INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The dominoes are in place, but have yet to start toppling.
Once general manager Chris Ballard tips over the first one – finding a replacement for Chuck Pagano and forming a new staff – the others soon will follow:
- determine which of the Indianapolis Colts’ impending free agents merit re-signing.
- assessing the NFL’s free-agent market, targeting a handful and adding more veteran talent to a roster that needs it. Remember, the Colts are projected to have more than $80 million in cap space, and are led by an owner more than willing to spend whatever it takes.
- maximizing the April NFL Draft, starting with the 3rd overall pick.
The first step in what must be a franchise-defining offseason is front and center. The Colts reportedly interviewed New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels Wednesday and were expected to meet with Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard Friday.
It’s that second step that undoubtedly is foremost in the mind of more than a dozen Colts who soon will be unrestricted free agents.
A player is wired to “control the controllables,’’ to take care of his business and not get distracted by things on the periphery, even when those very likely might impact his career.
But now, Adam Vinatieri, Frank Gore, Donte Moncrief, Rashaan Melvin, Jack Mewhort and others wait. Ballard has had 16 games to determine which players should be part of the future, and the new coaching staff undoubtedly will weigh in.
By any measure, Vinatieri and Melvin should anticipate a concerted effort by management to retain them. Vinatieri turned 45 last month, but remains one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers. Melvin, 28, proved last season he deserves a big payday after five years.
Things are much less certain with everyone else.
“You can’t speculate,’’ Mewhort said. “Every day that I wake up as a Colt, that I get to wear that horseshoe, is a good day. I love it here. That’s not BS. I cherish my time here.
“I’ve done everything I can do. I’ve given my heart and soul to this place. But at the end of the day, it’s a business. We all understand that.’’
Mewhort’s situation figures to be one of the more complicated in terms of re-signing him, or letting him walk. The 2014 second-round draft pick has started 45 games, including the playoffs, over the past four seasons. But he’s also missed 17 games the last two seasons and finished each on the injured reserve list with knee issues.
If Mewhort returns, it very well could be with a one-year, prove-it contract that would represent virtually no risk to the team, especially when offseason rosters swell to 90 players. While Mewhort’s injury history is a concern, he’s still a proven 26-year old guard who could help stabilize a spot on the offensive line.
“I’m confident I’m not done, yet,’’ said Mewhort, who was placed on IR Oct. 14 due to an unstable left knee. “If you had asked me that a couple of months ago, I might have said something else. But now I know I still can play. I’m feeling good right now. I believe in my heart I still have football left in me.
“If (next season) is one-year, prove-it, it may not be here. I may be somewhere else. At the end of the day, I’m beat up and everyone’s aware of that. It’s not a secret. I’m going to have to show people I can still play.’’
Injuries aren’t the issue with Vinatieri and Gore. Each was the oldest player at his position last season: Vinatieri, 45, and Gore, 34.
And each has made it clear he intends to play on, whether that be in Indy or elsewhere. Along with chasing a world championship, both are in pursuit of individual and historic milestones. Vinatieri needs 58 points to surpass Morten Andersen (2,544) as the NFL’s career scoring leader. Gore needs 76 yards to move past Curtis Martin (14,101) and settle in as the league’s No. 4 all-time rusher.
“I think I’m showing people that if you love what you do, it shouldn’t matter what age (you are),’’ Gore said.
Although Gore fell 39 yards shy of reaching the 1,000-yard plateau for a second straight season and 10th time in 13 seasons, he finished strong. He rushed for at least 100 yards twice in December: 130 in the arctic conditions against Buffalo and 100 in the season finale against Houston.
Vinatieri’s preference is to finish his Hall of Fame career in Indy – his wife and three children call it home – but he’ll relocate if that’s the best option on the table. As he’s quick to mention, there’s still work to be done.
“Obviously there are a few more things I’d like to accomplish before I’m done and gone,’’ he said. “You always want to win another Super Bowl. I know I’m 58 points away from Morten. All of that stuff goes into it, but it’s more than that.
“You’ve got to still love what you’re doing, and I do. I like the locker room stuff. I like being around the guys. I don’t like being in the training room if you’re injured, but I like being in there and just BS-ing with the guys.
“I enjoy being around the same kind of driven people.’’
Driven people such as Frank Gore. Vinatieri’s eye brightened as he considered Gore’s 13th season.
“Watching Frank run the ball in Buffalo, 30-some-odd times and getting over a hundred yards, that was amazing,’’ Vinatieri said. “You don’t do that if you’re not trying. That’s what I like about Frank. That’s what I really, really appreciate and love about him.
“He’s a tough dude. Mentally, he wants to whip your butt all the time. He is exactly the type of guy you tell your kid, ‘Hey, watch how he does it. Be like him.’ He’s a quiet guy and he doesn’t say much, but he’s the kind of guy you want leading you.
“If he wants to play again, some team will bring him in. If not here, someone will take him in.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.