With NFL teams stuck in a state of limbo thanks to the lingering lockout, we are taking a tour around the league and looking at where teams stand as they await the opening of the 2011 league year. Today, we offer our take on where the Colts stand.
Top three story lines
1. Did the Colts finally fix their offensive line? Vice chairman Bill Polian and son, GM Chris Polian — who called the shots for the first time on Draft Day — addressed the team's Achilles' heel by spending their first two draft picks fortifying the unit. First-round OLT Anthony Castonzo and second-round OG-OT Ben Ijalana will be plugged into the starting lineup from Day One, with the expectation being that QB Peyton Manning will have more time to survey the field. They will also bolster a running game that prevents opponents from loading up on extra defensive backs to slow down the passing attack. If the unit can accomplish these goals, the Colts will have a legitimate shot at becoming the first team in NFL history to play in a Super Bowl in its home stadium, when Super Bowl XLVI is played at Lucas Oil Stadium next year.
2. Owner Jim Irsay first stated at Super Bowl XLIV that a new deal for Manning was imminent and that it would make the future Hall of Famer the highest-paid player in league history. Irsay reiterated his stance last August, but mentioned the possibility of the Colts using the franchise tag as they worked toward an agreement. With the two sides unable to reach a deal before the lockout, the Colts slapped the franchise tag on Manning, which will pay him a little more than $23 million if he plays under the designation next season. But the Colts have allowed only one player — RB Edgerrin James in '05 — to enter the season with the franchise tag applied. The Patriots provided the framework for Manning's deal when they rewarded QB Tom Brady with a four-year, $72 million extension (including $48.5 million guaranteed) days before the start of the 2010 season. So when does Manning cash in?
3. Indianapolis led the league in a dubious category last season, placing 17 players on injured reserve. The club is counting on TE Dallas Clark, WR Austin Collie, CBs Jerraud Powers and Kelvin Hayden and others to make full recoveries and be big contributors next season. In the case of Collie, who suffered two frightening concussions last season, it is impossible to know if he can regain his form until he gets out on the field and absorbs the first big hit.
2011 free-agency — whenever that happens
Unsigned players: RB Joseph Addai (5), S Al Afalava (2), S Melvin Bullitt (4), DE Keyunta Dawson (4), OG Kyle DeVan (2), DT Eric Foster (3), CB Aaron Francisco (6), OLB Tyjuan Hagler (6), S Ken Hamlin (8), RB Mike Hart (3), DT Antonio Johnson (4), OL Charlie Johnson (5), QB Peyton Manning (13, franchised), DT Daniel Muir (4), RB Dominic Rhodes (9), CB Mike Richardson (4), RB Gijon Robinson (3), TE Tom Santi (3), OLB Clint Session (4), S Jamie Silva (3), OT Michael Toudouze (2), PK Adam Vinatieri (15). [Editor's note: The number after a players' name is his years of service in the league. If the NFL decides to go with free agency under the same rules as used in 2010, then a player would become a restricted free agent after three years and an unrestricted free agent after six years.]
Analysis: First and foremost, the Colts must lock up Manning — we don't know if the franchise tag will still exist in a new labor agreement. Next on the list are Vinatieri, Addai and Bullitt. Vinatieri will be unrestricted and the Colts' only assurance of keeping him will be offering him a contact to his liking; Addai and Bullitt still could be restricted. With no proven backups at either position, it would behoove the Colts to re-sign both key starters. In addition to Addai and Bullitt, Charlie Johnson, Session and DTs Muir and Foster all received tenders before the lockout. Of the remaining players listed, the Colts probably will make the greatest effort to bring back a pair of veteran safeties, Francisco and Silva. With the drafting of two O-linemen and RB Delone Carter, DeVan, Hart and Rhodes are all question marks. Although it would be out of character for an organization that typically focuses on rewarding its own, Bill Polian hinted during the season at possibly signing a few guys from other clubs to bolster the roster. The most likely areas the Colts would target are safety and offensive line, with perhaps another defensive tackle being thrown into the mix as well.
2011 rookie class
First-round OLT Anthony Castonzo (No. 22 overall) — The Colts have not found a long-term answer at left tackle since Tarik Glenn's sudden retirement following the '06 Super Bowl season. Castonzo has the overall makeup to man the post for the next decade.
Second-round OG-OT Ben Ijalana (No. 49 overall) — Indy had a first-round grade on Ijalana, who possesses the versatility and athleticism the Colts covet. He likely will begin his career at guard, perhaps eventually supplanting ORT Ryan Diem.
Third-round DT Drake Nevis (No. 87 overall) — The high-motor Nevis is a prototypical Colts one-gap lineman who could provide much-needed pass-rush ability from the inside.
Fourth-round RB Delone Carter (No. 119 overall) — The Colts addressed their struggles in short-yardage situations by drafting Carter — a physical inside runner with a low center of gravity who can push the pile.
Sixth-round CB Chris L. Rucker (No. 188 overall) — Rucker was a roll of the dice, as he comes with character questions, but the Colts could afford to gamble on an athletic corner with real upside this late in the draft.
Lockout fallout: How impacted will the Colts be by the work stoppage?
On scale from 1 to 10 (with 10 being the most significantly impacted), the Colts rate a one. This club has the luxury of having Manning, who is like another coach on the field, so the Colts should be in great shape with him organizing team workouts and spending one-on-one time with some of the young guys on offense. The Colts made only one change to the coaching staff — former RB coach Gene Huey was replaced by David Walker — and their biggest concern is that all of the players who ended the season on injured reserve are taking the necessary steps to be ready to go whenever the lockout ends.