Following an embarrassing 45-7 AFC Championship Game loss to the New England Patriots, the Indianapolis Colts have a number of holes to address this offseason. Offensively, the team must improve along the interior of its offensive line. Specifically, it must find a long-term answer at the starting right guard position. Arguably the best free agent guard available is the San Francisco 49ers Mike Iupati.
December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati (77) during the fourth quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Levi
The 5th-year pro has been among one of the best starting right guards in the NFL since being selected in the 1st round by the 49ers in the 2010 NFL Draft out of Idaho. During his 49ers tenture, he’s been a 3x Pro Bowler and 1x All-Pro. He’s proven to be incredibly durable too, having only missed 5 regular season starts in his first 5 NFL seasons.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, it looks as though his days in San Francisco may be numbered due to the team’s salary cap limitations.
For the Colts, it could turn out to be a blessing. Their 2013 3rd round pick in Hugh Thornton has been wildly inconsistent in his 20 starts over the past two seasons at starting right guard, and it’s uncertain whether he’s still viewed as the long-term answer at the position. While rookie guard Jack Mewhort shined as a rookie at starting left guard, the team could a similar type of player at the other guard spot. Things quickly went from bad to worse this season as veteran journeyman Lance Louis was forced to make 7 starts as a fill-in starter at starting right guard due to Thornton’s season-ending injuries.
The team is looking to jump-start their running game next season and become better balanced. By signing Iupati, the team could certainly achieve this goal. The 27 year old is a certified road grader in the ground game, as one of the league’s most dominant run blockers. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription), his +18.5 run blocking grade was the 2nd best overall among all starting NFL guards.
October 5, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers guard Mike Iupati (77) blocks during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs at Levi
However, as great of an asset as Iupati can be in the running game, he’s a bit shaky in pass protection. If protecting Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is the primary goal, then Iupati may not help to safely meet this objective. Per ProfootballFocus, his -7.5 in pass blocking placed him as the 55th best guard in this regard, just two spots ahead of the Colts very own Hugh Thornton.
Between both his run and pass blocking, Iupati’s overall grade is a +11.2, which placed him as the 14th best starting guard last season. Even with his pass blocking deficiencies, he’d still be a significant upgrade over both Thornton (48th) and Louis (62nd) due to his run blocking dominance. He plays with a “little bit of nasty” and would give this offensive line a physical identity in the trenches.
Owner Jim Irsay even said following his team’s postseason loss, that the Colts had to “get tougher” and specifically mentioned the need to be able to effectively run the football to better compliment Andrew Luck:
"“What’s missing is trying to continue to bring in a team that I talked about, which is a really tough defensive team. A team that can run the ball and surround Andrew with that.’’"
Signing Iupati would go a long way in helping his vision come to fruition. He’s among the best run blockers in the game and has helped to anchor one of the league’s most consistently successful power running games with the 49ers in recent seasons. Even if his pass blocking can be iffy at times, the Colts absolutely have to be able to run the football better season. Iupati would help give them a smashmouth identity in the interior of their offensive line and definitely aid their cause.
With anywhere from a projected $25-40 million of cap space depending on salary cuts, the Colts could have plenty of room to ink Iupati. It will cost them though, as Iupati is projected to become one of the highest paid starting offensive guards in football. His new contract with whichever team signs him will presumably command $6-8 million annually per season: