Moving on from Johnson, Hasselbeck just the start as Colts address roster

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Matt Hasselbeck

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 29, 2016) – The reality of time marching on came to the forefront during the NFL Scouting Combine, and we’re not talking about how fast this receiver or that cornerback ran the 40.

We’re talking about how teams, the Indianapolis Colts in particular, once again are moving forward and reshaping their roster by parting ways with a handful of their own players.

Reports surfaced over the weekend the Colts have decided to release receiver Andre Johnson and not re-sign quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who becomes an unrestricted free agent March 9.

No one should be surprised by either move.

Jettisoning Johnson, who turns 35 in July and looked his age last season, frees up $5 million against the salary cap. The Colts gambled on him last offseason – a three-year, $21 million contract, of which $10 million was guaranteed – and lost.

Despite Hasselbeck being the Colts’ unofficial MVP in 2015 for keeping them relevant as Andrew Luck missed nine games, we considered the 40-year-old QB a 50-50 proposition to return because of his age.

However, if the Colts decided to move on from Hasselbeck because of financial considerations, shame on them. A one-year deal likely would have cost them something in the $3 million range, a reasonable insurance premium when you consider his most recent impact (5-3 as a starter in ’15).

The presumptive backup, Josh Freeman, 28, is under contract for 2016 at $760,000. But no one really knows if getting younger with Freeman also means getting better than Hasselbeck. Remember, Freeman was available for a reason when the Colts signed him in late December.

And no one should believe Johnson and Hasselbeck represent the extent of the Colts’ offseason roster makeover.

We’re expecting general manager Ryan Grigson to inform linebacker Trent Cole he’s one-and-done in Indianapolis. Cole never was the pass-rush threat the team anticipated – three sacks last season – and his release frees up another $6.125 million in cap space. Yet another free-agency misstep.

Also, we won’t consider it breaking news if Grigson announces his patience with Bjoern Werner is at an end and he waives the 2013 first-round draft pick. With Werner, enough is enough. A player with 6.5 career sacks was inactive for six games last season. His release, by the way, frees up an additional $1.48 million under the cap.

That bit of maneuvering should provide Grigson and owner Jim Irsay adequate flexibility to address personnel concerns, most notably signing Luck to his exorbitant extension.

The Colts also are interested in re-signing placekicker Adam Vinatieri, linebacker Jerrell Freeman and one of their tight ends, Coby Fleener or Dwayne Allen. Safety Dwight Lowery should return, but cornerback Greg Toler’s three-year stint in Indy probably is over.

While the Colts will move forward with a budgetary blueprint that includes Luck’s extension, they still will have the wherewithal to make an initial splash in the veteran free-agent market, which opens March 9.

Listen to one nugget Grigson shared when chatting with the media at the Combine.

“If we really want to sign someone, Jim Irsay is right there to open his wallet,’’ he said.

Grigson and Coach Chuck Pagano made it clear the Colts’ top priorities in the April 28-30 draft are upgrading the offensive line and pass rush, but possible free-agent signings could impact that. If Grigson lands a top-flight offensive lineman in free agency, perhaps his focus with the 18th overall pick in the draft turns to pass rusher or cornerback.

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