INDIANAPOLIS – Antoine Bethea all but gave a farewell speech while packing up his locker as the Indianapolis Colts closed the books on the 2013 season Monday at the team's practice complex.
Bethea, one of the leaders on the team and one of the few remaining stars from the Peyton Manning era, becomes a free agent this spring. Whether the Colts re-sign him as he enters his 30s with significant mileage is open for debate.
Body language and words seem to indicate Bethea expects to be wearing another uniform next season.
“I had eight great years here in Indy,” Bethea said. “Whatever's coming down the road, I'll just play the cards how they're dealt. I'd love to stay here, but if not, have to keep moving.”
The Colts conducted their unofficial exit interviews with the media two days after the season ended with a 43-22 loss at New England in the AFC playoffs. Some players, such as running back Vick Ballard, will remain in Indianapolis to continue health rehabilitations. Most players go their own way to their various hometowns.
Bethea is just one of the players who may or may not be back when the team starts prepping for 2014. Other free agents include running back Donald Brown, cornerback Vontae Davis, linebacker Pat Angerer, kicker Adam Vinatieri, defensive end Fili Moala, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin and punter Pat McAfee. Some players, such as Davis, seem locks to be signed to new deals. Some players, such as wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, have likely played their last game with the Colts.
Bethea, Brown, and even Vinatieri are somewhere in the middle. They could return or the Colts could decide to go another direction.
Bethea has played in every Colts game the last six seasons and has 14 career interceptions. Brown had his best season and Vinatieri is one of the greatest field-goal kickers of all time.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano said decisions on players are “organizational” decisions, and he will soon discuss possible roster moves with general manager Ryan Grigson.
Vinatieri, 41, will be entering his 19th season in 2014. He spent his first 10 years with the New England Patriots and the last eight with the Colts. He has won Super Bowls with both. He had a strong year in 2013 and says he has no plans to retire.
“I'm still enjoying it,” Vinatieri said. “I still feel I can do it at a high-enough level. I'd like to be here if the cards fall right. This locker room is awesome. I have a lot of friends in this locker room. I have the most admiration for ownership here and coaches and staff and everything. If it's up to me, I'd love to be here.”
Brown entered his fourth season with the Colts ranked third on the depth chart behind Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw, but both of them were lost early in the season with injuries. Brown then beat out Trent Richardson for the starting spot several weeks after Richardson was acquired in the trade with Cleveland.
Brown had career highs in yards per carry (5.3), touchdowns (six) and receiving (27 catches, 214 yards).
“This past season was almost like an interviewing process and now you just wait and see what job offers you get,” Brown said. “I'll take the one that makes the most sense to me and my family.”
Given a choice, Brown said, he would like to say with the Colts. Others said the same thing, but only Davis sounded like he was sure he would end up with the team. The Colts gave up a second-round pick for Davis, who is only 25.
Other unrestricted Colts free agents include Bradshaw, Jeff Linkenbach, Ricardo Mathews, Mike McGlynn, Lawrence Sidbury and Cassius Vaughn.
“That's one of the bad things about football,” Vinatieri said. “Every year there's so much turnover. A lot of guys (contracts) are up this year. It's a tough situation. You know the team will never be exactly the same.”
Harnish signed to new Colts contract
Norwell High School alum Chandler Harnish was signed to a Colts reserve/future contract for 2014 on Monday.
The reserve/future contract is available to any player not on the active roster. The contract allows teams to secure players they intend to continue to develop and often come from the team's practice squad.
Harnish, a quarterback out of Northern Illinois University, spent this season on the Colts practice squad, his second season with the team. The reserve/future contract essentially indicates the Colts plan to continue to work with him in all offseason team activities and include him in training camp next summer.
The Colts also signed reserve/future contracts with guard Zach Allen, center Thomas Austin, linebacker Alan Baxter, cornerback Marcus Burley and tight end Martell Webb.