With the flurry of NFL offseason action nearly in the books, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar take stock of every team’s offseason. Find all our Offseason Report Cards here.
In 2013, the Indianapolis Colts won an AFC South division in which they themselves seemed to be the only team worthy of contention. The South was the only division with just one team possessing a .500-or-better record, and it was a perfect time for a relatively unimposing Colts team to blow through Jacksonville's continued rebuilding, Tennessee's continued mediocrity and Houston's epic, unexpected collapse. The Colts were able to do this despite losing Reggie Wayne for the last three months of the regular season (and the full postseason) with a torn ACL, fielding a defense that finished right in the middle of the NFL's pack. Moreover, a trade for Cleveland running back Trent Richardson signified the team's depth issues at the position, cost Indy its first-round pick in 2014 and provided very little on the field. Richardson carried the ball 157 times in 2013 and averaged 2.9 yards per carry. Without Andrew Luck's continued ascendance and a surprise season from receiver T.Y. Hilton (not to mention a very favorable schedule), the Colts might have been the second team in league history (the 2010 Seahawks are the only) to win a division with a losing record.
So now, without that first-round pick to reinforce the troops, and with the possibility that every team in their division has improved in the offseason, can the Colts make it back to the top of their division and post an 11-5 record for the third straight season?
In the 2014 offseason, the Colts focused more on retaining a few key veterans than any overwhelming roster renovation -- defensive end Fili Moala, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and cornerback Vontae Davis were the main names re-signed. They brought in linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, end Arthur Jones and receiver Hakeem Nicks, but it would be a stretch to imagine those players making enormous differences when the season begins. Add in a less-than-spectacular draft class, and it would appear that the Colts will have to hope for another underwhelming performance from their division mates.
Oh, yeah -- there's also the matter of Robert Mathis' four-game suspension, and the continued embarrassment provided by team owner Jim Irsay. The 2014 season could be very interesting for the Colts ... in ways they might want to forget.
Offseason grade: D
Best acquisition: Hakeem Nicks, WR.
... If he can regain the form that saw him amass over 1,000 receiving yards in the 2010 and '11 seasons. The Colts signed the former Giants target to a one-year, $3.975 million contract, hoping that his recent inability to get separation from defenders was more about his issues with his former team than injuries or age. Nicks is only 26 and does have the natural speed, acceleration and route awareness to make plays, especially if Wayne is healthy, Hilton continues his development as a deep threat and tight end Dwayne Allen can see the field more often. Goodness knows, Luck could use a great No. 2 receiver for intermediate routes, and Nicks can at least catch the ball (something that could not be said for Darrius Heyward-Bey, last year's fill-in at the position).
Biggest loss: Antoine Bethea, S.
When Bethea signed a four-year, $21 million contract with the 49ers in the offseason, Indianapolis lost its most durable defender -- he led the team with 1,048 snaps on the field in 2013 and hasn't missed a game since '07. Though he's more an in-the-box player who isn't tremendous in coverage, Bethea has always been good against the run, and the Colts now have to find a way to replace him. Delano Howell, who spot-started a bit last season, seems to have the inside track.
Underrated draft pick: Andrew Jackson, Western Kentucky LB (Sixth round, 203rd overall pick)
An All-Sun Belt team regular over the last three years, Jackson really impressed bigger schools and sterner competition throughout his time with the Hilltoppers. Tennessee head coach Butch Jones told his own A.J. Johnson that when the two teams played last season, Johnson would "get to play on the same field as an NFL linebacker," later intimating that his own son wanted Jackson’s autograph. On the field, Jackson proves to be equally adept at sifting through blockers to stop the run, and breaking off to cover tight ends and slot receivers. He could be a good (and surprisingly early) fit in Chuck Pagano's defense.
Looming question for training camp: Who will protect Andrew Luck?