INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Feb. 15, 2016) – The Indianapolis Colts already are in the process of putting a season of discontent behind them, and ensuring it doesn’t repeat itself.
Foremost on the team’s “To do’’ list is determining which of its own players whose contracts expire March 9 merit re-signing. More than a dozen players, including the franchise’s all-time scoring leader (Adam Vinatieri) and six others who started at least six games, will become unrestricted free agents unless they sign a new contract before March 9.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a capsule look at a few of the more significant free-agents-to-be.
Coby Fleener, tight end
- ’15 games/starts: 16/16
- ’15 salary: $1.335 million
- Case for re-signing: Fleener has been a criticism magnet because of deficiencies in his game. We’ll address those in a bit. But skeptics shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss what he brings to the offense, especially when he’s allowed to do what he does best. And that’s create advantageous match-ups in the passing game.To provide some perspective, consider Fleener’s four-year resume with the Colts: 183 receptions, 2,154 yards, 17 touchdowns. Now, compare that with the first four years for Dallas Clark, who’s simply the most prolific tight end in franchise history: 121 receptions, 1,618 yards, 14 TDs. Clark’s career really took off in his fifth season, so we’ll see if Fleener can keep up, providing he’s re-signed that is.
When he isn’t asked to be a steady contributor in pass protection – let’s remember, blocking never was one of Clark’s strong suits – Fleener can be effective working the middle of the field against linebacker coverage and can get down the seam against an over-matched safety.
One more positive for Fleener. Among Colts, his 17 TDs since ’12 trail only T.Y. Hilton (25).
- Case against: There’s no question Fleener tests everyone’s patience with an occasional dropped pass. And a few of the ones that have gotten away have occurred when he’s been wide open. But, again, let’s offer some perspective.
According to sportingcharts.com, Fleener has dropped 13 passes while being targeted 311 times in his first four seasons. That’s a drop-rate of 4.2 percent. Hilton has dropped 18 passes while being targeted 433 times (3.7 percent) since ’12. Last season, running back Frank Gore (five) and wide receiver Andre Johnson (four) suffered more drops than did Fleener.
Also, while Fleener is a legitimate threat in the passing game, too often he’s been unable to break a tackle and pick up valuable yardage after a catch. He averaged 9.1 yards per catch last season, the lowest of his career. And we question whether he’ll ever develop into a reliable blocker in pass protection.
- Projection: We’ve said from the start of the season general manager Ryan Grigson is going to have to make the tough call at this position. Does he re-sign Fleener, who possesses Clark-like skills, or does he opt for Dwayne Allen, a more complete tight end whose contract also expires March 9? Considering a tightening salary cap situation, it’s doubtful the Colts can retain both.We cast a vote for Fleener, warts and all.
The cost likely will be a multi-year deal worth about $4 million per season. That would rank Fleener among the top 20 players at his position, and that feels about right.
- Quotable: “There are a lot of things that aren’t up to me,’’ Fleener told Colts.com in early January. “If the Colts don’t ask me back, yes, I would play for another team.
“But the Colts are my No. 1 priority right now.”
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51