INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Adam Vinatieri is the first domino to fall, but others soon will follow.
With the NFL’s veteran free-agent market due to open in mid-March, the first order of business across the league is for teams to re-sign their own, or limit a player’s movement with the franchise or transition tag.
The Indianapolis Colts’ initial move was one of those no-brainer decisions: retaining Vinatieri. He’s 45 and entering his 23rd season, but remains one of the league’s premier kickers. He has agreed to a one-year contract and is expected to make it official Thursday.
Vinatieri was the Colts’ highest profile free-agent-to-be, but we should expect general manager Chris Ballard to target a handful of his other players whose contracts are due to expire. Veteran free agency always is a risky venture, so it’s always more prudent to invest in players you know instead of other teams’ castoffs.
A look at some of the Colts more prominent players who can hit the open market:
RB Frank Gore
- 2017 games/starts: 16/16
- Scouting report: Gore has led the team in rushing in each of his three seasons, and remains a viable starter. He’s a leader in the locker room and on the playing field. He needs 76 yards to move past Curtis Martin and sit on the No. 4 rung in all-time rushing. One day he’ll undoubtedly have a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio. But he turns 35 in May. Gore intends on playing in 2018, but it’s hard to imagine him wanting to return to what is a rebuilding situation in Indy or the team putting its running game in the hands of a back who’s clearly on the downside of a decorated career.
- Likely future: Thanks for the memories, Frank. Ideally, he’ll latch on with a contender, perhaps Miami.
WR Donte Moncrief
- 2017: 12/8
- Scouting report: Moncrief might demand the most debate in personnel meetings. On the plus side, he’s 24 and possesses the type of size (6-2, 216) that could flourish in Frank Reich’s offense. The 2014 third-round pick flashed his potential in ’15 with 64 receptions, 733 yards and six TDs. But then there is the undeniable negative: Moncrief tailed off badly last season while battling injuries. He finished with just 26 receptions in 12 games and too often was a non-factor.
- Likely future: We’re giving it no better than 50-50 that Moncrief returns. While the easy answer is for the Colts to cut their losses and move on, it’s possible Ballard and Reich believe they can resurrect his career. Remember, Moncrief is 24.
CB Rashaan Melvin
- 2017: 10/10
- Scouting report: Melvin might be atop Ballard’s list of offseason priorities. He has emerged as a defensive maintain with 19 starts over the past two seasons. He shared the team lead last season with three interceptions despite missing the final six games with a broken bone in his right hand.
- Likely future: The issue shouldn’t be whether the Colts want Melvin, or his desire to return. This one hinges on finances. Melvin is 28 and this is his shot at hitting the lottery. Ballard might be willing to overpay to keep one of his own.
G Jack Mewhort
- 2017: 5/5.
- Scouting report: Injuries have sabotaged Mewhort’s career. Knee issues have forced him to miss 17 games over the past two seasons, including 11 in ’17. When he’s right, he’s a solid member of the offensive line. But it’s impossible not to be hesitant because of the injury factor.
- Likely future: Another decision we place in the 50-50 category. We’d re-sign Mewhort to a one-year, prove-it contract. No risk, high reward.
S Darius Butler
- 2017: 15/5
- Scouting report: There hasn’t been a better story than Butler, who was plucked off the street in September 2012 and developed into a defensive mainstay. In six seasons, he appeared in 81 games, started 28 and came up with 12 interceptions. His ability to be the nickel corner and make the transition to safety only increased his value.
- Likely future: As much as we value Butler’s leadership and locker room presence, it’s probably time to move on.
ILB Jon Bostic
- 2017: 14/14
- Scouting report: Bostic re-established himself as starter-quality after missing 2016. He ranked second on the team with a career-high 97 tackles despite missing the final two games with a knee injury.
- Likely future: The team will be in the market for upgrades at inside linebacker – either through free agency or the draft – but might decide Bostic is worth retaining for depth/experience purposes. If he’s back, it likely will be at a team-friendly price.
Others: WR Kamar Aiken, CB Pierre Desir, LB Barkevious Mingo, TE Brandon Williams