The 2014 campaign ended horrifically for the Colts, whose season came crashing down in a 45-7 loss to the Patriots in the AFC championship game. In response, Indy spent the offseason adding multiple established veterans on both sides of the ball in hopes of overthrowing the Pats and earning a Super Bowl trip for the first time since the 2009-10 season.
- Andre Johnson, WR: Three years, $21MM. $10MM guaranteed.
- Frank Gore, RB: Three years, $12MM. $7.5MM guaranteed.
- Trent Cole, LB: Two years, $14MM. $7MM guaranteed.
- Joe Reitz, G: Three years, $8MM. $2.75MM guaranteed.
- Kendall Langford, DE: Four years, $17.2MM. $2.5MM guaranteed.
- Mike Adams, S: Two years, $4.25MM. $1.2MM guaranteed.
- Darius Butler, CB: Two years, $5MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Matt Hasselbeck, QB: One year, $3MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Todd Herremans, G: One year, $2.25MM. $1MM guaranteed.
- Nate Irving, LB: Three years, $7.25MM. $750K guaranteed.
- Colt Anderson, S: One year, minimum salary benefit. $180K guaranteed.
- Dwight Lowery, S: One year, minimum salary benefit. $80K guaranteed.
- Ben Heenan, G: Three years, minimum salary. $35K guaranteed.
- Duron Carter, WR: Three years, minimum salary. $25K guaranteed.
- Jerrell Freeman, LB: One year, $2.356MM. Signed second-round RFA tender.
- Sean McGrath, TE: Two years, minimum salary.
- Vincent Brown, WR: One year, minimum salary.
The Colts had the NFL’s third-ranked offense last year, but that belied a subpar rushing attack that finished 22nd in yardage and 25th in per-attempt average. Their most productive back, Ahmad Bradshaw, suffered a season-ending broken fibula in November. Bradshaw was hardly a workhorse when healthy, though, exceeding double-digit carries just four times in 10 games. Enter Frank Gore, the longtime 49er whom the Colts signed to a three-year, $12MM deal in free agency. Gore gives the Colts something they’ve been missing for a while – a durable, productive back. Despite his advanced age relative to the position, the 32-year-old Gore’s production certainly hasn’t stalled. In 2014, the 10-year veteran appeared in all 16 games, surpassed the 250-carry mark, and rushed for 1,100-plus yards. It was the fourth straight season in which Gore accomplished all three of those feats simultaneously. Moreover, he has never amassed fewer than 4.1 yards per carry in a season – another welcome change for a Colts team whose previous leading rusher, Trent Richardson, totaled a paltry 3.3 yards per attempt last year.
The Colts’ other big offensive move in free agency was to further beef up an Andrew Luck-led passing game that led the league in yardage last year. Indy signed wideout Andre Johnson, who had been with AFC South rival Houston his entire career (since 2003), to a three-year, $21MM contract. Like Gore, the 34-year-old Johnson is on the wrong end of the aging curve, but he also remains a viable weapon. Johnson caught 85 passes last season, though he averaged a meager 11.0 yards per reception (his lowest total since 2005) and racked up only three touchdowns. Bear in mind, though, that Johnson isn’t far removed from a two-year stretch that saw him haul in 221 catches and over 3,000 yards from 2012-13. Additionally, Johnson stands to benefit from the presence of Luck, who is far more talented than any quarterback he played with in Houston. In Johnson, Luck should have another solid target to accompany T.Y. Hilton, Indy’s undisputed No. 1 receiver, first-round wideout Phillip Dorsett and tight end Coby Fleener.
Defensively, the Colts finished a respectable 11th in the league last season. However, the Patriots exposed them twice – once in a 42-20 November shellacking and in the aforementioned AFC title game blowout. New England rushed for a ridiculous 423 yards in those games, and quarterback Tom Brady was basically untouched in both matchups (Indy sacked him once in total). The Colts responded to the latter issue by signing a couple of vets in linebacker Trent Cole (two years, $14MM) and lineman Kendall Langford (four years, $17.2MM).
The 32-year-old Cole added 6.5 sacks for the Eagles last season, giving him 85.5 during the decade he spent in Philadelphia, and Pro Football Focus ranked him a solid 12th out of 46 qualifying OLBs (subscription required) for his pass rushing.
As for Langford, the most impressive fact about the seven-year veteran’s career is that he never missed a game in either of his previous stops (Miami and St. Louis). He’s just two years removed from a career-high five-sack season and thinks the best is yet to come as part of the Colts’ 3-4 defense.
“I feel like I’m back at home in a 3-4 scheme,” Langford told the Colts’ official website last month. “I’m excited about it.”
Head coach Chuck Pagano echoed Langford’s sentiment.
“Kendall Langford, you guys are going to be surprised,” Pagano said. “You think we just brought in a run stopper, but he’s shown in some of these 11-on-11 drills that he’s got some pass rush capabilities, will get push inside.”
The Colts’ pass rush looks better on paper with the acquisitions of Cole and Langford and the return of linebacker Robert Mathis – who led the league with 19.5 sacks in 2013 before missing all of last year with a torn Achilles’. While the Colts did rank ninth in sacks in 2014, they lacked fearsome pass rushers and had to rely too much on blitzing to generate pressure.
Elsewhere on defense, the Colts retained three of their own key players – linebacker Jerrell Freeman, cornerback Darius Butler and Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams – and signed ex-Broncos LB Nate Irving. The Colts hope the 27-year-old Irving, whom PFF ranked 12th among 60 qualifying 3-4 ILBs against opposing ground games last year (subscription required), can help improve their 18th-ranked run defense and make less them less vulnerable against teams like the Patriots.
- Ahmad Bradshaw, RB
- Sergio Brown, S
- Josh Cribbs, WR: Released
- Josh Gordy, CB
- Ricky Jean-Francois, DE: Released
- Fili Moala, DE
- LaRon Landry, S: Released
- Josh McNary, LB
- Hakeem Nicks, WR
- Xavier Nixon, T: Waived
- Shaun Phillips, LB: Released
- Cory Redding, DE
- Trent Richardson, RB: Waived
- A.Q. Shipley, C
- Andy Studebaker, LB
- Reggie Wayne, WR
The Colts said goodbye to some recognizable names during the offseason, including Reggie Wayne – one of the franchise’s all-time best players – but general manager Ryan Grigson adequately replaced most of them. Johnson, Dorsett and second-year man Donte Moncrief will do more than enough at wideout to make the losses of Wayne and Hakeem Nicks easy to swallow. If his career is any indication, Gore will be a major improvement over both Bradshaw and Richardson. Langford, on the other hand, has his work cut out for him in grabbing the reins along the D-line from the retired Cory Redding and the released Ricky Jean-Francois, who combined for 1,300-plus snaps last year. Redding was particularly impressive in 2014, appearing in over 70 percent of Indy’s defensive snaps and drawing significant praise from PFF for his play.
- Acquired a 2015 third-round pick (No. 65; CB D’Joun Smith) and a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 109; S Clayton Geathers) from the Buccaneers in exchange for a 2015 second-round pick (No. 61; G Ali Marpet) and a 2015 fourth-round pick (No. 128).
- Acquired a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 151; DT David Parry) from the 49ers in exchange for a 2015 fifth-round pick (No. 165; P Bradley Pinion) and a 2015 seventh-round pick (No. 244; OL Trenton Brown).
- Matt Overton, LS: Extended through 2018. Four years, $4MM. $1.04MM guaranteed. Was scheduled to become an RFA.
- 1-29: Phillip Dorsett, WR (Miami): Signed
- 3-65: D’Joun Smith, CB (Florida Atlantic): Signed
- 3-93: Henry Anderson, DE (Stanford): Signed
- 4-109: Clayton Geathers, S (UCF): Signed
- 5-151: David Parry, DT (Stanford): Signed
- 6-205: Josh Robinson, RB (Mississippi State): Signed
- 6-207: Amarlo Herrera, LB (Georgia): Signed
- 7-255: Denzelle Good, T (Mars Hill): Signed
The Colts pulled off a surprise in the first round when they added yet another receiver in Dorsett, an ex-Miami Hurricane who tries to make up for less-than-ideal size (5-foot-10, 185 pounds) with explosiveness (a 40-yard dash time of 4.29, 24.2 yards per catch in college). Dorsett is similar to the 5-9, 178-pound Hilton in stature and style, and one wonders if the Colts chose the former as a potential long-term replacement for the latter. Hilton could potentially depart Indy as a free agent next offseason, which would leave the Colts looking for a star-caliber, field-stretching wideout. Regardless of what happens with Hilton, the Colts hope Dorsett can be just that, and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton expects him to make an immediate impact.
“His play speed is exceptional,” Hamilton told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star (Twitter link). “We can attack the field vertically.”
Indy also may have added another couple immediate impact types in a pair of third-round picks, cornerback D’Joun Smith and defensive end Henry Anderson.
Smith, who intercepted nine passes at Florida Atlantic (including seven in 2013), gives the Colts depth behind Vontae Davis, Darius Butler and Greg Toler, and could wrest playing time from the latter two if they don’t improve on last year’s performance. Both Butler and Toler surrendered ratings of over 102 to opposing quarterbacks, according to PFF – which ranked Butler 67th and Toler 99th, respectively, out of 108 qualifying corners (subscription required).
If Smith’s anywhere near as good as he is confident, he’ll be a huge pickup for the Colts.
“Under the right tutelage and the right coach that’s going to make my technique even better, I’m probably going to be the best cornerback to play the game,” Smith told the Colts’ website in May.
As for Anderson, the Colts picked the ex-Stanford Cardinal 93rd overall after a standout college career (first-team All-Pac-12 in 2014).
“He’s what you’re looking for at end in this defense,” Grigson said, according to Colts.com. “I know we’re going to have him for a long time.
For his part, Anderson said in May that he’s “really excited about coming in and providing as much help as possible to the defense.”
Given the losses of Redding and Jean-Francois, Anderson is likely to have the opportunity this year to quickly become a fixture along Indy’s D-line.
- Exercised 2016 fifth-year option for QB Andrew Luck ($16.155MM).
- Signed 10 players to reserve/futures contracts.
- Signed 15 undrafted rookie free agents following the draft.
The Colts made the no-brainer decision to keep Luck in the fold for at least two more seasons, exercising his fifth-year option for 2016. The question is when, not if, they’ll ink him to a deal that keeps him a Colt for the duration of his career. Since the Colts chose Luck with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, he has started all 52 of their games (playoffs included), led them to three straight double-digit-win outputs, and thrown for 86 touchdowns and nearly 13,000 yards in the regular season. He’ll be paid handsomely for his performance and status as the face of Indy’s franchise, and ESPN’s Mike Wells wrote earlier this week that the Colts and Luck will get to work on a contract extension after the upcoming season.
Top 10 cap hits for 2015:
- Vontae Davis, CB: $11,250,000
- Andre Johnson, WR: $7,500,000
- Robert Mathis, OLB: $7,470,586
- Anthony Castonzo, LT: $7,438,000
- Arthur Jones, DL: $7,100,000
- Andrew Luck, QB: $7,034,363
- Trent Cole, OLB: $6,953,125
- Gosder Cherilus, RT: $6,900,000
- Greg Toler, CB: $5,833,334
- D’Qwell Jackson, LB: $5,750,000
After a productive offseason, the Colts look like a better team than the one that made the final four last year. At the very least, barring injuries, their two-year reign atop the AFC South should extend to a third season. That would mean a fourth straight playoff berth, which could lead to a third consecutive January confrontation with the Patriots – who have humiliated the Colts in back-to-back postseasons.