By George Bremer The Herald Bulletin
The Herald Bulletin
---- — ANDERSON — Indianapolis Colts general manager Ryan Grigson issued fair warning at the NFL Scouting Combine last month the team might not be able to keep all of the players it would like to.
Now, as free agency prepares to begin today at 4 p.m., it appears he might be on the verge of losing the player many believed to be the top priority.
Reports surfaced Monday evening linking the New York Jets to strong interest in free agent cornerback Vontae Davis. The Colts traded a second-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for Davis just before the start of the 2012 season.
He played in 26 games for Indianapolis over the past two seasons and made just four interceptions. But he was the third-ranked cornerback in the league last year according to the respected Pro Football Focus evaluation website.
There’s still time for the Colts to bring Davis back into the fold, but it’s running short. The 25-year-old is expected to sign a deal somewhere before his first day on the open market comes to a close.
“We’re optimistic about the process and our game plan, but it is the NFL,” Grigson said of the team’s offseason plans during the combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “You want to lock everybody up and have everybody here. It’s still the NFL, and you can’t have everything.”
Kicker Adam Vinatieri and safety Antoine Bethea also remained unsigned as the deadline approached. Indianapolis did lock up outside linebacker Justin Hickman and defensive lineman Fili Moala to new deals Monday, adding depth to a defense that figures to see plenty of attention in the next few weeks.
The Colts have about $36 million in salary cap room and might need to use it to address needs at center, cornerback, safety and wide receiver. With just five picks in May’s draft, the free agency period will be critical to roster building.
But there are future limitations to consider. Even with a suddenly soaring salary cap expected to continue to rise in coming years, Indianapolis has a number of key contracts ending in 2016. Among them are quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and running back Vick Ballard.
Grigson said concerns for those deals will be weighed this offseason.
“It’s not hard to tighten your belt when you’re looking at what we’re looking at in ‘15 and ‘16,” Grigson said. “In future years we have some key, key young talent — not to even give you names, you know who they are — that we’re going to have to re-sign. So we have to be very prudent and fiscally sound in how we move forward.”
That approach doesn’t mean the team will be silent during this annual bidding war. The Colts already have signed linebacker D’Qwell Jackson to a four-year, $22 million deal after he was cut by the Cleveland Browns. And they re-signed punter Pat McAfee for five years at $14 million last week.
Players with rumored interest in coming to Indianapolis include Baltimore Ravens defensive lineman Arthur Jones, Denver Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker and New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. But Grigson prefers to work under the radar, and there are sure to be names that have not been publicly mentioned in the mix.
One thing appears certain. The general manager will leave no stone unturned.
“We’re going to try to have the most competition at each position group, and whoever wins that spot is going to be the starter and it’s who is going to get us to the next level, which is Super Bowl XLIX, and that’s the mindset,” Grigson said. “You’re either all in or all out.”