COMMENTARY | It doesn't require much effort for fans of the Indianapolis Colts to realize that the offensive line needs some help. The Baltimore Ravens turned Andrew Luck into a human pinata throughout the Colts' playoff loss, and that wasn't the first time the rookie quarterback took a beating.
Granted, the team was forced to use a patchwork offensive line throughout most of the season due to a number of injuries, but it's still a good idea to look for ways to improve, especially since the Colts appear to have about $40 million or so in salary cap space at their disposal this year.
So while I wait to see whether or not Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians will wind up as the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, I'm starting to look ahead to free agency in the NFL and where the Colts might find some help.
Here are a few guys who pique my interest (in alphabetical order):
Branden Albert, Kansas City Chiefs: Albert is one of the better tackles in the league, and his rookie contract expires at the end of the season. The Chiefs may slap the franchise tag on him and keep him, and there's the downside that he struggled with back spasms throughout most of the 2012 season, but the 6-foot-5 315-pounder out of Virginia would likely improve the Colts' offensive line.
Jermon Bushrod, New Orleans Saints: A fourth-round pick in 2007 out of Towson, Bushrod (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) has been an excellent left tackle for the Saints. He's a four-year starter who was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011, and he's a Super Bowl champion--unfortunately, at the expense of the Colts. The Saints have some salary cap issues that they're going to have to resolve in the offseason, so they may not have the resources that the Colts do to pursue Bushrod.
Ryan Clady, Denver Broncos: Clady is, without a doubt, the crown jewel of potential offensive lineman free agents and, depending on your perspective, perhaps all of free agency. He has started all 80 games since the Broncos made him the No. 12 overall pick in 2008 out of Boise State. He's 6-foot-6 and 315 pounds and a three-time Pro Bowler. Denver, however, appears likely to pull out all the stops to retain his services, especially since they need to keep Peyton Manning upright.
Jake Long, Miami Dolphins: I have mixed emotions about Long. I'm a big fan of the Michigan Wolverines, for whom Long (6-foot-7, 315 pounds) starred in college to the point that the Dolphins selected him first overall in the 2008 NFL Draft. He's a four-time Pro Bowler, so it's pretty exciting to consider the prospect of him wearing a horseshoe on his helmet. But the quality of his play has deteriorated over the past couple of years--perhaps because of a slew of injuries, and perhaps because of a change to a zone blocking scheme in Miami--and the Dolphins don't appear overly anxious about retaining him, so the red flags go up. Perhaps a change of scenery would do him some good.
Andre Smith, Cincinnati Bengals: Smith is yet another former first round pick, selected No. 6 overall by the Bengals in the 2009 NFL Draft out of Alabama, but his pro career got off to a rocky start. Fans might remember that Smith showed up out-of-shape to the NFL Combine (and was the subject of this unfortunate photograph) and also disappeared for awhile at the event, but after foot injuries shortened each of his first two years in the league, he blossomed in 2011 and has played two very solid seasons now at right tackle. The 6-foot-4 335-pounder's rookie contract is up at the end of the season.
We'll have to wait and see which of these guys are still available when free agency begins on March 12, but for now, I have my eye on these five.
If you had $40 million in cap space and needed help on your offensive line, who would you go after?