COLTS PREPARE AS USUAL TO FIND UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS TO HELP THE TEAMThe Colts are known as a team that embraces collegiate free agents.
Word has spread far and wide. If a player's representative gets a call from the Indianapolis club after his client goes undrafted, the mood for the agent and player alike is apt to perk up.
An experienced agent realizes that the Colts' management team and coaching staff will welcome his player at training camp, try to develop his skills and give him ample opportunity to make the final roster.
"You get a situation," said Colts Vice Chairman Bill Polian, "where an undrafted free agent can come here, walk in the locker room and say, 'I have as good a chance to make this team as anybody who was drafted at any position.' That is why we are able to sign collegiate free agents. Agents know that."
By now, the Colts would have a group of undrafted free agents signed and working toward the start of camp. However, the NFL's labor situation prevents all 32 clubs from signing players of any stripe.
Upon receiving league approval to begin the process, the Colts will leap into action.
"Whenever it comes, it's coming quick and hard and heavy," said Chris Polian, the team's vice president and general manager.
"If you look at our history," he added, "there's going to be opportunity here" for players who weren't selected in April's 2011 NFL Draft.
Indeed, a look at the Colts' recent Super Bowl teams illustrates how they value undrafted free agents. In the 2006 post-season, the Super Bowl roster included 11 players who were undrafted and signed first with the Colts. In the 2009 post-season, there were 11 such players on the roster.
Players such as linebacker Gary Brackett and safety Melvin Bullitt jump out with any mention of the Colts' top undrafted free agents. Brackett, originally signed in 2003, and Bullitt, a 2007 signee, both rose to status as defensive captains. Wide receiver Blair White, signed after the 2010 draft, caught 36 regular-season passes last season and added six in the post-season.
In a normal year, the Colts management staff begins signing collegiate free agents within minutes of the last selection of the draft. There are agents to call, contracts to be negotiated quickly before another team signs a targeted player. Salary cap restrictions must be considered.
"Organized chaos" is what Chris Polian calls it, but the operative word is organized. Team scouts compile the same kind of thorough information packages on prospective free agents that they do on potential draftees.
"We invest a lot in our scouting staff, so we'd always prefer to give a guy his first chance rather than give a player his last chance," Chris Polian said. "You're going to get three to four years out of that player if he makes it versus one (year) on the same amount of initial investment.
"We're forced in some cases financially to fill out our roster with lower-priced players. But no matter what financial (system) or what player-personnel system is in place, that desire for young and developing players will never cease. We try to give as many an opportunity as possible."
The playing opportunities come in preseason games -- in what Chris Polian refers to as the all-important "truth of competition." Coach Jim Caldwell and his staff are on board with giving every player his shot.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in a recent teleconference with Colts season-ticket holders, noted the possibility of a switch to two preseason games in the NFL rather than the current four. That could prompt changes in the Colts' roster-building process.
"The way we have done things, four is more beneficial to us," Chris Polian said. "Because we've relied on younger players to be our backups, they get a chance to prove themselves, get a chance to get that experience.
"But whatever the future may hold, which is out of our hands as a club, we'll just adjust to it."
Colts scouts and management spend a major part of their meetings in December identifying potential undrafted free agents. Then, as the draft unfolds in late April, team executives watch and wait as players come off the board. Thirty-one other teams are doing the same.
Some of the targeted players typically get drafted elsewhere, but many remain available. However, because of the uncertainty of the NFL labor negotiations, Colts management isn't ready to place a number on its 2011 list of prospective undrafted free agents.
"It's just a waiting game right now," said Tom Telesco, the Colts' director of player personnel. "When it's OK, we'll go hard after those guys, just as we have before.
"The kids know, the agents know, that the players who come here have a really good opportunity to make it. They're going to get playing time in the preseason, and they're not just here to be a camp body. That will help us whenever this does start up again."