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Colts moves make defense younger, better

Colts cornerback Vontae Davis knocks the football away from Kansas City's Junior Hemingway for an incomplete pass last season. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Colts cornerback Vontae Davis knocks the football away from Kansas City's Junior Hemingway for an incomplete pass last season. (Photo by The Associated Press)

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For more on the Colts and NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Vontae Davis gets paid to be a 'shutdown corner'

Wednesday, March 12, 2014 12:01 am
On the first day of NFL free agency, the Indianapolis Colts kept the right “old” guy, made their defense younger and paid a boatload of bills for Vontae Davis. I'm fine with all of it. Of course, it's not my money.First, the big bucks went to Davis, who was in heavy discussions with the New York Jets. Or, perhaps, those “discussions” were simply a chip in wrangling four years and $39 million out of the Colts. Whatever the bargaining leverage, Davis got paid and Colts general manager Ryan Grigson kept a cornerstone for the secondary.

Davis makes big plays and he gets burned and he once got Peyton Manning confused with Tom Brady. (Haven't we all?) But he does offer the potential to be as close to a shutdown corner as you can be in the current receiver-friendly NFL. The Colts know what they have in Davis. We can debate how much he costs, but as long as it's not keeping the team from holding onto franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, it's all subjective.

Among the other moves Tuesday, the Colts re-signed kicker Adam Vinatieri, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and safety/special teams star Sergio Brown. They also picked up defensive end/tackle Arthur Jones, a free agent who was strong for the Baltimore Ravens. On the subtraction side, they lost longtime safety Antoine Bethea to the San Francisco 49ers.

Here's my two cents on each of the other moves:

* Vinatieri. The only drawback is the fact he's 41 years old. But that's like 31 in kickers' years. He had a great season in 2013, hitting four field goals from 50 yards or longer. He doesn't have to handle the kickoffs – that's punter/holder Pat McAfee's job – so the wear and tear over the course of the season isn't as great. It's a two-year deal. Good move.

* Bradshaw. Most Colts fans remember the great game he had in the road win over the 49ers last season. He looked like the power running back that Colts coach Chuck Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton love. The problem with Bradshaw is that he seems injury prone. If he can come back 100 percent and he can be somewhat durable, he brings some nice depth with Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard.

Bradshaw is worth gambling on. If he doesn't work out, the Colts can cut ties early and move on.

* Brown. Many Colts fans and media members felt that Brown should have been a Pro Bowl special teams player after the season he had a year ago. He thrived in the sometimes underappreciated role of kick/punt coverage. Brown will need to add more regular defensive time to his resume as a safety, especially with Bethea leaving town. Again, this is a low-risk, potential high-reward re-signing.

* Jones. More money for another defensive lineman? More money for the vaunted Pagano mantra of stopping the run? Yes, more money. Jones is young (27) and can play tackle or end and is capable of rushing the quarterback as well as clogging running lanes. The fact he played for Pagano in Baltimore gave him an inside connection, although Grigson wouldn't have bought into the deal if he didn't like Jones. He's still young, still improving and familiar with the Colts' defensive philosophy, which as far as I can tell is: Become the Ravens.

* Bethea. At the end of last season, Bethea hinted that he might leave the team in free agency. He didn't necessarily want to, he said, but business is business. The 49ers made him a nice offer and it can be assumed the Colts weren't willing to play in the same neighborhood. Bethea looked last season like he was nearing the end of his prime. He turns 30 this summer. He's played eight seasons. I imagine he has a couple of decent years left. I'm not sure he has four, and clearly the Colts weren't sure, either.

The loss of Bethea is one of those moves that remind us the NFL is not about team loyalty or sentimentality. If you're a player rising to his prime (Davis, Jones) then the investment makes sense. If you're heading toward the downward turn of your career – it happens to everyone, at various points, and there's no shame in it – turning to a younger player makes sense.

Bethea will be missed in the locker room. He helped with the transition from the Tony Dungy/Jim Caldwell era to the Pagano era.

There's no room for sentimentality in the NFL. If Vinatieri couldn't still deliver the big kicks, he'd have been out the door, too.

The Colts aren't finished yet. They still need a wide receiver. Maybe today. There's no such word as “offseason” in NFL team building.

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For more on the Colts and NFL, follow Reggie Hayes via Twitter at www.twitter.com/reggiehayes1


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