AFC South: Indianapolis Colts

PHOENIX -- The challenge to beat the New England Patriots might have just gotten a little easier for the Indianapolis Colts, who have lost four straight to them in the Andrew Luck era.

I know that’s wishful thinking, but NFL teams did vote on how teams use ineligible receivers during games.

Now players who report into the game as an ineligible receiver must line up inside the tackle box, according to Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay.

The Patriots caused problems the Baltimore Ravens and then the Colts on defense when it came to using an ineligible receiver during playoff games.

The Patriots used an ineligible receiver against the Colts three times in the AFC Championship game in January. Teams will be given an illegal substitution penalty for violating that rule.

A decision to change the rule simplifies things for opposing defenses.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts have seen their odds to win the Super Bowl next season increase after just one week of free agency.

The Colts have 8-to-1 odds, which is currently fourth best in the NFL, to win the Super Bowl, according to oddsmaker Bovada. Only Seattle (6/1), Green Bay (7/1) and New England (7/1) currently have better odds than the Colts.

An argument could be made that the Colts should have better odds than New England. The Patriots have lost cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (New York Jets) and Brandon Browner (New Orleans), defensive tackle Vince Wilfork (Houston) and running back Shane Vereen (New York Giants) in the past week.

The Colts, meanwhile, have addressed a number of their needs over the past 10 days.

They've signed offensive lineman Todd Herremans, running back Frank Gore, linebacker Trent Cole, receiver Andre Johnson and defensive lineman Kendall Langford. Indianapolis also re-signed safeties Mike Adams and Colt Anderson and offensive lineman Joe Reitz.

The biggest need for the Colts at this moment is to acquire another safety.

INDIANAPOLIS -- One of the areas the Indianapolis Colts wanted to address during free agency was finding a pass-rusher.

They believe they got some help in that department when they signed former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Trent Cole, who has 85.5 sacks in his career.

The Colts are hoping they’ll also add another pass-rusher to the mix next seasons.

His name is Robert Mathis.

Mathis missed last season with a torn Achilles, which occurred while he was working out during his four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Cole and Mathis will join linebackers Erik Walden, Jonathan Newsome and Bjoern Werner to hopefully give the Colts the type of pass-rush threat that will cause opposing quarterbacks to wonder where the rush is coming from on every snap.

It’s uncertain how coach Chuck Pagano will use those five players. Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson both have said they can't have too many pass-rushers.

The Colts had 41 sacks last season, but they didn't have great success against some of the top pocket passers in the league. They sacked Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Tony Romo and Peyton Manning only twice during the regular season.

Mathis is the wild card of the group. He led the NFL with 19.5 sacks in 2013, but many wonder what type of player he’ll be once he gets back on the field. He turned 34 years old last month and he’s coming off the torn Achilles. The Colts haven't given a definitive answer on whether Mathis will be ready for the start of training camp.

Here's a quick look at the rest of that group:

Cole: Like Mathis, Cole is in his 30s -- 32 years old -- but he’s also reliable, having started 144 of the 155 games he’s played in and only missing four games in his 10-year career. Cole has had at least 5.0 sacks in all but one season.

Walden: Walden, who had a disappointing first season with the Colts in 2013, rebounded last season to finish with 37 tackles and was second on the team with 6.0 sacks.

Newsome: Newsome took advantage of the snaps he was given -- only 390 -- to lead the Colts in sacks with 6.5 last season. What made Newsome’s sack total even more impressive is that he switched to rush linebacker after playing defensive end in college at Ball State.

Werner: The thing talked about most with Werner’s 2014 season is that he was a healthy inactive for the AFC Championship Game. Unlike Newsome, Werner has had a difficult time transitioning from a defensive end in college to playing rush linebacker in the NFL. Werner had 50 tackles and 4.0 sacks last season.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The partnership between running back Trent Richardson and the Indianapolis Colts seemed like it was going to be a profitable one in September 2013.

The thought was that Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2012 draft, teaming with quarterback Andrew Luck -- the No. 1 overall pick of that same draft -- would give the Colts a dynamic duo that would cause defensive coordinators to lose sleep.

Luck would beat teams with his arm, and Richardson would be the elusive runner who had everybody drooling over him while he starred at Alabama.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
John Grieshop/Getty ImagesTrent Richardson's time with the Colts started with considerable excitement but was quickly upended.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson looked like a genius for pulling off that trade with the Cleveland Browns for what was going to be a late first-round draft pick.

Now, some 18 months later, the two sides have parted ways in what turned out to be a nasty divorce.

"I was confused on why Cleveland traded me at first, but I was really looking forward to playing with Andrew," Richardson said. "I was giving my all while I was there. It just truly was a bad relationship."

The failed trade is a major blemish on Grigson's résumé because of what he gave up. He gave Cleveland a first-round pick, which was used to select quarterback Johnny Manziel. It looked like it was a good move for Indianapolis at the time of the trade. Vick Ballard had been lost for the season with a torn ACL, and the Colts weren't sure Ahmad Bradshaw would remain healthy all season.

What owner Jim Irsay, Grigson and the rest of the Colts organization didn't know was that they had a player whose focus wavered after Bradshaw was lost for the year with a broken fibula against the New England Patriots in Week 11 last season.

It didn't take long for them to figure out that change, though. Richardson missed a 1 p.m. meeting the day after their 22-point loss to the Patriots. He went from competing with Bradshaw in practice on a daily basis to "coasting" because he never felt like his job was threatened after Bradshaw went down, according to a source.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano kept starting Richardson and defending the running back to the media despite Richardson's obvious weight gain (he was fined 14 times for missing weight) and his lack of explosiveness. It wasn't until Week 16 at the Dallas Cowboys that Pagano finally benched Richardson for the second straight season.

That was basically the end of Richardson's time with the Colts.

He fell to third on the depth chart at running back and even spent time working on special teams in practice during the playoffs. He was inactive for the divisional playoff game against the Denver Broncos and suspended for the AFC Championship Game at New England for failing to notify the team that he wouldn't be attending the walk-through.

"Special teams, scout teams, I did whatever they asked me despite it being a big slap in the face for me," Richardson said. "I really did whatever they asked me to do."

Now, Richardson is out of a job and loses his $3.1 million salary for next season because the Colts were able to void his contract due to the suspension.

"Right now, I'm training until whoever wants a running back that runs downhill calls," Richardson said. "Whoever it is, I guarantee you it'll be the last place I play at. I guarantee you that. I'll never be traded unless I want to be traded. Being released will never happen again."
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts couldn't let receiver Andre Johnson go back to Florida -- or wherever he was headed -- without agreeing to a deal.

Not with a relatively thin free-agent market for receivers and not if they wanted to continue to add the necessary pieces in order for them to make a run at a Super Bowl.

With an assist from new running back Frank Gore, the Colts were able to close the deal with Johnson (three years, $21 million) to get the type of receiver they need to go with T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter.

The Colts didn't sign Ndamukong Suh, the best free agent on the market, but they didn't get caught up in the headline-grabbing names in free agency and focused on adding the right pieces to their roster.

Johnson joins Gore, linebacker Trent Cole, defensive lineman Kendall Langford and offensive lineman Todd Herremans as outside free agents Indianapolis has added to its roster.

"I felt like this was the best place where I could win a championship," Johnson said. "That's the biggest thing; that's the only thing that matters. We came here to win and try to accomplish that ultimate goal."

The 33-year-old Johnson is not the same receiver he was several years ago. He had 85 receptions for 936 yards and three touchdowns last season. But the Colts gladly will take those numbers. He would have been second in receiving yards for the Colts by more than 150 yards last season.

Johnson had 1,012 receptions for 13,597 yards and 64 touchdowns in his 12-year career with the Houston Texans. He put up those numbers catching passes from mediocre quarterbacks such as Matt Schaub. Now, he gets to catch passes from Andrew Luck, one of the top young quarterbacks in the NFL.

"That was a very big part," Johnson said. "I wanted to be at a place that had a stable quarterback, and I feel like Andrew is arguably the best quarterback in the game [after] playing against him twice a year and getting a chance to watch him a lot."

The Colts have speedsters on the outside in Hilton, their No. 1 receiver, and Moncrief, who just completed his rookie season. Carter, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter, has size but has no NFL game experience. The Colts signed him after two years in the Canadian Football League.

That's where Johnson enters into the mix. He gives Indianapolis a different look at receiver.

Johnson is physical and has exceptional hands. You can look at him as an upgrade from veteran receiver Reggie Wayne, whom the Colts decided not to re-sign last week.

"I've talked to Reggie," said Johnson, a college teammate of Wayne's at Miami. "I wouldn't say it's awkward. I think it's the nature of the business. He was very happy for me."

The Colts finished third in the NFL in total offense last season, and if the moves they've made so far pay off, they should be ranked near the top of that category again next season.
INDIANAPOLIS – It looked like the New England Patriots would be only the only tough team the Indianapolis Colts would face as all four AFC East teams are on the Colts' schedule next season.

That’s no longer the case.

Teams in the AFC East have made moves to get better pretty quickly.

Here’s a look at some of the moves made by AFC East teams:

Miami: The Dolphins, who beat the Colts in Indianapolis during the 2013 season, signed Ndamukong Suh, the best defensive lineman not named J.J. Watt in the NFL, to a heavy contract that included $60 million guaranteed. The Dolphins already have Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake on the defensive line. The Colts had better hope their offensive line is improved or it could be a long game for quarterback Andrew Luck.

New York Jets: The Jets signed Darrelle Revis, arguably the best cornerback in the league, to a contract Tuesday night. They’re also rumored to be in the running to add Antonio Cromartie to their defense. Having Revis and possibly Cromartie on the outside will allow new Jets coach Todd Bowles to run his blitz-happy defense. The Jets should be improved, but they still have questions at quarterback.

New England: The Patriots lost Revis and likely Brandon Browner at cornerback, but they re-signed safety Devin McCourty and rumor has it that they still have a pretty good quarterback by the name of Tom Brady and coach named Bill Belichick. The Patriots have proven they can run the ball against the Colts no matter who is carrying it for them during three straight dominant victories over Indianapolis.

Buffalo: The Bills traded for running back LeSean McCoy, who had 102 total yards against the Colts last season, and they still have Mario Williams, who had 14.5 sacks, on defense to go with new coach Rex Ryan.

On paper, the Colts have the second-easiest schedule next season. But games aren’t played on paper, and that’s why things won’t be as easy for them.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The No. 21 is staying on the defensive side of the ball for the Indianapolis Colts.

Cornerback Vontae Davis tweeted Tuesday that he turned down an offer from new teammate Frank Gore for his No. 21. It's not known what Gore offered Davis for the number.

Gore wore that number during his career with the San Francisco 49ers. The Colts signed the running back to a three-year contract. Gore is coming off four straight 1,000-yard seasons.

With Davis' number not for sale, it's uncertain what number Gore will wear with the Colts. The only number the Colts care about with Gore is in the statistical category -- carries, rushing yards, receptions and touchdowns.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts could be on their way to solving some of their offseason needs.

As ESPN's Adam Schefter reported earlier Tuesday, running back Frank Gore plans to sign with the Colts. The deal, according to Schefter, is expected to be three years for $12 million with $7.5 million guaranteed.

Gore is exactly what the Colts and QB Andrew Luck need in the backfield. He's rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight of his 10 seasons in the NFL (all with the 49ers). Another thing about Gore is his durability; he's played every game over the past four seasons.

As I pointed out Monday, signing Gore is a win-win situation because the Colts now have an established running back who can help them immediately, and they can select a young running back in next month's draft.

Gore could be joined by a familiar face. Receiver Andre Johnson is expected to be in Indianapolis on Tuesday evening.

Johnson has at least 1,200 receiving yards in five of the past seven seasons.

Johnson and Gore are 33 and 31 years old, respectively, but the Colts need them on the field and in the locker room after the team decided last week to not re-sign veteran receiver Reggie Wayne.

Also know this: It's not often that Colts general manager Ryan Grigson isn't able to close a deal on a player he wants after meeting with him.
INDIANAPOLIS -- If running back DeMarco Murray decides to sign with another team outside of the Dallas Cowboys, it won’t be with the Indianapolis Colts.

At this point, the Colts are not interested in signing Murray, last season's leading rusher in the NFL, according to a source.

Murray is the league’s top free-agent running back after he rushed for 1,845 yards behind the league’s best offensive line in Dallas last season.

The Colts are in need of a running back to pair with quarterback Andrew Luck after they finished 22nd in the league in rushing last season.

Baltimore’s Justin Forsett, New England’s Shane Vereen and San Francisco’s Frank Gore are other running backs available on the free-agent market. The Colts also like the depth of the running backs in this year’s NFL draft.

The Colts took a step toward improving their offensive line when they agreed to a deal with veteran Todd Herremans on Sunday.
INDIANAPOLIS – Former Oakland Raiders safety Tyvon Branch was scheduled to meet with the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, his agent said.

Branch, a former fourth-round draft pick, spent his first seven seasons with the Raiders before being released earlier this week.

Branch has three seasons with at least 104 tackles, but injuries have kept him on the sideline the past two seasons. He only played two games in 2013 and three games last season.

The Colts are in need of two starting safeties because they released LaRon Landry three weeks ago and Mike Adams and Sergio Brown are free agents. There’s mutual interest between Adams and the Colts in re-signing him.

Branch can play both safety positions, but he spent the majority of time at strong safety with the Raiders. Colts coach Chuck Pagano is big in his safeties being interchangeable in his defensive scheme.

New England’s Devin McCourty will be the best safety available on the free-agent market.

Teams can start talking to the agents of players on March 7. Free agency begins March 10 at 4 p.m. The Colts are able to meet with Branch because he was released.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Long-snapper Matt Overton getting a four-year contract extension on Monday means the Indianapolis Colts will have all three of their primary special teams players back next season.

Why is that significant?

Because Overton, punter/kicker Pat McAfee and veteran field goal Adam Vinatieri give the Colts arguably the best special teams unit in the NFL.

All three of them have made the Pro Bowl over the past two seasons. Overton made it in 2013 and McAfee and Vinatieri represented the team there last season.

McAfee finished third in the league in net punt yards at 42.8 and seventh in punts inside the 20-yard line with 30 last season. Vinatieri was 30-of-31 on field goal attempts last season. His only miss didn't come until Week 17.
INDIANAPOLIS – The fact that Georgia running back Todd Gurley reportedly won’t let doctors at the NFL combine examine him should be a warning flag for the Indianapolis Colts if he’s available when they pick at No. 29 in the draft.

The news of Gurley not wanting his knee examined was reported by the NFL Network.

The Colts are in need of a running back to go with quarterback Andrew Luck after the Trent Richardson experiment turned out to be a failure. Ahmad Bradshaw is a free agent who is working his way back from a broken fibula.

The Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in any game since the 2012 season.

Gurley rushed for 911 yards despite playing in only six games last season with the Bulldogs. He was suspended for four games and tore his ACL against Auburn on Nov. 15.

“The timetable is six to nine months,” Gurley said Thursday. “I got hurt in November, so I’m not really giving no timetable. I’m just trying to get back safe, but as quick as possible.”

The Colts aren’t in the position to swing and miss with their first-round pick this year because they have so many needs to address on their roster. They need help in the pass rush and at safety as well as at running back.
INDIANAPOLIS – Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson didn’t hold any punches. They really couldn’t, actually. They’ve seen what has happened with their players, some they took a gamble on and others who they never thought would have any run-ins with the law.

Four Colts players have been arrested since Jan. 15.

A rape charge. DUI. Assault. Marijuana charges.

As one player told me, “This is not a good look for us. Trouble is not how we do things.”

He’s right.

But the Colts continue to find trouble off the field. They’ve had so many issues that it’s easy to forget that they took another step last season by reaching the AFC Championship Game.

“We’ve had some issues,” Pagano said. “I’m disappointed about those issues, and we’ve got to do better. I’ve got to do a better job. We’re trying to develop these guys to be the best they can be on the field and help us win football games, and off the field. We’ll continue to educate. It’s an ongoing process. It’s a daily process. Again, it’s disappointing that you have those types of deals, but gotta make good choices and with choices come consequences. We’ll continue to try to encourage our guys to do the thing things and make good choices.”

Pagano compared what has happened to raising three daughters. Two of his daughters, according to the coach, brought home straight 'A’s’ from school. The third daughter brought home an occasional ‘C’ and it took her some time to get things figured out. That’s how the Colts view their roster. They’ve got a roster full of good players for the most part, but there are a few who are having a difficult time getting it together.

The Colts released linebacker Andrew Jackson, who was a rookie last season, after his second DUI. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who was recently arrested for having marijuana, is a free agent. Linebacker Josh McNary’s rape case is ongoing. The same goes for linebacker D’Qwell Jackson’s assault case on a pizza delivery driver.

Bradshaw, McNary and D'Qwell Jackson’s legal issues took the Colts completely by surprise, according to several people inside the organization. Andrew Jackson was arrested for his second DUI in less than a year.

“I think the culture is a strong one; it’s a strong locker room,” Grigson said. “We have an excellent culture and very good veteran leadership. There’s also risk-reward. Do you take a flier on a guy who has very low financial risk but also loves football … the hope is always that he’ll buy into the culture that you’re presenting him, which we think is a very good habitat for players. To be at their best, to iron out some of their rough edges, and some of them have. Some of the guys we struck out on, I guess we need to do a better job in certain areas and we will. We will.”

The issue the Colts, along with every other team in the NFL, have is that they can’t keep their eye on their players once the season ends because they’re scattered across the country. Pagano and Grigson can only hope their players are mature enough to avoid getting in trouble, which obviously hasn’t been the case.

“We can’t be with them 24/7,” Pagano said. “Talk about making great choices and doing the right thing and representing the ‘shoe’ and the name on the back of their jersey and we’ll continue to do that. We’ve got to do better. I think it’s an ongoing process and it’s not easy.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano are scheduled to meet with the media at the NFL combine on Thursday.

Here's a checklist of things that will likely be discussed by Grigson and Pagano:
  • Off-the-field issues: If the 45-7 loss to the Patriots wasn't embarrassing enough, the Colts have continued to embarrass themselves off the field over the past month. It started with linebacker Josh McNary being charged with rape, linebacker Andrew Jackson arrested for a DUI, linebacker D'Qwell Jackson arrested for assault and running back Ahmad Bradshaw being charged with a misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana.
  • Richardson
    Trent Richardson: The Colts haven't officially said anything, but Richardson's days with the organization are numbered after two disappointing seasons. The Colts are expected to release him and try to recoup the $3.1 million Richardson is owed next season after having conduct and weight issues with him in 2014. Richardson was suspended for two games, including the AFC Championship Game, after missing the team's walk-through the day before the game. He also failed to make weight several weeks during the season.
  • Robert Mathis: The biggest question mark here is: Will he be ready for the start of training camp? Mathis, who tore his Achilles while working out during his four-game suspension, is out to prove he can regain his form from when he had 19.5 sacks during the 2013 season. The challenge to Mathis is to prove he can still play at a high level at the age of 34 next season.
  • Deflategate: I'm not expecting Grigson or Pagano to say much about "Deflategate," but they'll still be asked about it. In fact, I expect the two to say the matter is in the NFL's hands.
  • Safety: The Colts had safety issues the moment the AFC Championship Game ended because Pro Bowler Mike Adams is about to become a free agent and they released LaRon Landry -- which wasn't surprising -- last week. So now Indianapolis is in need of two starting safeties because it currently doesn't have any players ready to step in and start if they had to play a game today. Sergio Brown, who started eight games last season, is also a free agent.
  • Running back: Richardson is on his way out of here, Vick Ballard is coming off a torn ACL and an Achilles injury in back-to-back years, Bradshaw is coming off back-to-back years with a neck injury and broken leg and Daniel "Boom" Herron is more of a backup than a starter. Now do you see why this will be a topic of discussion for the Colts? Running backs will be talking to the media on Thursday, too.
INDIANAPOLIS - Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Wednesday:

Luck is blueprint: The road to the AFC South title will continue to go through Indianapolis as long as Andrew Luck is quarterback of the Colts. That’s not only the case because Luck is one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, but also because the other teams in the division have quarterback issues. Blake Bortles is headed into his second season with Jacksonville. The Houston Texans are still searching for a quarterback to go with do-everything-player J.J. Watt on the other side of the ball. And Tennessee, which has the No. 2 overall pick and could draft either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, also needs a quarterback. “That’s the thing in the NFL, getting one of those quarterbacks that can make a difference like [Luck],” Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “So everybody is working to do that and we’re in a position this year where we get an opportunity to get that position settled for us. It’s an important thing.”

Don’t expect Gore: The Colts are looking for a running back to complement Luck’s arm after the Trent Richardson turned out to be a failure and there are plenty of question marks about the rest of the running backs on the roster. San Francisco running back Frank Gore, who has eight 1,000-yard seasons in his 10 seasons, is about to become a free agent. The Colts shouldn’t get their hopes up for Gore, though. “Frank, the energizer battery, just keeps on ticking,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said. “The last two games of the season, I think you saw what Frank still has left in the tank. Very good football player. One of the most passionate, if not the most passionate football player I’ve ever been around. Still think he’s got it in him and I know he still believes it. I talked to him the other day on the phone and we’re going to do what we can to get him back as a 49er.”

No-go Part II: This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the Colts shouldn’t have their eyes set on Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, either. Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said they’re hopeful that they’ll be able to sign Suh to a long-term extension. “We’re still very optimistic we’ll be able to get it done,” Mayhew said. “I think we have a lot of the essential elements that we need to get it done. … He has a coach that he likes playing for. He has teammates he likes playing with, so we have a lot of things that he’s looking for here in Detroit.” The Colts need a space-eater along the offensive line who constantly demands double-teams. Suh is that guy. But don’t expect him to be doing that for the Colts.