Colts Free Agency: Who to keep and who to let go

Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle (84) carries the ball up the sideline against the Houston Texans during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 16, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle (84) carries the ball up the sideline against the Houston Texans during the third quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports /

The offseason has begun with some turmoil in Indianapolis. With the coach and GM mystery now debunked, there are more pressing matters at hand. Most notably, the question of which players will be wearing the horseshoe in 2017.

Indianapolis will have 12 free agents to negotiate with this offseason. There are also players that could be given extensions, or Colts that find themselves re-negotiating their contracts. That will not be seen on a full-scale level however. We may see Jack Mewhort receive a much needed extension. Or we could see D’Qwell Jackson re-negotiate his deal as his 52 tackles in 2016 is not worth the $5 million Indianapolis is due to pay him next season.

The only reason for keeping Jackson at this point would be if the Colts cannot find linebacker depth elsewhere. Antonio Morrison and Edwin Jackson are still too raw to be the sole inside linebackers in 2017. Although, they did show some nice flashes at the end of 2016. However, they are not good enough tacklers or coverage players yet, despite their intriguing speed. That is reason enough to keep Jackson, at a reduced price tag, or scope out a good complimentary linebacker in free agency.

Both Mewhort and Jackson are under contract through next season, so the steps illustrated above are not a necessity. The more pressing matter this offseason are the players with expiring deals (obviously). Indianapolis will not keep all 12, but there are some players who are of vital importance to the team’s future.

Jack Doyle is the most vital of these free agent players. He has demonstrated his value over the past three seasons. Even though he only began to gain national recognition this season, Colts fans know Doyle’s abilities well. With the departure of Coby Fleener and the inconsistency of Dwayne Allen, Doyle needs to be re-signed.

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What has been one of the Colts calling cards on offense over the years? To have a tight end that can serve as a safety valve for the quarterback. Colts fans saw this with Dallas Clark in the Peyton Manning years. It was evident this season that Doyle was Andrew Luck’s safety valve. Whether it was a third and short situation or a red zone pass, Doyle was there. Thus, Doyle had career highs in receiving yards (584) and receiving touchdowns (five). If the Colts keep a similar wide receiving corp in 2017, Doyle will only see those stats improve if he is brought back. The price-tag may be hefty, but at this point Doyle’s receiving and blocking abilities are worth it.

Mike Adams is another player who should be brought back next season. He will turn 36 this coming March, so it is safe to say he will not see an overly lucrative deal. Adams does still have skill though, and the Colts need that in a secondary that was near the bottom of the league in 2016. Coming off a Pro Bowl year in 2015 that saw him snag five interceptions and cause three forced fumbles, Adams looked human in 2016. He only brought in two picks, but he accumulated more tackles (62) in 2016 than he did in his Pro Bowl year (52).

What the Colts need on defense is speed, and Adams does not necessarily fit that criteria at his age. Indianapolis could look to the draft for a young, speedy safety, but Adams will still need to be on the roster. A young safety will be undisciplined to begin with, but Adams is a smart, disciplined player who still has gas left in his tank.

Robert Turbin is another player who should be brought back in 2017. After bouncing from team to team, he seems to have found a home in Indianapolis. He has proved extremely reliable with seven rushing touchdowns in 2016. Although Frank Gore fantasy owners may refer to him as a “vulture”, Colts fans should see shades of Dominic Rhodes in Turbin.

On top of all of that, Turbin genuinely wants to play for Indianapolis. After the Colts loss to the Raiders on Christmas Eve, Turbin gave this quote to Zak Keefer of the Indy Star:

"I’m gonna tell you what, though, I wanna be back here next year because I’m fucking coming back to help this team win a championship. Period, with a fucking vengeance."

I apologize for the vulgar language there, but how can you not love that? That sort of angst is what this team needs! Any NFL roster would love to have Turbin, but he specifically said he wants to play here. Given his attitude, the Colts would be silly not to bring him back.

Zach Kerr and Darius Butler are question marks for me at this point. Kerr is not a starter, but does supply some size in the middle outside of David Parry. Kerr is a player the Colts do not want to spend too much money on though, as he is a reserve.

As for Butler, he is not a good enough cover corner to be the secondary guy alongside Vontae Davis. At his best, he does well in the slot, and more teams are beginning to use the slot for their best receivers. This is the case when top cornerbacks are glued to one end of the field, like Seattle’s Richard Sherman. Butler holds value in his ability to defend speedy wide receivers in the slot.

Indianapolis experimented with Butler at safety in 2016. if he does stay, we could see him there more often, depending upon his health and the health of Clayton Geathers. Butler’s health was an issue this past season and his performance lagged because of it. That may play into Indianapolis’ favor as they can try to get him at a cheaper price tag.

Finally, I would not mind letting Trent Cole and Eric Walden walk this offseason. Cole has been nothing short of disappointing, especially given the amount of money he is being paid. With the budding Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, Cole lags behind. Especially if the Colts want to increase their defensive speed. His 32 tackles over the past two seasons (only 21 games played) is not up to par in my estimation.

Walden had a career year in 2016, with 11 sacks and 31 tackles. This stellar play in a contract year leads me to believe that he will be asking for a big deal. He will be 32 next season, so he does not warrant a long-term deal. Compared to the rest of his career, 2016 could be considered an anomaly of sorts. Giving Walden a lot of money is a risky play at this point in his career.

The Colts do need pass rush though, given the retirement of Robert Mathis. I think that Indianapolis would be better off testing the free agent market or the draft. Maybe a guy like Robert Ayers or Derrick Shelby will suffice. Re-signing Walden after the tremendous season he had could be a slippery slope. I lean more towards the Colts slipping and falling if they choose to keep him.

Now that we know who will be coaching next season (sigh), it’s time to look ahead. Indianapolis has some important decisions to make regarding their free agents. Hopefully, they will make the right choice on who to keep and who to let go.

Next: Report: Pagano to Return