Colts face significant issues in offseason, including Harrison, improving run game
The sting of the latest, numbing one-and-done playoff experience will linger, but the Indianapolis Colts soon must move on.
Tony Dungy's decision -- retire or return for an eighth season as coach -- tops the list of issues that will affect their future. But that's just the beginning. A few others include:
Adios, Marvin? Marvin Harrison's place in NFL history is set, but he could be history with the Colts. In an unforgiving business, he might not be considered worth the investment. Harrison, 36, is due a $9 million base salary in 2009 and will count $13.4 million against a league salary cap that's expected to be in the $123 million range.
Maybe Harrison would consider taking a significant pay cut, but management might not take that route, convinced it's time to cut ties with another longtime offensive cornerstone as it did with Edgerrin James. The Colts can free up approximately $6 million in cap space by terminating Harrison's contract.
He's still a fan favorite, but largely was a non-factor in '08. In his last three games, including Saturday night's playoff loss at San Diego, Harrison had 12 catches for 73 yards. During the regular season he averaged a career-low 10.6 yards on 60 receptions.
Veteran exodus? Management faces some difficult decisions regarding its veteran free agents. The list includes three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday, starting cornerback Kelvin Hayden and backup running back Dominic Rhodes.
Re-signing Saturday and/or Hayden won't be cheap. If they are intent on maximizing their free-agent opportunities, it will be difficult, or even impossible, to re-sign both. An option is to re-sign the player who is more affordable and use the franchise tag on the other. Or, Indy might simply "tag'' one and let the other walk.
The one-year franchise tag for either would be hefty -- in the $8.6 million range for Saturday and more than $9.5 million for Hayden.
Addressing deficiencies: The pressure will be on team president Bill Polian and his personnel staff to address roster deficiencies and fill holes. Fans seeking a quick fix will clamor for a couple of high-priced, high-profile free agent signings. Tennessee defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth and Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh are the most attractive names, but their teams might not allow them to hit the market. Even if they do, the Colts tend to shy away from throwing significant cash at veteran free agents.
A more likely scenario is for Indy to once again look to the draft, then the more reasonably-priced secondary phase of free agency. If Harrison departs, the top priorities would be a receiver to complement Reggie Wayne and Anthony Gonzalez, and a defensive tackle. The young players on the interior of the D-line offered what they could, but an athletic tackle with bulk is needed.
Whether it's re-signing their own or other team's free agents, money and salary-cap space will be an issue. The Colts feature one of the more top-heavy rosters in the league. In 2009, their top 10 players will count more than $89 million against the cap, providing the team pro-rates an $8.2 million roster bonus due Dallas Clark. That would lower his cap number to $7.34 million from $13.3 million. Peyton Manning will count $21.2 million, Harrison $13.4 million and Dwight Freeney $11.22 million.
The running game: Either Joseph Addai and Rhodes became very ordinary very quickly, or the offensive line didn't get the job done. The Colts fielded one of the least productive running attacks in club history. One-dimensional teams seldom reach the playoffs let alone make deep runs once they get there.
The Colts have good, young talent on the O-line (rookies Mike Pollak, Jamey Richard and Steve Justice), but Saturday's future with the team is uncertain and veteran left guard Ryan Lilja missed the season with a right knee that didn't respond to two offseason surgeries.
Something must give.
Feb. 1: Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.
Feb. 8: Pro Bowl in Honolulu.
Feb. 18-24: NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Feb. 27: Veteran free agency begins.
March 22-25: Owners meeting in Dana Point, Calif.
April 25-26: NFL draft.