*INDIANAPOLIS — *With the Indianapolis Colts’ offseason underway, it’s time to take a close look at the players set to hit the open market as unrestricted free agents when the league’s new year begins at 4 p.m. ET March 14.
These 13 players are heading into the offseason as unrestricted free agents, simply meaning they have four or more tenured years in the league and their contract has expired. While the Colts can enter into negotiations with these players if they decide they would like to bring them back for the 2018 season, they may sign with any team with no restrictions.
Here’s a look at that list of Colts unrestricted free agents:
• Wide receiver Kamar Aiken: Signed last offseason as a player expected to make a major contribution behind the likes of T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief, Aiken would have the least productive season of his career in 2017, finishing with 15 receptions for 133 yards and zero touchdowns in 15 games with seven starts. But Aiken has proven that he can play in this league, evidenced by his 2015 season with the Baltimore Ravens where a couple key injuries propelled him into the No. 1 receiver role, and he responded with 75 receptions for 944 yards and five touchdowns. A big target at 6 foot 2, 216 pounds, Aiken looks to have a bounce-back year in 2018, and the Colts certainly are going to once again have spots up for grabs at the receiver position.
*• Inside linebacker Jon Bostic: *After bouncing around the league a little bit the first four years of his career — being traded twice and then missing the entire 2016 season with a foot injury — Bostic finally found some stability when he signed with the Colts as a free agent last offseason. He started the first 14 games of the season at the WILL linebacker position and seemed to get better each and every week, finishing his season with 97 tackles (six for a loss) with one sack, three passes defensed and one fumble recovery. Though his season ended with two games left after suffering a knee injury Week 15 against the Denver Broncos, Bostic finally has essentially a full season as a starter under his belt, and should garner attention on the market this offseason.
*• Safety Darius Butler: *Butler re-signed with the Colts last offseason after five solid seasons with the team as a cornerback, but was prepared to make a move full-time to safety — something he experimented with out of necessity during the 2016 season. In his first year at safety, Butler played in 15 games with four starts and logged 29 tackles, four passes defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery as he remained a solid veteran presence for younger players like Malik Hooker, T.J. Green and Clayton Geathers. A team leader on and off the field — he is the Colts’ selection for the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year award — Butler, 31, has proven he can remain productive as he enters his 10th NFL season, while his versatility at corner or safety certainly doesn’t hurt, either.
*• Cornerback Pierre Desir: *Desir has been waiting for his opportunity for a while, and that’s just what he got with the Colts in 2017. A fourth-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in the 2014 NFL Draft, Desir has since spent time with the Browns, the San Diego Chargers and the Seattle Seahawks before being claimed off waivers by the Colts just before the start of the 2017 regular season to bolster the team’s depth at cornerback. But he would take advantage of some injuries (and other moving pieces)in the secondary to eventually play in nine games with six starts in 2017, and would lock in as one of the top two corners by midway through the season, starting five straight games from Weeks 9-13 before suffering a season-ending pectoral injury Week 13. He finished his season with 32 tackles, one interception — the first of his career — and seven passes defensed, and could be considered a intriguing free agent prospect this offseason.
*• Running back Frank Gore: *The future Pro Football Hall of Famer continued his ascent up the league record books on 2017, moving to No. 5 all-time in rushing yards (14,026), with No. 4 Curtis Martin (14,101) now just 75 yards away. Gore continued to be just as durable and dependable as ever — he enters the offseason having played in 112 consecutive games with 108 straight starts — as he started all 16 games for the Colts and finished with 261 carries for 961 yards and three rushing touchdowns, while also adding 29 receptions for 245 yards and another score through the air. Gore said he’ll return for a 14th NFL season in 2018, and expressed a desire to come back with the Colts, especially if quarterback Andrew Luck is healthy and ready to go, but now the team needs to decide what its future is at the running back position before moving forward with a possible offer.
• Cornerback Rashaan Melvin: **Few players across the league were able to increase their value the way Melvin did in 2017 with the Colts. Like Desir, Melvin was signed in 2016 to help with the depth at a then-depleted cornerback position and did well with his initial opportunities, but he found a way to turn it up a few notches this past offseason and through training camp, and entered the 2017 season, really, as the team’s top corner — and stayed that way until Week 12, when he injured his hand during a play in which he intercepted Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota (Melvin wouldn’t play again the rest of the season). But he finished his career year with 36 tackles (one for a loss), three interceptions and 13 passes defensed, and could very well be considered one of the top cornerback options on the free agency market this offseason.
*• Guard Jack Mewhort: *Unfortunately, Mewhort has been unable to shake the injury bug the last couple seasons, because, when healthy, he’s proven to be a very solid interior lineman for the Colts. After suffering a couple knee injuries last season and playing in just 10 games, Mewhort would continue to try to play through some of those same issues entering the 2017 season, starting the first five seasons at right guard. But eventually enough was enough, and the team decided to place him on Injured Reserve, ending his season. A second-round pick by the Colts in the 2014 NFL Draft, Mewhort enters free agency for the first time with 45 games — all starts — to his credit, while he also has flexibility between guard and tackle as a huge selling point.
*• Running back Christine Michael: *A solid backup option at the running back position for the Seattle Seahawks (and, briefly, the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers) from 2013 through 2016, Michael was signed by the Colts to provide some heavy competition heading into training camp on June 1. But just two weeks later, he was placed on injured reserve after suffering an injury during a minicamp practice. With a full season off to the side to recover, Michael hits the free agent market with a 4.3 yards-per-carry average, which could certainly attract some suitors.
*• Outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo: *The Browns made Mingo the sixth-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft due to his enormous potential and athletic ability, but he just hadn’t quite been able to live up to those lofty expectations in four NFL seasons before signing with the Colts last offseason. With the chance to be more of a situational pass rusher — and, eventually, a starter after John Simon went down with a season-ending injury — Mingo put in perhaps his best overall NFL season in 2017, collecting 44 tackles (five for a loss) with two sacks, seven quarterback hits, two passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
*• Wide receiver Donte Moncrief: *In 2015, Moncrief opened all sorts of eyes when he was able to catch 64 passes for 733 yards and six touchdowns, showing his potential as a top-end receiver and someone the Colts could pair up with Hilton for quite a long time. The next season was perhaps even more impressive, as he was able to catch seven touchdown passes in just nine games in an injury-plagued year. But in a contract year in 2017, Moncrief would not only battle some more injury issues, particularly towards the end of the season, but he wasn’t quite as productive when he was in the rfold, as he finished his season with 26 receptions for 391 yards and two scores in 12 games with eight starts. So with all those factors in mind, this should be an interesting offseason for Moncrief, who will enter his fifth NFL season at just 25 years old.
*• Center Mike Person: *Person was able to add stability for the Colts at a center position that had lots of moving pieces throughout the 2017 season. First, starter Ryan Kelly went down with a foot injury during training camp, so Deyshawn Bond, an undrafted rookie, stepped in. Bond played very well considering the circumstances, but would go down Week 4 with a season-ending quad injury. Fortunately, Kelly would be able to go from that point, but he would battle some injury issues the rest of the way until Week 12, when he suffered a concussion against the Tennessee Titans, which would eventually send him to IR. The seventh-year veteran Person started three of the final four games for Indy at center, and played very well; in fact, Pro Football Focus rated him as the 14th-best center in the league in 2017. Quality, veteran centers are a tough find in this league, so Person should have plenty of interest heading into this offseason.
• Quarterback Scott Tolzien: *After Luck underwent shoulder surgery last January, Tolzien stepped in to assume all starter duties during the offseason workout program, OTAs, minicamp, training camp and the preseason, and got the start under center Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. But after completing 9-of-18 passes for 128 yards and throwing two pick-sixes in that game, the Colts decided to give second-year quarterback Jacoby Brissett — acquired in a trade with the New England Patriots just before the start of the season — a try, and Tolzien wouldn’t see the field the rest of the year. A tremendous backup, teammate and resource in the meeting room and on the practice field, one would imagine Tolzien will get some looks from teams in free agency, though with Luck’s expected return in 2018, and with the emergence of Brissett, it’s unknown if Indy will bring him back for a third season.• Tight end Brandon Williams: *Mostly a special teams standout and solid blocking tight end his first four seasons in the NFL, Williams enjoyed being involved in the Colts’ passing game in 2017 more than he had ever been used before, as he logged career highs in receptions (13) and receiving yards (121) in 14 games played with 10 starts (he had started just one game in his career entering the year). But Williams would suffer a very scary-looking concussion Week 15 against the Denver Broncos, and would need to be carted off the field on a stretcher and briefly hospitalized, and while he would quickly return to the team and be in good spirits, Williams did not play the rest of the season. The most important thing is Williams’ long-term health, of course, but if he gets the clearance he needs, Williams has a solid 2017 season to build off of moving forward.
Those who have re-signed with the Colts before becoming a free agent:
• Kicker Adam Vinatieri [story]
The Colts also have four exclusive rights free agents heading into the 2018 season. These are players whose contracts have expired and have two or fewer tenured years in the league. The Colts must make a contract offer by the league-imposed deadline of 4 p.m. ET March 14, or the players become unrestricted free agents:
• Cornerback Chris Milton
• Long snapper Luke Rhodes
• Tight end Mo Alie-Cox
• Guard Jeremy Vujnovich
(Inside linebacker Edwin Jackson, who was also set to become an exclusive rights free agent this offseason, was tragically killed in a Feb. 4 traffic accident in Indianapolis.)