Offseason In Review: Indianapolis Colts

Many NFL observers had not only penciled in the Colts for a lengthy postseason run, but projected Andrew Luck to be among the league’s top contenders for the MVP award. Instead, Luck dealt with injuries (and wasn’t all that productive when he was on the field), and though backup Matt Hasselbeck played well at times, the offense couldn’t handle the loss of its starting quarterback, and finished 30th in DVOA. Indy’s defense was surprisingly competent (13th in DVOA), but that performance wasn’t enough to help the club finish better than 8-8, second in the AFC South.

Notable signings:

The Colts and general manager Ryan Grigson have been active spenders during the last two free agent periods, as they’ve attempted to augment their roster with external additions. During the 2014-15 offseasons, Indianapolis handed out an average of $38.5MM in guaranteed money while inking veterans such as D’Qwell Jackson, Arthur Jones, Andre Johnson, Frank Gore, and Trent Cole. This year, the club took a markedly different approach, limiting their free agent spending and disbursing less than $20MM in guarantees.Dwayne Allen (featured)

The majority of that money went towards re-signing one of the Colts’ own free agents, as the club hammered out a four-year deal to retain tight end Dwayne Allen. The 26-year-old is coming off a platform season during which he was not only hampered by ankle and calf injuries, but posted only 16 receptions for just over 100 yards and one touchdown, so it’s perhaps surprising that Allen is now among the 10 highest-paid tight ends on an annual basis.

But this contract was offered with an eye towards the future, as new Indy offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski — a former tight ends coach who often features the position in his scheme — reportedly told Allen that he’d be more involved in the club’s gameplan going forward. Allen has flashed before (he put up a 45/521/3 line during his rookie campaign), and as Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus noted at time of the signing, Allen has always graded out well as a blocker, both in the run and pass game.

The Colts’ only other notable re-signing was that of kicker Adam Vinatieri, with whom the club worked out a two-year deal. In 2015, Vinatieri connected on 25 of 27 field goal tries, for a 92.6% conversion rate. However, he did occasionally struggle with the longer extra point, missing three of 35 attempts. Still, there were few NFL kickers more reliable than Vinatieri, who is now third on the league’s list of all-time leading scorers. With 2,253 points, Vinatieri should be able to make a run at Morten Andersen (2,544) and Gary Anderson (2,434) as he plays out the final leg of his career.

On defense, Indianapolis found a cornerback who can slot in opposite Vontae Davis, as it agreed to terms with Patrick Robinson, who spent last season with the Chargers. A first-round pick of the Saints back in 2010, Robinson never broke out until heading to San Diego, as he started 10 games in 2015 and graded as the league’s No. 30 CB among 111 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus.Patrick Robinson (Vertical)

Because Davis lines up primarily on the right side, Robinson will see most of his time at left corner, although he is also capable of playing in the slot. As PFF’s Nathan Jahnke tweeted earlier this year, Robinson held quarterbacks to the third-worst rating (67.7) in the league when lined up in the slot. But with Darius Butler entrenched on the inside, Robinson will likely stay on the outside most of the time, something that Grigson confirmed when the 28-year-old was signed.

Joining Robinson in the secondary will be veteran corner Antonio Cromartie, who was just signed yesterday following news that Davis will miss at least the first month of the season with an ankle injury. Cromartie, a 10-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler, has been on the open market since the Jets released him in February. That was the end of Cromartie’s second stint with New York, which lasted only one season. Pro Football Focus ranked him just 86th out of 111 qualified cornerbacks in 2015, but he’ll now likely be counted on to start for a quarter of the season at minimum.

While Indianapolis is planning on Robinson and Cromartie providing consistent production in the defensive backfield, the club is surely hoping that Scott Tolzien doesn’t see many — if any — snaps this year as he serves as Andrew Luck‘s backup at quarterback. Luck is coming off an injury-wrecked season, but the Colts were able to stay afloat thanks in some part to the play of Matt Hasselbeck.

Tolzien, meanwhile, doesn’t have anywhere close to the level of experience that Hasselbeck did, as Tolzien has only attempted 91 passes during his career. As such, it’s fair to wonder why Indy didn’t target a more high-profile backup signal-caller. But, as former Colts offensive coordinator Tom Moore once said (in an extremely colorful way), clubs are usually finished if their starting quarterback goes down, so perhaps not investing in a No. 2 option is the smart strategy.

Indianapolis doesn’t have much depth behind Luck, and the club is also short on options behind running back Frank Gore, who is entering his age-33 season. Veteran free agent additions Jordan Todman and Robert Turbin, each of whom signed minimum salary benefit deals, both figure to make the roster and would likely share carries if Gore suffers an injury. However, 2016 undrafted free agent Josh Ferguson has been drawing rave reviews, and could leap both Todman and Turbin for playing time.

Continue reading about the Colts’ offseason…

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North Notes: Bears, Steelers, Browns, Gordon

Bears guard Kyle Long‘s status for Week 1 is entirely unclear as he deals with a labrum issue, writes Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune. While one source tells Biggs that Long is sure to be ready in time for the season opener, another source “isn’t optimistic” on Long’s outlook. Long is universally regarded as Chicago’s best offensive lineman, so if he is absent, the club will have some shuffling to do. For the time being, the Bears have moved free agent signing Ted Larsen from center to right guard, while installing Cornelius Edison at the pivot.

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • The Steelers extended linebacker Vince Williams through 2018 earlier today, and that deal could have an impact on veteran defender Lawrence Timmons, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com. Timmons, 30, is entering the final season of his current contract, and recent reports have indicated that he isn’t close to a long-term extension with Pittsburgh. If the two sides can’t hammer anything out before next spring, the Steelers now have a ready-made replacement in the form of Williams.
  • Teams are calling the Browns about Josh Gordon‘s availability but, for what it’s worth, he doesn’t want to be traded, as Tony Grossi of ESPN.com writes. “I haven’t heard too much about it,” Gordon said. “Cleveland is my team. That’s where I want to be, everything like that. That’s not even in the ballpark for me. I’m not sure how that works.” Gordon went on to express his gratitude towards owner Jimmy Haslam and coach Hue Jackson and said that he is excited about making his comeback in Cleveland.
  • Patrick Murray seems to be separating himself in Browns‘ kicking duel, Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon-Journal tweets. Today, he went 4-for-4 on field goals while Travis Coons went 2-for-3. Coons made 87.5% of his attempts with Cleveland last season, but the Browns’ new regime added Murray on a cheap one-year deal earlier this summer.
  • As part of its PED investigation, the NFL will interview Steelers linebacker James Harrison on Thursday, not Tuesday the 30th as originally reported.

NFC South Notes: Saints, Aguayo, Panthers

The Saints released Keenan Lewis last week, and the veteran cornerback thinks his relationship with defensive coordinator Dennis Allen led to his ousting, as he tells Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Facebook link) that he and the New Orleans DC never got along. Allen, for his part, denies any rift with Lewis, and head coach Sean Payton says other issues went into the decision to cut Lewis. “He’s 52 weeks post-surgery…Just availability, ultimately. We wish him well,” Payton told Joel Erickson of the Advocate. “I think ultimately, it was just trying to get him on the field. It’s just been, it seems like, a long time.”

Let’s check out the latest from the NFC South:

  • When asked about bringing in a second kicker, Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said “I wouldn’t think that’s an option,” though he said that is a better question for GM Jason Licht (Twitter link via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times). So far, second-round selection Roberto Aguayo has been struggling, which has led to even more scrutiny on the team’s unorthodox pick.
  • Former Duke linebacker Jeremy Cash had a fairly quiet training camp, but he helped his cause for making the team in the preseason game against the Titans on Saturday, Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer writes. The 6’0″, 215-pound athlete is fighting to make the Panthers with a sizable group of linebackers in front of him on the depth chart.
  • While the two sides in the Saints‘ ownership spat want until October to decide to on the terms of the settlement that was agreed to earlier this year, the judge in charge of the case has not yet granted that request, writes Ramon Antonio Vargas of the Advocate. Instead, the parties will come together for a conference on the issue tomorrow.
  • Earlier this week, we learned that wide receiver Brandon Coleman is not a lock for the Saints‘ roster.

Minor NFL Transactions: 8/23/16

Today’s minor moves:

  • The Lions waived cornerback Keith Lewis and signed fellow corner Brandon McGee, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press tweets.
  • The Jaguars signed running back Cameron Marshall and waived quarterback Max Wittek, reports Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union (Twitter link).
  • The Cowboys are signing offensive lineman Dan Buchholz, a UDFA out of Duquesne, according to Aaron Wilson of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link). Dallas also announced that they’ve waived/injured guard Jared Smith.
  • The 49ers announced that they have waived/injured safety Jered Bell and signed wide receiver Ryan Whalen. Whalen should give SF some additional depth at wide receiver in the wake of recent injuries.
  • The Texans waived/injured defensive lineman Alex Carrington, who was signed only a week ago, tweets Wilson.
  • The Packers reached an injury settlement with tackle Josh James, according to Wilson (Twitter link).
  • The Dolphins removed defensive lineman Farrington Huguenin from injured reserve with an injury settlement, per Wilson (Twitter link).

NFL To Interview James Harrison On Thursday

While a prior report indicated the NFL would meet with Steelers linebacker James Harrison next Tuesday regarding recent PED allegations, the league will instead come to Pittsburgh this Thursday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. the NFL had always wanted to talk this week — and in fact set a August 25 deadline — but Harrison wanted to speak next week, per Tom Pelissero of USA Today (Twitter links).James Harrison

Last week, the NFL stated that the four players involved in the PED scandal — Harrsion, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, and Mike Neal — would be required to submit to interviews by Thursday or face suspension. The NFL received written statements from the four players in question at the end of last month, and the NFLPA is of the opinion that those affadavits qualify as “cooperation.” The league disagrees, and is still requiring the individuals to partake in in-person interviews.

Harrison, for his part, has said he never denied any interview, but claimed he’d like for the meeting to be televised (and also referred to commissioner Roger Goodell as a “crook”). He, Matthews, and Peppers agreed to sit-downs, but Neal was of a different mind, at least originally. One report indicated that Neal had no intention of meeting with the NFL given that he’s considering retirement, but that notion was quickly disputed, and Neal will interview with the league.

Matthews and Peppers will meet with NFL officials in Green Bay tomorrow, while Neal is scheduled to sit down with the league in Chicago on Thursday.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Karlos Williams Visits Jets

Former Bills running back Karlos Williams surprisingly went unclaimed on waivers after being cut loose over the weekend, but he’s already garnering interest from another AFC East club. Williams met with the Jets today, according to Sal Capaccio of WGR 550 (Twitter link). However, “no deal is imminent” between the two sides, a source tells Rich Cimini of ESPN.com.Karlos Williams (Vertical)

[RELATED: New York Jets Depth Chart]

The Jets would seem to be an odd fit for Williams given that they already boast a significant amount of talent in their backfield. New York agreed to a three-year deal with former Bears back Matt Forte over the offseason, and also re-signed Bilal Powell on a three-year pact that contained $6MM in guarantees. In addition to its top two backs, the Jets also have Khiry Robinson on the roster (though he’s admittedly still recovering from a broken leg) along with former Falcons RB Antone Smith, who was just signed last week.

Clearly, there are reasons to be concerned about Williams’ future. He’ll be suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season after violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and he’s struggled with his weight throughout the offseason. At one point, Williams was up 261 pounds, and after losing some of that heft, he’d reportedly begun to balloon once again, leaving the Bills to wonder if he was serious about football.

But Williams also flashed dynamic ability during his rookie season, finishing with 613 yards from scrimmage and nine TDs on just 104 touches while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The 23-year-old also became one of just two players in NFL history to score a touchdown in each of his first six games in the league. All in all, Williams seemingly defines an old adage: high risk, high reward.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Jeremy Mincey To Retire

Veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey announced his retirement on Instagram, posting a picture of hung-up cleats along with a detailed message thanking his previous teams and supporters.Jeremy Mincey (Vertical)

“I just want you all to know: family, fans, and supporters gave me the hope to make it this far, to inspire those who will come behind me,” said Mincey. “I played the game with love, passion and relentlessly (sic) to prove to people your heart will take you as far as you want it to go. Trust me. I had half the talent a lot of guys had in this league.What separated me from the others was my will for victory.”

Mincey had free agent offers on the table, but is instead opting to follow through with retirement, tweets Adam Schefter of ESPN.com. It’s not surprising that Mincey had generated interest, as even in his age-32 season he was productive, appearing in 14 games for the Cowboys (six starts) and grading as the No. 61 edge defender in the league, with exceptionally high marks against the run, according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas, however, was not open to a reunion with Mincey, whom PFR recently ranked as the 10th-best free agent defender.

Just a year ago, Mincey posted even better results, managing six sacks for the Cowboys while starting all 16 games. In eight NFL seasons, Mincey, a former sixth-round draft selection, appeared in 96 games and put up 26 sacks, eight fumble recoveries, and 158 tackles. The Florida alum spent time with the Patriots, Jaguars, and Broncos before signing with Dallas prior to the 2014 season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Extend LB Vince Williams

The Steelers announced that they’ve reached a three-year extension with linebacker Vince Williams. The new deal will begin this season, meaning Williams is now locked up through the 2018 campaign.Vince Williams (Vertical)

[RELATED: CB Keenan Lewis to visit Steelers]

Williams, 26, started 11 games during his rookie season in 2013, but has since been relegated to a backup role — he’s appeared in all 32 contests over the past two years, but has started only two games during that time. Given the presence of Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons at inside ‘backer, Williams doesn’t figure to see much action with Pittsburgh during the upcoming season, but that’s not to say he isn’t a valuable commodity.

Though he played only 192 defensive snaps in 2015, Willams saw time on 300 special teams plays, meaning he was on the field for more than two-thirds of the Steelers’ ST snaps. The former Florida State Seminole picked up 25 tackles a year ago, adding a half-sack and two fumble recoveries for good measure. And, as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets, Williams might boast the league’s best bio picture on NFL.com.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Titans TE Craig Stevens Retires

Titans tight end Craig Stevens is calling it a career. After eight NFL seasons, Stevens is walking away from the game, a source tells Alex Marvez of the Sporting News. Craig Stevens

Stevens, 32 in September, appeared in all 16 games for the Titans last season. He caught 12 passes for 121 and 2 touchdowns. The pair of scores matched a previous career high set in 2010. Stevens, a blocking specialist, has been a member of the Titans since being selected in the third round of the 2008 draft. With eight straight years in Tennessee, he was one of the longest tenured members of the Titans.

Stevens leaves the game with 60 receptions for 724 yards and six touchdowns in his career.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC East Notes: Hackenberg, Sheard, Patriots

Can the Jets bend league rules and keep all four of their quarterbacks by stashing Christian Hackenberg on IR? Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News thinks it’s a good idea. Technically, teams are prohibited from putting healthy players on injured reserve, but the rules for that are rarely enforced and just about every NFL player has a lingering injury. There is precedent for such a move and Mehta notes that Charley Casserly – mentor to GM Mike Maccagnan – has fudged injuries to rookie quarterbacks multiple times throughout his career as an exec.

Here’s more from the AFC East:

Dallas Robinson contributed to this post.

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