games due to injury, and he played sparingly in two more as he tried to come back late in the year. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw played in just three games before having season-ending neck surgery.
All three of those players were known for their injury history before signing with the Colts last year and leaning on them to be starters in Indianapolis left a large gap when injuries began.
The Colts can't make that mistake this season. If they sign an injury-prone player, it needs to be under the assumption that injuries will strike again. They can't sign them to premium contracts and they can't assume they won't need solid depth behind them.
Stand Pat on Defense
For me, the most scary possibility of this free agent period is that the Colts could spend the large majority of their cap space on the offensive side of the ball and fail to improve the defense. This has become even more terrifying with the Eric Decker rumors.
While the offense certainly needs upgrades at wide receiver, running back and the interior offensive line, it's the defense that desperately needs an influx of talent. While the team finished 16th in Football Outsider's DVOA last season, that was influenced by some very favorable factors.
The Colts faced one of the easiest defensive schedules in the league, the 27th easiest according to Football Outsiders. They had the worst "variance" in the league, which means they were incredibly inconsistent. They'd feast against teams like Jacksonville and Houston but got chewed up by good offenses. This was especially evident in the playoffs, where the Colts allowed 87 points in two games.
Indianapolis desperately needs some top-quality players to pair with Robert Mathis. Re-signing Vontae Davis is a big step, but that just gets the Colts back to where they were this year, it doesn't improve the squad. Whether it's finding an upgrade at safety, linebacker or defensive line, the Colts have to do something to actually improve the defense in 2014.