SPECIAL COVERAGE: 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Assessing the Colts during the offseason: Tight ends

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Dwayne Allen

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – By any standard, the Indianapolis Colts weren’t good enough in 2016.

The only bottom line that matters: finishing 8-8 (again) and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

“We understand that 8-8 in not good enough and that’s on me,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “This is a winning culture, it is a winning organization and we didn’t achieve the goal and we all know that.’’

It’s going to take significant personnel changes during the offseason if the Colts are going to return to relevancy. That includes prudent investments in veteran free agency, which begins March 9, and further bolstering a flawed roster through the April 27-29 draft.

Before we consider outside solutions, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts.

Today: Tight ends

  • Under contract: Dwayne Allen.
  • Pending free agents: Jack Doyle (unrestricted), Erik Swoope (exclusive).
  • Looking back: The season opened with significant questions at the position. Did management make the right decision in opting for Dwayne Allen (a four-year, $29 million contract) and allowing Coby Fleener to walk? Could Jack Doyle help fill Fleener’s void? Would Erik Swoope’s basketball-to-football transition finally bear fruit?
    Probably. Yes. And yes.
    We certainly can argue whether Allen is one of the NFL’s top-10 players at his position, which is where his $7.35 million per-year average ranks him. But he offers versatility at the position as a receiver and blocker, even though the image of him getting manhandled by Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney on a season-swinging third-and-goal at the 3 is seared in our brain. Allen’s statistical contributions consisted of more quality than quantity: 35 receptions, 406 yards, six touchdowns.
    All Doyle did was ensure a monster payday with a monster season. His stats – 59 receptions, 584 yards, five TDs – not only were career highs, but exceeded his three-year totals. The receptions were the most by a Colts tight end since Dallas Clark’s 100 in 2009.
    It’s worth reminding everyone the former Cathedral H.S. standout was a waiver-wire pickup by the Colts in September 2013.
    “I’m not going to say . . . we signed him and said, ‘Yeah, that guy is going to be what he is today,’’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “I would be lying if I told you that. Based on the kid and his work ethic and his drive, he’s one of the best pros on this football team as far as coming to work every single day and working to get better at his craft.’’
    Doyle’s contributions included a 20-yard reception on third-and-10 with less than 3 minutes to play that helped seal the 31-26 upset of the Packers and a pair of go-ahead/game-winning TDs: a 7-yarder with 1:55 remaining at Tennessee and a 1-yarder with 9 seconds to play in the season finale against Jacksonville.
    No player made bigger strides than Swoope. The former power forward at the University of Miami spent all of 2014 and the first 16 weeks of ’15 on the practice squad before making his NFL debut in week 17 against Tennessee. In his third year, Swoope emerged as a legitimate football player with 15 receptions, 297 yards and one TD. The transformation is complete.
    “I am happy for him because of what he has put into it,’’ coordinator Rob Chudzinski said. “That sometimes gets lost in it. He has talent, he has all those things, but all the extra hours of him sitting over there by himself and working and studying and looking at tape, asking questions and trying to figure things out.’’
    A number that jumps off the page: 117.5. That was Luck’s passer rating last season when targeting his tight ends (109-of-149, 1,287 yards, 12 TDs, three interceptions).
  • Looking ahead: The Colts have more than a dozen players who will be free agents, and at the top of the list are Doyle and Swoope. The latter is a formality. Swoope is an exclusive free agent, meaning the Colts retain his rights as long as they offer him a one-year tender. That’s a given.
    General manager Ryan Grigson said in a radio interview the team “definitely’’ wants to re-sign Doyle, but talk is cheap. Keeping Doyle won’t be. Remember, the Colts allowed Fleener to hit the open market and relocate to New Orleans because they were in no position to carry two high-priced tight ends.
    Doyle might not try to break the bank in negotiations with the Colts, but neither will he – or should he – settle for a hometown discount. This is his time to acquire longtime financial security for his family. The sliding pay scale (per-year contract average) for tight ends: No. 10, Allen at $7.35 million; No. 15, Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta at $6.4 million; No. 20, the Rams’ Lance Kendricks at $4.65 million; and No. 25, Arizona’s Jermaine Gresham at $3.5 million.
  • Offseason priority: High. This is based solely on keeping Doyle off the free-agent market.

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