Uncertainty for Colts includes pending free agents

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Trent Cole #58 of the Indianapolis Colts makes a sack on Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indianapolis defeated Tampa Bay 25-12. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Change is on the horizon for the Indianapolis Colts.

And, no, we’re not talking about near the top of the organizational food chain.

While so much attention is being given, and rightly so, to the futures of general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano, more than a dozen players cleaned out their lockers Monday morning and had to be wondering if they’ll return in April when the Colts open their offseason conditioning program.

“Every offseason change happens in the NFL,’’ Andrew Luck said. “I don’t know what level that is or where that is.

“Yeah, of course you anticipate change. It’s part of playing in this league.’’

One franchise cornerstone definitely won’t return. Sunday’s win over Jacksonville was the 210th and final game for Robert Mathis. He announced his retirement two days earlier.

That left 11 players about to become unrestricted free agents and three more who will be restricted.

A look at the free-agents-to-be and how the team might approach each:

Unrestricted:

  • TE Jack Doyle: Timing is everything, and the hometown kid (Cathedral H.S.) picked a great time to have the best season of his career. Second on the team with 59 catches and 584 yards. Fourth with five touchdowns. All career highs. You don’t re-sign Doyle because he’s a local guy. You keep him because he’s earned a big payday. The obvious question: how much is Doyle worth? Keep in mind the team gave Dwayne Allen a four-year, $29.4 million deal last offseason. Doyle won’t get that, but neither will he – nor should he – agree to a hometown discount. Pay the man. The market probably will be in the $3-4 million per year range. And we’re betting Doyle’s agent believes that’s low-balling his client.
  • OLB Erik Walden: Again, nice time to tack up a team-high and career-best 11 sacks. The Colts might want him back, but we doubt they’ll even remote consider overpaying considering Walden’s age (31) and the fact he’s never been a major sack producer. His previous season-best was six. At the right price, bring him back. But teams are blinded by sack totals. Someone probably offers him more than the Colts.
  • S Mike Adams: Tough call. He’s been the most opportunistic defensive player over the past three seasons with 12 interceptions, seven forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries. He’s started 44 of 48 regular-season games and been selected to two Pro Bowls. But Adams turns 36 in March. He won’t command a hefty contract, but will a team that must get younger on defense make an exception for Adams?
  • CB/S Darius Butler: Easier call. The transition from nickel corner to safety began during training camp and crystalized as the season unfolded. Monday, Butler made it clear he’s on board with finishing a solid career as a safety. His size in run support might be a concern – 5-10, 188 pounds – but the guy has a nose for the football. He has 12 interceptions since signing on as a street free agent in September 2012, and returned three for TDs. If management is convinced Butler represents a viable and younger option at safety than Adams – he’ll turn 31 in March – retain him and thank Adams for three outstanding seasons. It’s hard to imagine the Colts re-signing both Adams and Butler even though we’re still not sold on second-round draft pick T.J. Green.
  • OLB Trent Cole: He still wants to play, but it most certainly will be elsewhere. Cole returned to the field in December after undergoing back surgery, and proved he still could contribute. But there shouldn’t be a place on defense for a 34-year-old pass rusher who has five sacks in his last 21 games.
  • RB Robert Turbin: Re-sign him as long as it makes financial sense. We don’t envision him as an eventual replacement for Frank Gore, but Turbin is an ideal complement and was ultra-productive in short-yardage and hurry-up situations. His eight total TDs tied Gore for the team lead and his seven rushing TDs were the most by a Colt since Joseph Addai had 10 in 2009. All of that with Turbin having a modest 73 touches – 47 rushes, 26 receptions.

Turbin was one of seven players to convert each of his third-and-1 situations (minimum four), finishing 5-for-5. The ultimate role player.

  • RB Jordan Todman: His role as No. 3 running back probably was brief. The team needs to find a young back, probably in the middle rounds of the draft, and groom him to be its long-term answer. The running back mix in 2017 needs to be Gore, Turbin and a promising rookie.
  • G Hugh Thornton: Spent the entire season on IR and was the only holdover from the disastrous 2013 draft.
  • LB Chris Carter: Appeared in eight games and managed one tackle.
  • CB Darryl Morris: Twelve games, two starts, 34 tackles. He filled in when corners started dropping, but an upgrade is required.
  • S Duke Williams: Signed in mid-December and inactive for last two games.

Restricted:

  • DT Zach Kerr: A solid rotational player on the defensive line. The team should extend the one-year tender, and that will be in excess of $1.6 million.
  • OL Jon Harrison: He’s probably worth retaining until everybody’s role on the offensive line is defined, but the restricted tender might be prohibitive.
  • LB Josh McNary: See above.