By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — Now that Indianapolis has re-signed unrestricted free agents Bob Sanders (strong safety), Dallas Clark (tight end) and Ryan Lilja (offensive guard), team officials are planning to sit back and see what’s going to happen with the rest of the team’s free agents.
Clark inked a six-year, $41 million contract with the team Wednesday, making him the highest paid player at his position in the league. He will be making approximately $6.9 million per year, ahead of the $6.2 million currently being paid to Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez.
The Colts have six remaining unrestricted free agents (most notably offensive guard Jake Scott, defensive end Josh Thomas and outside linebacker Rocky Boiman); five restricted free agents (tight ends Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher, offensive guard Dylan Gandy, safety Matt Giordano and defensive tackle Darrell Reid); and two exclusive rights free agents, defensive tackle Ed Johnson and wide receiver Craphonso Thorpe.
“I don’t think that there’s a whole lot of stuff for us to do at this point in time. We’ve re-signed Bob, we’ve re-signed Dallas, we’ve re-signed Ryan. And so I think now we’ll step back, take a deep breath and see how things go forward. But I don’t think we’re going to be very active in the free agent market,” Indianapolis team president Bill Polian said Thursday.
“The fact that we were able to get [Clark] signed is a real plus. We get the [franchise] tag back, so that’s also a plus. Ryan, we felt, was an important objective. We didn’t feel that we could sign both [unrestricted offensive] guards, so it was a question of which one we could sign, if at all. We’re very grateful that we got him signed. And, obviously, Bob was a priority because he was the defensive player of the year and we all know what we means to our defense. So those were three difficult negotiations, which fortunately worked out for us.”
Scott, a fifth-round draft pick by the Colts in 2004, has been a valuable starter at right guard. He has also see some playing time at right offensive tackle, filling in on occasion for starter Ryan Diem. But his playing days with Indianapolis may be over.
“I don’t know [if Scott will be back in 2008]. Let’s see. We’ve always taken a position with free agents that are out there that we understand that they need to seek their fortune. They need to find out what the market is. Sometimes the market isn’t what the agent or the player may expect it will be. Sometimes it is. And I understand in both cases,” he said.
“We certainly would welcome Jake back with open arms. The question is what’s good for him and his family. He has to make that decision going forward. We never want to lose a player to free agency. Sometimes you do. It’s a reality.”
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n FCS, small-school players getting a look — Of the approximately 333 college players on hand for this week’s National Football Scouting Combine, 30 attended what most people would describe as smaller colleges (such as the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly I-AA, along with Divisions II and III and NAIA).
A pair of Northern Iowa offensive tackles — Brandon Keith and Chad Rinehart — are the only Gateway Conference participants at the combine, although several others very well could have also had been invited. Cornerback Craig Turner and offensive guard Darren Marquez (Southern Illinois) could end up being middle and lower round draft choices, as could Eastern Illinois wide receiver Micah Rucker.
Two of the best from the FCS, Tennessee State cornerback Dominique Rogers-Cromartie and Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, are expected to be taken anywhere in the first three rounds of this year’s NFL draft (which is scheduled for April 26-27).
According to Polian, the learning curve for a player from the FCS level is not quite as steep as it could be for someone from the other divisions. He should know. The Colts have had a pretty good run of success in recent drafts by taking players such as defensive end Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M;) and free safety Antoine Bethea (Howard), both key starters on Indianapolis’ rapidly improving defensive unit.
“[Competition level for] a prospective draftee may have faced] is only important in the sense that, I think, they transition into the National Football League a little faster. So if you were sitting here and making a judgment and saying you would rather have a football player from Purdue University or you would rather have a player from DePauw, both of whom have the same physical characteristics, if you presume that both would go to free agency at the same time, you would get more production likely out of the player from Purdue sooner than you would from DePauw,” he said recently.
“Now put a disclaimer in there. DePauw fans don’t need to write me letters telling me that I’m knocking their team. But the bottom line is, that’s where it shows because that player is more capable of making the transition sooner. It may well be that the player from the lower level of competition has more of a ceiling than the player from the higher level. And that’s particularly true of running backs. A guy that’s carried the ball 400 times in college as opposed to one who may have carried it 150. So there are variables. But if you make that apple to apple comparison, the guy from the higher level of competition will probably play sooner.”
That philosophy changes a bit, though, when players from the Football Championship Series are added to the equation.
“Well, I-AA [FCS teams] is a little bit different. The difference between I-AA and I-A, or whatever they call it these days, is not as great as the jump from [Divisions] II or III, for example, to the NFL. It’s just not. And you see more I-AA guys come in and play relatively soon,” he said.
n Athleticism counts — When members of the Colts’ player personnel and coaching staffs look at the players assembled for this year’s combine, the one area that they will continue to concentrate on is a prospect’s overall athletic skills. A bit of a translation: If you can’t run, you can’t play for Indianapolis.
“[Being an athlete, in the Colts’ system] means that he’s a guy who moves easily, who does not expend every ounce of energy on every step and every movement. Someone who’s flexible. That would be an apt description of athleticism,” Polian said.
Character is important, but how a player carries themselves both on and off the football field will go a long way during the long pre-draft evaluation process.
“I don’t if you can use that word. I think football temperament is a better choice of words,” he added. “Football temperament is the guy’s internal discipline, his love for the game, his work ethic, his ability to process information within the scope of the game and his citizenship.”
In terms of measurables, the Colts look at height, weight, speed, arm length, hand size and football intelligence. And book smarts doesn’t necessarily translate to on the field success either.
“Well, it’s football intelligence and people shouldn’t confuse the two. Intelligence is a euphemism in football terms. What is really means is can the player process information quickly under pressure and in a physically violent atmosphere. That’s really what it’s all about it,” Polian said.
“[Book smarts are] really not a measure of it, to be truthful with you. You see in the guy’s play. Not necessarily productivity, more instinct. But productivity is extremely important. I mean if a guy’s a good player, he’s going to be productive. If he’s not productive, then you have to look closely.”