Colts face tough personnel decisions following 2010 season

Ever since Peyton Manning’s second year in the league, NFL fans have just grown accustomed to the Colts being in the playoffs every season. Manning is, and will be until he retires, the catalyst for the horseshoe helmet’s success.

But as the Indianapolis Star points out, Jim Irsay and Bill Polian will be faced with several tough decisions after the 2010 season because the Colts will have 19 players seeking new contracts. There’s no doubt that the team will make sure Manning retires a Colt, but will his contract impede Irsay from signing other free agents?

That might be a reference to the size of Manning’s signing bonus. It undoubtedly will surpass the $34.5 million bonus he received as part of his seven-year, $98 million contract in 2004.

Funneling too much up-front money to Manning, though, could make retaining other critical players difficult.

“We have to be wise in that we don’t corner ourselves and make sure we have room to keep some of the key guys,” Irsay said. “It’s a myth to say you can just have Peyton and you’re automatically 12-4.

“Peyton gives you such an edge . . . but we need the supporting cast if we want to do what we really want to do, and that’s win another world championship.”

As long as Manning remains under center, the Colts will always be competitive. But as Irsay points out, he needs to be able to field a competitive team around his quarterback if the franchise wants to win another Super Bowl before Manning hangs up his cleats. Aside from Peyton, several key starters including Joseph Addai, Antoine Bethea, Melvin Bullitt, Clint Session and Adam Vinatieri (among others) will need new deals. The Colts can’t bring everyone back, especially after they get done paying Manning.

It’s only May, so this is obviously not a problem that the Colts need to concern themselves with right now. But it’s worth noting that after this season, the Colts will have a ton of internal decisions to make – ones that will certainly affect the future success of the franchise.

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Super Bowl XLIV Preview: 5 Factors the Colts must overcome

As part of the ongoing coverage leading up to Super Bowl XLIV, here are five factors the Colts must overcome to beat the Saints.

1. The potential loss of Freeney.
Come kickoff on Sunday, there will be no bigger hurdle for the Colts to overcome than if defensive end Dwight Freeney can’t play, or is limited due to an ankle injury. He’s undoubtedly Indy’s best defender and is a game-changer in every sense of the word. If he can’t play, the Saints don’t have to worry about keeping extra blockers in to protect Drew Brees and can focus most of their attention on slowing down Robert Mathis. Pressure is the key to disrupting any offense and the same can be said for the Saints’ high-powered attack. As it stands now, Freeney wants to play and should dress. But considering he’s a speed rusher and has a tear in his ankle, how effective does anyone think he’ll actually be? Barring the ankle being completely healed, the Colts have a serious problem on their hand.

2. Slowing down Brees.
For all that is said about Drew Brees, he still doesn’t get enough credit for being able to read a defense and deliver timely, accurate passes. What makes him unique is that he has accuracy on all three levels, in that he can complete the short to intermediate route with as much ease as he can the deep pass. Another thing Brees does well is scanning the field and throwing away from the coverage. Over the last half of the season, nine quarterbacks threw for two or more touchdowns against the Colts, who gave up big plays in the AFC Championship Game to the usually offensively challenged Jets. Brees has a plethora of weapons to use at his disposal and Indy doesn’t have the personnel to go toe-to-toe with all the Saints’ receivers. The best way to slow down Brees is to pressure him, but as was noted above, that could be a problem for the Colts if Freeney is limited.

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Super Bowl XLIV Preview: If healthy, Shockey could play key role for Saints

In safeties Antonie Bethea and Melvin Bullitt, the Colts have two players in their defensive backfield that are steady, underrated and are strong against the run.

But the takeaway from the above sentence is “strong against the run.” That doesn’t mean that Bethea and Bullitt are key factors in pass coverage and in fact, they’re not. They’re adequate against the pass at best, which is why some teams have had success attacking the seams of the Colts’ defense with their tight ends.

The Saints have a playmaker at tight end in Jeremy Shockey, a player that, when healthy, is a mismatch in coverage because of his size, speed and pass-catching ability. He would definitely be a mismatch in coverage against Bethea and Bullitt, especially considering that the two safeties also have to defend the run and the rest of the weapons that New Orleans has in its arsenal.

But the problem is that Shockey can never stay healthy and at least for the moment, he isn’t healthy now. Over the past month, he’s battled toe and knee injuries and hasn’t been 100%. In fact, head coach Sean Payton said that Shockey was on a limited snap count in last Sunday’s NFC Championship Game and that’s why the tight end caught just one pass for nine yards.

If Shockey can get healthy over the next two weeks, he could be the kind of X-factor that the Saints will need to beat the Colts. David Thomas is a fine replacement at tight end of Shockey is limited again, but he’s not the type of game-changer that Shockey is when he’s playing at full strength. If he’s at 100%, Drew Brees might have success attacking the middle of Indy’s defense with Shockey being the main weapon in the Saints’ passing game.

But if he resembles the one-legged man again like he did last week, then the Colts will catch a break and will likely turn their attention to stopping Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and the rest of New Orleans’ outside pass threats.

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