Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said it best following yesterday's season-ending loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the wild card round of the NFL Playoffs: "What a ride!" Indeed, Mr. Irsay. Colts fans have enjoyed one of the more memorable seasons in franchise history. And while this season didn't end with Andrew Luck hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, it was as enjoyable a football season as I can remember.
With the season over, here are some critical questions that need to be answered before the Colts go back to Anderson University next July to start working on 2013:
What do you do with Dwight Freeney?
The Colts' veteran sack-master was hobbled by a high-ankle sprain pretty much all season in addition to being asked to play a rush linebacker position this late in his career. With Freeney an unrestricted free agent and due a hefty pay raise, the Colts may not want to commit any of their cap room so that Freeney can finish his career in Indianapolis. There's no real heir apparent (Jerry Hughes is clearly not the answer) but several attractive free agents like Baltimore's Paul Kruger will be on the market.
Do you give Pat McAfee a big contract to stay?
The Colts have plenty of cap space this off season now that Peyton Manning and the rest come off the books. The question is whether Ryan Grigson wants to allot a big slice of that to a punter. McAfee has proven to be a reliable changer of field position, kickoff specialist, good locker room guy and is very popular in the community. He could also be give the chance to kick field goals if the team were to jettison Adam Vinatieri's contract.
Is TY Hilton going to be the number two receiver?
If he is, then the Colts can focus on looking at available slot receivers like Cincinnati's Andrew Hawkins and/or keep working with LaVon Brazill. Donnie Avery likely won't be resigned after a season with the Colts and Austin Collie's career is likely over. If the team isn't convinced Hilton is a consistent enough threat opposite Reggie Wayne, then the checkbook will have to be opened up for a proven number two like Pittsburgh's Mike Wallace.
Who's the cornerback opposite Vontae Davis?
For awhile, it looked like Grigson's trade for Vontae Davis was going to be a bust, but over the last quarter of the season, Davis proved himself to be the number one corner the team was looking for. Who starts opposite him in 2012 though? Jerraud Powers finished the season on injured reserve and is a free agent. His durability concerns might preclude the Colts re-signing him. Cassius Vaughn and Darius Butler were both signed to be nickel corners. Both did fairly well when pressed into starting, but neither made enough of a case to keep this position from being one of need this off season. The Colts would almost have to dip into the free agent waters to find a cornerback. This year's draft class isn't strong at the position.
Will Bruce Arians stay?
Bruce Arians will probably have a chance to be a head coach somewhere if that's what he wants. If that happens, the Colts will be in a quandary. Do they promote Clyde Christensen, who's already had one stint as the team's playcaller and filled in yesterday for Arians, or do they look outside the organization to find someone to continue grooming Andrew Luck and this young offense?
Other observations from the other NFL Wild Card Games and next week's matchups:
I didn't live in Indianapolis during most of Peyton Manning's career here, so I don't have the attachment to him that most Colts fans do. That said, I hope Manning and the Broncos pound the living daylights out of the Ravens next week. I think they will.
I see both road teams winning next week in the NFC. I don't think the NIners will have enough juice to outscore Aaron Rodgers. Seattle's defense is for real and so is Marshawn Lynch. Defense and strong running games are gold in the playoffs.
Could someone in the NFL Office ensure that Mike Carey and his crew never do another playoff game? He and his crew are by far the most inconsistent, which in my mind is the chief sin of an official in any sport. I've watch him for years lead a flag-happy group that interprets rules one way one moment and another the next. I'd argue for them to be removed entirely from the league, but I'll settle for them not ruining the playoffs.
It's been a great season covering the Colts and sharing insights with all of you. Steven and I are sincerely grateful for each reader who honors us with their time. We'll continue to work hard to improve this site and offer the absolute best Colts coverage anywhere.
Just like the Colts, we're always looking to get better. We need to "up" our game so that we can be ready when Andrew Luck does hoist that Lombardi Trophy next February in New York City.
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