Colts take familiar approach to NFL draft
INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts want to spend this week protecting their big investment, Peyton Manning.
In past years, they've drafted receivers, tight ends, even running backs to give the four-time league MVP more options on the field. Now they have a new mission to get Manning a second Super Bowl ring: Fixing the aging offensive line.
"We have gotten older at some positions, and we are in the process of trying to meld that together," general manager Chris Polian. "There have been injury problems, there have been misevaluations."
And the holes have become glaring.
Manning still ranks among the league leaders in fewest sacks, but he's taking more big hits each season — not an ideal situation for a 35-year-old quarterback who is likely to become the highest-paid player in league history.
Indy hasn't produced a 1,000-yard runner since 2008, and the inability to convert short-yardage plays, vice chairman Bill Polian contends, cost them a second Super Bowl title after the 2009 season. The Colts have rotated guards, tried to put a successor to Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday in place and moved Charlie Johnson to left tackle after the botched experiment with Tony Ugoh.
"Obviously, (Ugoh) is not here and that did not work out and that has set us back," Chris Polian said.
Nothing has worked and so armed with the No. 22 overall pick Thursday night, the Colts hope some young blood can change things.
Most analysts expect at least one tackle with a first-round grade to be available at that spot. The most common names mentioned are Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi and Colorado's Nate Solder. Indy may also consider Baylor guard Danny Watkins and Mississippi State tackle Derek Sherrod.
The obvious choice is not necessarily the right one.
"If the need line crosses with the composite (grade), great, then make the pick," Bill Polian said. "But if you're passing a player with a higher composite grade to take a need, my experience is that it doesn't work out very well."
Instead, Polian, the architect of Buffalo's four straight Super Bowl teams and the Colts, will keep it business as usual. He will consider value and need before trying to build a consensus among the four voters in Indy's draft room.
Chris Polian confirmed Friday that the team has worked out some quarterbacks this offseason though the explanation is a bit different than speculation suggests.
Some believe the Colts are positioning themselves to find a replacement for Manning, who has not yet signed a deal that will top more than $18 million per season and could run as long as six years.
With most first-round picks locked into five-year deals — and the possibility that becomes the league standard in a new collective bargaining agreement — it wouldn't make sense to take Manning's eventual successor now.
But Chris Polian wants information on the quarterbacks in this year's draft class in his files.
"The college scouting report is always carried over with the players and we just felt with where we had guys on the board and where we were at, it was important to take part and have some information available to us," he said.
Where else might the Colts look for help?
They could have holes at running back, safety and linebacker. Joseph Addai, Melvin Bullitt and Clint Session, all starters, will become free agents when the lockout ends and it's unclear whether the Colts will be able to re-sign all three in what figures to be a wild sprint to the regular season.
Another complication will be the inability to sign undrafted free agents immediately after the draft, something Indy has relied on to get low-priced talent in place. Bullitt and running back Dominic Rhodes typify the big talents Indy has found once the draft ends.
But even with all the uncertainties over the lockout, the roster and where the biggest holes might exist, the Colts intend to stick to their usual draft weekend game plan.
"We've spent over $1 million and a lot of time and energy on establishing the board, and as (former player personnel director) Dom Anile used to say, if you don't let the board speak to you on draft day, you really haven't exercised your chance to succeed," Bill Polian said. "We're not infallible, we make mistakes, fate's going to intervene. It's not an exact science, in fact, it's not even a science.
"You say 'Hey, get a good player everywhere, anywhere and it will help.'"