The free agent signing period in the NFL will begin on March 9, and the Indianapolis Colts are currently in the process of preparing their game plan. One option that every NFL team needs to consider is the use of the franchise tag, which allows a team to keep a player for one season at a predetermined salary (based on position). The Colts have used this option more than any other team in the league since its inaugural year in 1993, but according to the Indianapolis Star, it doesn't appear that Indianapolis will use the franchise tag this time around.
The Colts don't have any mega-star players entering free agency this offseason, so the use of the franchise tag designation would not make sense. Players who are tagged are to be paid the average of the top five salaries in the NFL at their position, and no one on Indianapolis' free agent list will command that type of salary on the open market. Some of the more notable Colts free agents would include tight end Jack Doyle, running back Robert Turbin, outside linebacker Erik Walden, defensive back Darius Butler, and safety Mike Adams. Doyle and Walden are probably the two most critical free agents for Indianapolis to re-sign.
Jack Doyle had a storybook season in 2016, coming out of nowhere (he had mainly been a special teams player) to become the Colts' best tight end, and second-leading receiver on the team. Doyle is consistent as a receiver, and he's an above-average blocker. Doyle and quarterback Andrew Luck seemed to develop a strong rapport over the course of the season, evidenced by Doyle's 59 receptions for 584 yards in 2016. With tight end Dwayne Allen coming off a disappointing campaign after signing a new contract a year ago, Doyle's importance to the team has been magnified even further.
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SB Nation discusses Doyle's free agency status, and opines that he may be the Colts' top priority in terms of in-house free agents. Additionally, Jack Doyle adds a great deal to the team in terms of intangibles. Doyle is exceptionally popular with his teammates -- his solid football fundamentals, charismatic personality, and positive attitude have won him the admiration and respect of every player in the Indianapolis Colts locker room. Doyle's contributions both on and off the field have made him invaluable to the Colts, and as long as they don't have to get into an ugly bidding war for his services, it is imperative that they re-sign Doyle during the offseason.
In terms of outside free agents, Fansided has published a piece that goes over some of Indianapolis' potential options. Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye could be a replacement for oft-injured Patrick Robinson. Nick Fairly of the New Orleans Saints could bolster the Colts' defensive line, and likely at a reasonable price. Indianapolis' woes at inside linebacker could be solved by acquiring Dont'a Hightower of the Patriots, although he would require a very large investment. The Colts also need help at safety, and the Arizona Cardinals have a young player in Tony Jefferson who could be an outstanding under-the-radar signing by the team.
Another Cardinals defender, outside linebacker Chandler Jones, may end up receiving a franchise tag from Arizona, but he could be a darkhorse candidate to join Indianapolis in order to upgrade the team's pass rush. Other prospects at the edge rusher position include Nick Perry of the Green Bay Packers and San Diego's Melvin Ingram. There seems to be a pipeline from the Baltimore Ravens to the Indianapolis Colts due to head coach Chuck Pagano's standing as a former defensive coordinator in Baltimore. The latest Raven to join the Horseshoe could be interior defensive lineman Brandon Williams, who is the type of run-stopper the Colts defense desperately needs.
In a recent article from the Colts website, new general manager Chris Ballard discusses the influence the Green Bay Packers' team-building approach has had on him as he closely observed the team when he was a member of the Chicago Bears staff. Ballard mentions using the Packers' method of evaluating players as one of the things he will try to emulate, and given Green Bay's performance in recent years, that should be a blueprint for success in Indianapolis. Free agency is less than a month away, so Ballard's chance to show us all what he's learned will be coming soon.
[Featured Image by Michael Conroy/AP Images]