Perhaps no unit was more maligned for the Indianapolis Colts this season than the defensive secondary. This off season's crop of free agents combined with ample cap space gives the Colts an opportunity to upgrade that unit significantly.
The only returning players with job security would appear to be CB Vontae Davis and S Antoine Bethea. The Colts spent a second rounder to get Davis from Miami and he came on strong in the second half of the season, so he returns as the team's best cornerback.
Jerraud Powers is a free agent and would be worthy of re-signing, but he's yet to play a full season. His injury concerns leave the Colts looking elsewhere for the other starter at corner. Cassius Vaughn played competently in a fill-in role, but is still better suited as a nickel back. He's a restricted free agent. Look for the Colts to make him a tender, meaning they'll get some compensation if he signs elsewhere. But if another team wants to bring him in for starter's money, I don't see the Colts matching that. Darius Butler is unrestricted and could go elsewhere also.
It's a good crop of free agents this off season. Here's who Ryan Grigson may have his eye on:
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie- There are better prospects than DRC out there, but he may be the most gifted at the position who actually becomes available. To say his stint in Philadelphia was a disappointment would be an understatement. Then again, the entire Eagles defense, especially their secondary, was disappointing the last two seasons.
Cromartie recorded 13 picks in his first three years in the league with Arizona. He's good against the run and durable. He's an outstanding physical specimen. If a team can get him re-focused to where he was with the Cardinals, he's All-Pro level.
Chris Houston- Houston has flown under the radar in Detroit, but his last two seasons have been his best. He got lit up against the Falcons this year, but he's in good company. Outside of that game, he surrendered only one touchdown this season. The year before, he picked five passes and took two of them to the end zone. He's only 5'11", so pairing him with Davis would give the Colts two smaller corners, but he's a game-changer back there.
Mike Jenkins- There was talk of a trade with the Cowboys for Jenkins prior to the Colts acquiring Davis, so we know he's on Grigson's radar. Like Rodgers-Cromartie, he's a first round talent that hasn't quite lived up to the hype yet. Like Houston, he's on the smaller side, so the question is whether or not the Colts would go with two small corners.
Tracy Porter- Porter is an intriguing option. Could Colts fans embrace the player who sealed their defeat in Super Bowl XLIV? He is an Indiana alum though. Porter struggled with the Broncos this season, but did have a pick six to his credit. He's still young at 27.
Jacob Lacey- Just kidding. Seeing if you were paying attention. He is a free agent this year, though.
Antoine Bethea has been consistent, if not spectacular. Tom Zbikowski performed competently, but got lost in deep coverage several times. The Colts need to find a big hitter a la Bob Sanders who can make the middle of the field a risky proposition for opposing receivers.
The talk of the off season across the league has been Jairus Byrd of Buffalo. He's not going anywhere, though. Look for the Bills to put their franchise tag on him.
The Colts shopping list for safety should begin and end with one player:
Ed Reed- Reed will go into the Hall of Fame as a Baltimore Raven, but why not let him finish his career with Chuck Pagano and Miami teammate Reggie Wayne? Reed would bring an instant ball-hawking presence and tremendous leadership to the Colts' defensive backfield. Drafting a safety who could study under Reed would also be in order, but Reed gives the Colts the type of defender in the middle of the field that could bring another championship to Indianapolis.
There are younger safeties on the market, like the Giants' Kenny Phillips, but he's coming off a knee injury. Reed makes the most sense at safety.