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COLUMN

Colts, Grigson face tough offseason decisions

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For more on the Colts, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1

Team must decide on Freeney, Avery, Collie, McAfee

Tuesday, January 8, 2013 - 3:54 am

Ryan Grigson has no offseason. Not if he wants the Indianapolis Colts to be better in 2013.

Grigson, the Colts' general manager, did a great job putting parts in place in his first season with the team. The great moves include drafting Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton, Vick Ballard, Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, signing Jerrell Freeman and trading for Vontae Davis. Every one of those players, along with veteran leaders Reggie Wayne and Robert Mathis, will be critical next season.

But there's much more to do.

Grigson has a boatload of unrestricted free agents to make decisions on, including rush end Dwight Freeney, wide receivers Donnie Avery and Austin Collie, cornerback Jerraud Powers, defensive tackle Fili Moala, offensive lineman Winston Justice, punter Pat McAfee and quarterback Drew Stanton.

The Colts have a lot of salary cap space to work with, but how much of that will go toward the above players or some others on the market?

For sentimental reasons, it'd be nice to have Freeney finish his career in Indianapolis. To learn how much sentimentality plays a part, see: Manning, Peyton.

Chances are Freeney is done with the Colts, and he seems relatively at peace with the idea. Of course, maybe that's the result of watching so many former teammates move out and move on.

“We'll figure that out, I guess, coming up soon,” Freeney said Sunday. “They'll contact whoever they have to contact, and we'll see what it is.”

Collie's history of injury surely means his time has passed in Indy. Avery's a tougher call. He isn't an elite receiver on par with Wayne (not many are) and he drops some passes, but he has been healthy for the first time and shows promise. I'd say it depends on the price. Rookie LaVon Brazill is there to push for playing time. Wayne and Hilton should be 1-2. I have no problem with Hilton's occasional drops. He was a rookie.

Of more concern is the offensive line, where injuries hit and inconsistency prevailed. Second-year left tackle Anthony Castonzo was solid, but still growing. Joe Reitz, when healthy, was effective. Same with Justice. The rest of the line seemed so-so at best. Luck was sacked 44 times (counting three by the Ravens). He was hit every seven minutes or so. He's tough and durable, but needs better protection.

Davis seemed like a great pickup at cornerback, and Antoine Bethea will be back as a quality safety. The rest is up in the air. New faces will be brought in to challenge. Whether Powers is retained seems 50-50 on the surface.

McAfee's a great punter and a fun personality, but this comes down to the Colts' willingness to pay. I believe punters are worth more money than most people do. Teams realize how much they're worth when they have a bad one. They should find a way to keep him.

The Colts coaching staff likes former Norwell quarterback Chandler Harnish, who spent most of the season on the practice squad. Maybe they let Stanton leave to pursue a starting job and give Harnish the chance to win the No.2 spot. Luck's durability suggests he'll give up snaps about as often as Manning did, so a backup's work is destined to be behind the scenes.

The Colts were 11-5 in the regular season. Their schedule will be tougher next season. (Is anyone eager for the Broncos' visit to Lucas Oil Stadium?) But so many of those key young players will be stronger and more NFL-wise a year from now.

“Hopefully, we can take this season and learn from it, good and bad,” Wayne said. “We're such a young team, we got the feel of it. We got what a playoff game feels like, especially on the road. So we can use this as a learning tool and we'll have that bad taste in our mouth this offseason. Hopefully, we can capitalize on that.”

The Colts must draft well again, without the luxury of the high first-round pick and no second-round pick (traded to the Dolphins for Davis).

Grigson will also likely deal with some coaching changes, particularly if offensive coordinator Bruce Arians lands a head-coaching job elsewhere. Grigson has shown a willingness to financially reward Arians to stay, but money might not make that decision. Arians has longed to be an NFL head coach, and his audition (9-3) with the Colts was a good one.

The Colts could be a better team next season and win fewer games.

Perhaps the only certainty is that the front office won't be complacent. “Build the Monster” was the theme. It's only a baby monster so far.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Reggie Hayes at rhayes@news-sentinel.com