Assessing the Colts during the offseason: Defensive backs

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Darius Butler

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – By any standard, the Indianapolis Colts weren’t good enough in 2016.

The only bottom line that matters: finishing 8-8 (again) and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

It’s going to take significant personnel changes during the offseason if the Colts are going to return to relevancy. That includes prudent investments in veteran free agency, which begins March 9, and further bolstering a flawed roster through the April 27-29 draft.

Before we consider outside solutions, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts.

Today’s final installment: Defensive backs

  • Under contract: CB Vontae Davis, CB Patrick Robinson, S Clayton Geathers, S T.J. Green, CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Tevin Mitchel, S Stefan McClure, CB Larry Scott, S Lee Hightower, CB Frankie Williams, CB Christopher Milton, S Matthias Farley, CB Charles James III, S Duke Williams, CB Darryl Morris.
  • Pending free agents: S Mike Adams, CB Darius Butler.
  • Looking back: One of the least effective seasons by a Colts secondary – we’re talking ever – actually was a collaborative effort. It’s impossible to discuss coverage on the backend without taking into account pressure up front.
    And that’s the two-layered postscript to ’15. The Colts were erratic at pressuring quarterbacks as evidenced by their 33 sacks, tied for 19th-fewest in the league. That complicated matters for a secondary that entered the season with injury and depth issues, and without 2015 third-round pick/bust D’Joun Smith, who was waived/injured Sept. 2.
    The projected starters – cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson; safeties Mike Adams and Clayton Geathers – were together for only four games. Davis missed the first two games with an ankle injury, offseason foot surgery forced Geathers to miss the opener and Robinson missed two of the first three games with a concussion. Antonio Cromartie, signed in late August to compensate for Davis’ situation, lasted six weeks. The team decided enough was enough when he played poorly in London against Jacksonville.
    First-year coordinator Ted Monachino relied heavily on Rashaan Melvin, Matthias Farley and Darryl Morris. All were added just prior to the Sept. 11 opener. Darius Butler, a solid nickel corner, eventually saw more time at safety to compensate for deficiencies at that spot.
    The end result wasn’t pretty. The Colts tied a franchise-low with 8 interceptions. Opposing quarterbacks completed 64.9 percent of their passes, 7th-highest in the league, and enjoyed a 97.5 passer rating, the 3rd-highest figure in team history. Indy allowed 27 TD passes. Twenty-eight teams allowed fewer.
  • Looking ahead: Fifteen corners and safeties are under contract, but we’d argue the only two who ease our concern are Davis and Geathers. We won’t be surprised if the oft-injured Robinson (nine games missed) is cut. As it stands, he ranks No. 8 on the salary-cap budget ($4.5 million) and the team can create $2.5 million in cap space by moving on. Green, second-round pick, was an interesting talent early, but an undisciplined liability as the season unfolded.
    Clearly, this is an area that requires serious attention in the coming months.
    Initially, the Colts must decide whether to re-invest in Adams. Or Butler. Or both. Adams’ play slipped ever-so-slightly after his Pro Bowl seasons of 2014-15, but he remained a stabilizing force with 80 tackles (second on the team), two interceptions and two forced fumbles. At issue? Even though the competitive juices still churn, he turns 36 in March. Management might opt to re-sign Butler, 5 years younger than Adams, and make his switch to safety permanent.
    After dealing with the internal issues, it’s imperative the Colts add a couple of front-line players through free agency and the April draft. Davis needs a more reliable sidekick than Greg Toler (2013-15) and Robinson (’16), and that guy isn’t on the roster. Even if Adams or Butler returns, Green’s lackluster rookie season gives us pause.
  • Offseason priority: High.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.