INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – At the risk of sounding callous, there’s an obvious song to add to the pre-game playlist Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Cue David Bowie.
Turn and face the strange
Whatever happens during the Indianapolis Colts’ three-hour season finale against the Houston Texans, change looms.
And we’re talking major change, from top (very likely Chuck Pagano and a good portion of his staff) to bottom (veteran free agents-to-be and marginal players who were necessary when injuries hit, but need to be replaced with better options).
That’s been the undeniable reality since January 21 when owner Jim Irsay fired general manager Ryan Grigson, retained Pagano and said the yet-to-be-named general manager – hello, Chris Ballard – would “come in, evaluate our whole football program and we will see where we are at.
“But for 2017, Chuck is our coach.’’
All of the gears go in motion shortly after 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon, after the Colts either go 6-0 in season wrap-ups under Pagano, escape the AFC South basement and nudge their record to a still unsightly 4-12, or head into the offseason with a seven-game losing streak and 3-13 record.
From a personnel standpoint, more than a dozen players will become unrestricted free agents in February. Some must be part of the future. Most will be wearing the horseshoe for a final time and will consider Indy just the latest stop on their NFL adventure.
Pagano’s message to his players this week: it’s our last rodeo together.
“I had a picture of a guy on a bucking bronco with spurs on it,’’ he said. “It’s our last ride together.
“No team that I’ve ever been a part of has ever been the same, regardless of the record. That’s just the National Football League.’’
That in mind, a look at players who can test the veteran free agent market in February:
PK Adam Vinatieri:
Happy 45th birthday. A belated present should be a new contract that allows him to finish his Hall of Fame career in Indy. He’s going to play in ’18, and all things being equal, he’d just as soon stick around. His family has sunk its roots in central Indiana and the idea of dad uprooting the wife and kids, or spending extended time away while with another team is a possibility, but hardly appealing.
Irsay loves the history of the NFL, and he’d like nothing more than to have Vinatieri become the league’s all-time leading scorer as a Colt. He needs 66 points to surpass Morten Andersen’s record (2,544), and that would happen midway through ’18.
Ballard will have enough issues to deal with in the offseason. This doesn’t need to be one of them. Bottom line: Re-sign him.
RB Frank Gore:
Like Vinatieri, Gore is committed to playing at least one more season. He admitted this week he’s open to returning for a fourth season with the Colts – providing Andrew Luck returns as well – but it’s debatable whether there will be a spot on the roster for a 35-year old running back. That’s not a knock on Gore, who continues to defy Father Time. The guy still can play at a high level and it’s impossible to overstate the value of his presence in the locker room and on the playing field.
Ballard appreciates everything about Gore and Gore would be a tremendous mentor for what promises to be a young running backs room. But we’ll be surprised if he returns. We expect Gore to settle into the No. 4 slot in career rushing – he needs 176 yards to lead-frog Curtis Martin – in another uniform. Bottom line: Thank him for three solid seasons, and move on.
CB Rashaan Melvin:
In the grand scheme of things, he might be the most important free agent to retain. There are intriguing young corners to develop: Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston, Kenny Moore II. Melvin, 28, has emerged as a solid starting corner and could be the leader of the pack, especially with the departure of Vontae Davis.
The issue with Melvin, as with most free agents, will be about market value. He’s going to get paid, but how much? If veteran free agency has proven anything, it’s that it’s often more prudent to overpay for your own free agent than risk investing in another team’s castoff. Bottom line: Re-sign him.
WR Donte Moncrief:
This might be a tough decision for Ballard. In a contract year, Moncrief was a total non-factor. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances: a shoulder injury during training camp, an ankle injury that’s kept him out of the last three games, the absence of Andrew Luck. But the body of work during Moncrief’s fourth season is unacceptable (26 catches, 391 yards, 2 TDs).
Ballard must decide if this season was an aberration, or an indication Moncrief doesn’t merit a new deal. It’s tough to jettison a 24-year old, 6-2, 216-pound wideout, but . . . Bottom line: Move on.
G Jack Mewhort:
Another tough decision. The 2014 second-round pick has started 45 games, but will finish his second straight season on IR with a knee injury. He will have missed 17 games the last two seasons. Mewhort wants to return, but realizes his injury history might sabotage that. Bottom line: Re-sign him to a one-year, low-risk, prove-it contract.
S Darius Butler:
We could argue no free-agent acquisition has outperformed expectations. The Colts signed Butler off the street Sept. 25, 2012 when injuries ravaged their secondary. He excelled in the nickel role with 12 interceptions, three of which he returned for touchdowns, in 81 games. Butler’s ability to transition to safety this season prolonged his career, and we could argue his experience would benefit what promises to be a young secondary next season. But we won’t. Bottom line: Move on.
CB Pierre Desir:
His role changed dramatically with the departure of Davis, and he proved up to the task. Before suffering a season-ending pec injury Dec. 3 at Jacksonville, Desir contributed an interception and seven defended passes in nine starts. Bottom line: Re-sign him.
LB Barkevious Mingo:
One of Ballard’s less heralded offseason free-agent acquisitions exceeded expectations. Mingo has appeared in all 15 games and started six games in place of injured John Simon. He’s a valuable rotational player who has offered a little bit of everything: 39 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 quarterback hits, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries. Bottom line: Re-sign him.
LB Jon Bostic: An upgrade is needed at inside linebacker; that’s a given. But let’s not summarily dismiss Bostic, who signed a one-year deal in the offseason. He started the first 14 games and piled up 97 tackles before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Denver. Bottom line: Re-sign him, just limit his exposure in coverage.
WR Kamar Aiken:
The Colts continued to swing and miss in free agency when looking for receiver depth (Darrius Heyward-Bey, Hakeem Nicks, Andre Johnson; Donnie Avery remains the cream of the crop). Aiken suffered too many drops and offered too few meaningful plays (14 catches, 131 yards). Bottom line: Move on.
The others: QB Scott Tolzien, C Mike Person, TE Brandon Williams. Bottom line: Move on.