Ranking the 7 Biggest Upgrades the Indianapolis Colts Made This Offseason
For the last three offseasons, Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has been upgrading. To some extent, every general manager is attempting to upgrade during the offseason, but for Grigson, the circumstances were a bit more drastic.
Grigson, after all, was completely gutting a roster that went 2-14 and starting over. Sure, Andrew Luck was just handed to him, but the rest of the team was going to be built from scratch. Grigson decided to keep a couple key veterans in Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis and a few other role players, and the rebuild began.
Today, just seven of the players from the 2011 roster remain on the Colts payroll: Wayne, Mathis, Anthony Castonzo, Fili Moala (on injured reserve for 2014), Joe Reitz, Adam Vinatieri and Pat McAfee.
It's been Grigson's acquisitions, for better or worse, that have shaped the Colts' current roster each season. While 2014 features less turnover than the last two years, the newcomers will certainly play a large part in the Colts' fortunes this season.
So today, we go through those acquisitions. Based on the new players' predecessors, which of Grigson's 2014 targets are the biggest upgrades? It's not necessarily the best players that are the biggest upgrades, as we consider scheme fit and former Colts. But these are the players that will be the difference between the 2014 campaign and 2013.
7. C Phil Costa, Replacing...Oh, No, He's Retiring
After the Colts' much-anticipated release of C Samson Satele in March, the question of who would replace the struggling veteran remained. Khaled Holmes had just 12 snaps of experience, and the Colts couldn't just leave the starting spot for him without any competition.
It was common knowledge that the Colts would sign a center in free agency, with players like Alex Mack, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Brian de la Puente all becoming free agents. Fans waited with bated breath as free agency began, and the Colts went after...nobody.
The Colts signed defensive end Arthur Jones on the first day of free agency and simply waited on centers. The center market wasn't moving very quickly at all, and it wouldn't hurt to wait a few days, right? Or so we thought.
Rather than feel out a free-agent market for a mid-level veteran, the Colts had decided to sign Phil Costa, a former backup center in Dallas. Immediately the questions came: Is this all of Grigson's plan for center? Does he know something we don't about Holmes? What is a Phil Costa?
All fair questions, all unanswered. Turns out, the Colts weren't interested in the big-name centers, even if Colts fans held onto the dream of signing Alex Mack down to the bitter end.
"We looked at every center. We looked at all the guards. We didn't like anybody. It's based off our facts, which is the tape," Grigson told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star.
Well, whatever was on Phil Costa's tape, which included a total of one snap taken in 2013, it must have been steamy. But some time after convincing the Colts to give him $2.7 million over two years, Costa decided that he'd had enough of football. Just over a month after signing, Costa retired. And thus, the starting center position was passed to Holmes, on whom the verdict is still out.
For his month-long stint in Indianapolis when he didn't see the field, Costa earns the "Best Replacement to Promptly Need Replacing" award.
6. S Mike Adams, Replacing the Shadow of Antoine Bethea
Much like the center position, the Colts chose to ignore the gap in the defensive backfield left by veteran S Antoine Bethea's departure. Rather than go after one of the starting safeties in free agency, the Colts went after a defensive lineman and a linebacker. Rather than drafting safety Terrence Brooks in the second round of the draft, Grigson picked offensive lineman Jack Mewhort.
But never fear, Grigson had a plan besides leaving it all up for Delano Howell to deal with.
Apparently that plan involved signing 10th-year safety Mike Adams. So perhaps it wasn't a grand, master plan. But at least it brought some competition for Howell at the starting spot.
Now, we'll see an interesting phenomenon: Adams and his experience against Howell and his flexibility. It's not a particularly good situation to be in, as neither Adams or Howell are going to offset LaRon Landry's struggles on the other side of the field.
But some competition is better than none, so I'll still give the nod of a net positive to Adams.
5. WR Donte Moncrief, Replacing WR LaVon Brazill
It's easy to say, now, that rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief was brought in to replace LaVon Brazill. As has been discussed much more than necessary, Brazill was suspended for the entire season after another run-in with the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Brazill had been the Colts' fourth receiver over the last two seasons, a role in which many see Moncrief filling in 2014.
But even before Brazill was cut, the Colts new they needed to bring a long-term starter into the mix. The Colts had some intriguing young pieces in Da'Rick Rogers, Griff Whalen and Brazill, but it would have been a miracle if any of the three evolved into a player who could start opposite T.Y. Hilton for years to come.
Moncrief, however, may just be that guy. Having caught 125 catches for 1,917 yards and 16 touchdowns over the last two seasons in the SEC, Moncrief had the production to match a 6'2", 221-pound frame and 4.40-second 40-yard dash time. Sure, he needs some development, but he's as good as Brazill was right now, with a much higher projected ceiling long-term than any of the young receivers on the Colts roster, save perhaps Hilton.
4. G Jack Mewhort, Replacing G Mike McGlynn
For rookie Jack Mewhort, the upgrade comes more in an "addition by subtraction" type of move than any kind of on-field projection.
Simply put, Mewhort could be Logan Thomas or he could be Jonathan Martin, fans will simply appreciate that somebody has taken former Colts lineman Mike McGlynn's spot and allowed him to be discarded.
And really, Mewhort and McGlynn are not all that different. Both are flexible players, able to shift inside to center in a pinch. Both are probably best used as sixth men, using their flexible nature to fill in at different points rather than staying too long at one spot. I mean, Mewhort is even taking McGlynn's old number, 75.
It's hard to imagine McGlynn's replacement playing as poorly as he did, so things have to improve, right? McGlynn, after all, was the only guard to post a Pro Football Focus (subscription required) grade of worse than negative-20 in both of the last two seasons. Even if Mewhort is merely a depth player in 2014, he will get his chance at a starting role.
Fortunately for Mewhort, the bar hasn't been set high.
3. LB D'Qwell Jackson, Replacing LB Pat Angerer/Kelvin Sheppard
I haven't been shy about my qualms with the D'Qwell Jackson signing. He's seen better days, is overpaid based on recent seasons and fits better in a 4-3 scheme.
But no matter my personal dislike for the move, it's inarguable that Jackson is a significant step to take after watching a hobbled Pat Angerer and Kelvin Sheppard take turns desecrating the defense. The two combined for a negative-17.7 grade from Pro Football Focus in 2013, and were especially bad in run defense.
Jackson is opposite the Colts linebackers in almost every way. The former Cleveland 'backer didn't excel in 2014, but he was an iron man over the last few seasons, while the Colts' haven't had a linebacker other than Jerrell Freeman play more than 550 snaps since 2011, per Pro Football Focus. Jackson also has better instincts in coverage than any of the Colts linebackers, including Freeman.
Unlike some people's perceptions, Jackson has struggled mightily in run defense as well, so his addition may not be as much of a help there as some would claim.
Then there are the immeasurables: the leadership, the heart and the experience. Jackson, by all reports, has a plethora of each. Having him in the middle of the defense should help the Colts get over losing Antoine Bethea in the back.
2. DL Arthur Jones, Replacing DL Ricardo Mathews
Quick, off the top of your head, who finished last season with the Colts' lowest defensive grade from Pro Football Focus?
Nope, it wasn't Kelvin Sheppard or Pat Angerer. It wasn't Erik Walden or LaRon Landry.
The answer is Ricardo Mathews, a nondescript lineman who has toiled in Indianapolis after the Colts moved to a 3-4 defense in 2012. Mathews makes for a strong penetrating "under" tackle in the 4-3, but doesn't quite fit as a two-gapping lineman in Pagano's 3-4.
While the Colts have worked to bring in their own defensive ends (Cory Redding, Ricky Jean Francois), they truly needed a third to build a capable rotation at the position. Defensive line is a unit that sees it's core players rotating in and out of the game frequently, and the team hasn't had more than two competent interior linemen at one time since, well, ever.
With Jones, Jean Francois and Redding all capable of starting, the rotation should be able to stay more consistent in 2014, an improvement that could have ripple effects throughout the defense.
1. WR Hakeem Nicks, Replacing WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
The biggest upgrade on our list, Hakeem Nicks comes into Indianapolis off of two down seasons in New York after establishing himself as one of the league's best receivers.
But while Nicks has had his valleys in the last two years, no receiver in the modern era has disappointed like Darrius Heyward-Bey has. The Colts brought him in last season to be the No. 2 receiver, and fans were rife with optimism. But just as he had in Oakland, Heyward-Bey disappointed. He struggled to get open and dropped passes when he was open.
He, essentially, was a black hole for the offense that swallowed anything resembling productivity.
Nicks, on the other hand, still has the physical tools to be an elite possession receiver. He has huge hands, a solid frame and wins at the line of scrimmage. Energized by a one-year contract and an offense on the rise, Nicks has every reason to succeed in 2014. He may not put up the numbers that he did back in 2009 and 2010, but the difference between him and Heyward-Bey should be stark.
Heyward-Bey hindered the offense from finding room to work, Nicks should open things up for other people.