NFL Nation: Andrew Luck

IRVING, Texas -- Josh Mauro was like a lot of kids growing up in the area. He was a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. He even attended the final game at Texas Stadium, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2008. He hoped one day he would wear the star on his helmet.

[+] EnlargeJosh Mauro
George Frey/Getty ImagesTexas native Josh Mauro had a breakout season for the Stanford Cardinal in 2013.
Today Mauro, who played defensive line at Stanford after leaving Hurst L.D. Bell, is at Valley Ranch with other Dallas Day hopefuls -- working out for the team while his immediate family watches. Mauro will be joined by other locals like TCU safety Elisha Olabode, Missouri quarterback James Franklin (Corinth), Abilene Christian receiver Taylor Gabriel (Mesquite), Miami defensive back Kacy Rodgers (Southlake Carroll) -- whose dad was the Cowboys defensive line coach from 2003-07 -- and North Texas running back Zach Orr (DeSoto).

"It's kind of like a dream come true," Mauro said. "Playing Pee Wee football and high school, you see the Cowboys and it's like a dream to think you could play for them. This isn't a sign-up for the Cowboys, but to even have the opportunity to work out for them is something special."

Mauro, 6-foot-6, 280 pounds, played defensive end, defensive tackle and even some nose tackle for Stanford. He had 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, six quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and an interception for one of the best defenses in college football in 2013.

He knows the Cowboys have defensive line needs, too. He knows DeMarcus Ware is now with the Denver Broncos, Jason Hatcher is with the Washington Redskins and Anthony Spencer remains unsigned. He is aware they signed Henry Melton.

"You're talking two, possibly three starters up front in that defense that aren't there anymore," Mauro said.

Mauro met with Cowboys assistant defensive line coach Leon Lett and other coaches at the NFL scouting combine in February. He played in the East-West Shrine Game and worked out in California, with former Stanford players like Andrew Luck, Coby Fleener and other current NFL players.

"It's a great work environment, just getting to be with guys that are like minded and in the NFL," Mauro said. "I've been able to learn a lot from them."

ESPN Insiders have him as the 21st ranked defensive end, but his versatility puts him on the radar of 4-3 and 3-4 teams. Having played in a multiple defenses used at Stanford also helps. When he arrived at Stanford, Vic Fangio was his coordinator. Fangio now runs the San Francisco 49ers defense. Josh Tarver took over for Fangio, and he now runs the Oakland Raiders defense. Derek Mason took over for Tarver and he is now the head coach at Vanderbilt.

"Say a team runs a 3-4, the guys they'll have aren't just the typical big, block squares just two-gapping," Mauro said. "It's a passing league. You've got to be able to play different personnel. Look at a team like New England. They might have one down lineman and standing up the other 10 guys. The game is so different. It's not the traditional tight end, two backs, two wide receivers. It could be three, four, five wide receivers. The name of the game is to get to the quarterback. I've been able to do that at Stanford from a lot of different positions. Nowadays getting to the quarterback whether it be from the nine technique or nose guard, you've got to be able to create mismatches for people in different positions."

He worked out for the Atlanta Falcons and will work out for the New York Giants next week, followed by visits with the 49ers and Raiders.

"I still remember we wrote our goal letters at every training period at Stanford," Mauro said. "My first goal was to eventually become a starter at Stanford, an All-American defensive end and be a future first-round pick. Now coming out of high school that was a very, very ambitious goal and I wasn't heavily recruited. I had a few offers, but I always set the bar high so even if I fall short of my expectations I'd still end up in a good place. I always believed in it. Three years in the program I hadn't played very much. The fourth year I came in off the bench and was the energy guy … . My fifth year I ended up starting 11 games and was productive and helped one of the best defenses in the nation. Everything is kind of surreal. You couldn't plan it out. You just always have to believe in yourself if no one is believing in you."
INDIANAPOLIS - Will Reggie Wayne not participating in minicamp impact the Indianapolis Colts' chemistry?

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Wayne
That was one of the questions that came up after the receiver said he probably won't take part in the team's minicamp.

No.

Wayne tore his ACL in Week 7 last season. Holding him out until the start of training camp at the end of July is the right thing for the Colts to do.

Wayne is a veteran, he doesn't need to work on his timing with Luck. He's simply excited to be out there with his teammates again even if he'll be limited on what he does.

The fact that 35-year-old Wayne is ahead of schedule is another indication that there's little doubt he'll be able to fully recover from the injury.

Of course there will be questions about how comfortable Wayne will be running sharp routes and making hard plants on his surgically repaired knee.

Don't get me wrong, Wayne wants to be out there during minicamp. He told me he's always been "kind of hard headed," but waiting until training camp is the best thing for him to do.

"It's only natural to think about it, but that's why I'm going to slowly work my way back out there," Wayne said by phone earlier this week.

Wayne has high expectations for the offense now that they've added Hakeem Nicks to join him, T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Another step toward the 2014 season starts April 21 for the Indianapolis Colts. I wish I could tell you that’s when the 2014 schedule will come out.

That's not the case. But it is when quarterback Andrew Luck and the rest of the Colts will have their first day of offseason workouts.

The players will take part in strength/conditioning training and individual position drills for the first six weeks of workouts.

The Colts will then move on to their organized team activities, which are full-squad but non-padded practices. Here are the dates for those: May 27-29, June 2-4 and June 9-12.

The mandatory minicamp will be held June 16-19. The players and coaches will then break for a final vacation period after minicamp before returning for the start of training camp. The Colts haven't announced the official start date of their training camp at Anderson (Ind.) University yet. It'll start sometime in late July.

The 2014 schedule will likely come out at some point this month.

Around the NFL: 2014 minicamp, OTA schedules released
ORLANDO, Fla. -- New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin knows all too well about receiver Hakeem Nicks.

Nicks, the new Indianapolis Colts receiver, spent his first five years in the NFL playing for Coughlin. He had two 1,000-yard receiving seasons and helped the Giants win a Super Bowl.

Nicks
“I think two years ago, he was one of the best receivers in the NFL,” Coughlin said.

Last season was a different story for Nicks. He had 56 catches for 896 yards, but didn’t catch a touchdown pass for the first time in his NFL career.

I spoke to ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano when Nicks signed this month, and Graziano said the coaches were frustrated with Nicks because he couldn’t make plays in the passing game.

“He’s had some nicks, he’s had some things he’s had to deal with,” Coughlin said. “The production isn’t what it should’ve been last year. We wish Hakeem success, nothing but the best for him. Perhaps this is what he needed, the change he needed -- the reality of our business.”

Nicks signed a one-year deal with the Colts to play alongside Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton at receiver, catch passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and hopefully have a bounce-back season.

“What is there not to like about the guy? He’s a big guy,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Very, very athletic, experienced guy, played at a high level, won championships. He brings that with him. He’ll do a great job against press coverage, and teams we’ll have to face. All of them are built to stop the big wide outs. He brings a lot to the table.”

And if Nicks is able to re-establish himself in Indianapolis?

“They’ll have one heck of a football team,” Coughlin said.
Andrew LuckElsa/Getty ImagesWith an improved running game, the Colts won't have to rely on Andrew Luck to save each game.
ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was one of those moments that could easily send chills up your spine or cause you to break out in goose bumps as the words came out of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano's mouth early Tuesday morning, as the sun was still making its way up in Central Florida.

The Colts have a quarterback -- a pretty a darn good one, I must say -- who has consistently proven in just two short seasons that he has everything it takes to lead a team that has dealt with on- and off-the-field adversity.

Arm? Check.

Mobility? A hidden talent of his.

Mental toughness? There's no question he has that.

The results prove it. Twenty-two regular-season victories. An AFC South division title. A playoff victory.

Enter Pagano.

"From a mindset standpoint, it all starts with running the ball and stopping the run," the coach said in between sips of his coffee. "We do have a great quarterback, with a great arm and he has weapons to throw to. Certainly we understand that and we know that."

Pagano also added that they'll continue to emphasize running the ball, "until they run me out of there."

The Colts will run the ball, especially with three running backs -- Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw -- who have all been starters at some point in their careers. But don't be mistaken about what Pagano said, Luck will still drop back in the pocket and fling the ball downfield more than he hands it off. That's their best chance to win.

There are legitimate question marks about the Colts' top three running backs next season.

Ballard is coming off a torn ACL. Bradshaw needs to prove he can stay healthy. Richardson, well, simply put, he's still a work in progress after being traded to Indianapolis early last season.

The Colts tried to run the ball in 2013. But the thought of them having anything close to a ground game came to a halt in Week 3 when Bradshaw's season ended because of a neck injury. Richardson and Donald Brown simply didn't get the job done -- partially because of offensive line problems and partially because of a lack of production from the two running backs.

That left Luck using his arm to bail the Colts out of deficits. They threw the ball 582 times compared to 409 rush attempts last season.

The NFL is a copycat league. What the Colts and 27 other teams saw was the final four teams playing -- New England, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco -- all mixing in the run to go with their talented quarterbacks.

The Colts experienced it firsthand, as the Patriots ran for 234 yards against them in their AFC divisional playoff matchup -- a 43-22 loss.

A successful run game is what Indianapolis wants. Not Luck strapping on his cape to lead the Colts back from constant double-digit holes.

Also, Luck could have his best arsenal of weapons to throw to in his young career with the addition of receiver Hakeem Nicks to go with fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and the hopeful healthy return of receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen. Throw in a consistent running game -- cross your fingers the offensive line can block better -- and it's the type of offense that will allow the Colts to be successful.

"We're not going to try to do things to make us lose," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "...All that matters at the end of the day is that you make the playoffs and if you can win in the playoffs. We don't want to make it all on Andrew. We want to give him help with our stable of running backs and [with] our offensive line creating those lanes to open up the play-action pass, so it takes the pressure off of him."
The talk of the NFL's free-agency period through the first two weeks in the AFC has centered on the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots.

The Broncos bulked up their defense by acquiring defensive end DeMarcus Ware, safety T.J. Ward and cornerback Aqib Talib to go with quarterback Peyton Manning and the rest of the offense. The Patriots signed cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner while re-signing receiver Julian Edelman.

The Indianapolis Colts?

They didn’t make any free-agent splashes outside of re-signing cornerback Vontae Davis. General manager Ryan Grigson easily could have panicked as the Patriots and Broncos, the two teams who played in the AFC Championship Game last season, made their moves.

Nope.

The Colts went into the free-agency period with a plan, a plan they weren’t going to deviate from. Grigson said they signed all the players they wanted to get.

"You're competitive, but you can't be competitive in that way where you're watching what they're doing and say, 'We’re going to one-up you.' That makes no sense to me," he said. "We're in our own little world over here with our own vision of the future with our own set of problems and circumstances and things we're trying to work through positionally and needs we're trying to address. And they have a completely different landscape on all of those different teams."

The Broncos loaded up their roster in an attempt to make at least one more run at a Super Bowl with Manning before his Hall of Fame career likely ends in the next couple of years.

The Colts, like the other 31 teams, want to win the Super Bowl, but don’t have a short window to win a title like Denver and New England. Their quarterback, Andrew Luck, is headed into only his third season. Grigson also has to be financially conscious because they’ll have to pay players such as Luck, offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo and receiver T.Y. Hilton sooner than later.

"It's a team effort when we bring guys into the building," Grigson said. "We really attack it like a team and at the end of the day, we stick to our plan and our vision. Again, it's forward thinking and always looking ahead and not necessarily living in the now even though we feel like Super Bowl XLIX is something that we can attain. With the quarterback that we have and the young players around him, you want to build for sustained success. It's something that you have to stay disciplined in day in and day out."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Khaled Holmes and Phil Costa.

Those two names might cause you to look at their Wikipedia page to find out their background.

Here’s the condensed version of who Holmes and Costa are: They are centers for the Indianapolis Colts and will be the two competing for the right to hike the ball to franchise quarterback Andrew Luck next season.

[+] EnlargePhil Costa
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe Colts signed center Phil Costa to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. He'll compete with Khaled Holmes for the starting job this fall.
That essentially was the message general manager Ryan Grigson passed along during a conference call with reporters late Friday morning.

“We feel pretty good where we’re at,” he said. “You always like to be able to plug in a Pro Bowler there or someone that’s a five-year starter, have that luxury, but I’ll say this to make this point: You guys had great success here with (Jeff) Saturday who was a (college free agent) that I think was stocking shelves when they brought him in.

“About center in general, I personally have been fortunate enough to be to three Super Bowls with two teams, and on all three of those teams the centers were (college free agents). That’s a position where you can find a quality guy and you don’t need always to have that high-profile player at that spot."

Samson Satele was the Colts’ starting center the past two seasons, but he was released this month after performing poorly last season.

The Colts had interest in Cleveland center Alex Mack, but being able to land him was a longshot from the start because the Browns used their transition tag on him, meaning they could match any offer made to Mack.

Indianapolis signed Costa, who spent his first four seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, to a one-year, $1.2 million contract last week. He started every game in 2011 for the Cowboys. His 2012 season was cut short because of ankle and back problems. Costa, an undrafted free agent, dressed for 12 games in 2013 but only played in three of those games, losing his starting job to Travis Frederick, the team’s first-round pick last season.

Holmes, the Colts’ fourth-round pick in 2013, still remains a 6-3, 319-pound mystery. He played a total of 12 snaps last season. That number is alarming when you consider the problems the Colts had on the interior part of the offensive line last season.

“We signed Phil Costa, he’s a tough young center that has started games,” Grigson said. “We drafted Khaled Holmes to be that center of the future. He never got a chance in camp really because of the ankle, so he’s still a little bit of an unknown at the professional level. But it’s going to be a good competition.”

So for now, learn as much as you can about Holmes and Costa, because they are currently the two players with the best shot of being the Colts’ starting center next season.
The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts knew something had to be done. This is nothing against Da'Rick Rodgers, Griff Whalen and LaVon Brazill. They all ended up progressing by the end of last season.

Nicks
But the Colts had to get an upgrade at receiver. They needed to give quarterback Andrew Luck another veteran player to throw to besides T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne.

Enter Hakeem Nicks.

Nicks, who spent his first five seasons with the New York Giants, let it be known earlier this week that he had interest in catching passes from Luck next season. He flew into Indianapolis on Thursday and met with the team officials Friday. A sign things were going well occurred when the team posted a picture of Nicks walking around the facility on Twitter late Friday afternoon. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson isn't one to fly in a bunch of players he's interested in just for kicks. He must have an incredible sales pitch because most players usually leave Indianapolis having agreed to a deal.

Depth at receiver was an issue all last season for the Colts. There were times when you didn't know who was going to help Hilton and tight end Coby Fleener with catching balls from Luck.

The Colts signed Nicks at the right time because the receiver free-agent market had started to dry up with players such as Steve Smith, Jacoby Jones and Eric Decker signing deals.

Just like Darrius Heyward-Bey last year, Nicks comes to the Colts with something to prove.

Nicks wants to get back to displaying the skills that allowed him to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2010-11. Unlike Heyward-Bey, though, Nicks won't turn out to be a disaster.

Nicks had somewhat of a down year last season when he had 896 yards receiving and didn't catch a touchdown for the first time in his career. So motivation alone by the 26-year-old Nicks will help him and the Colts.

The key question remains for the Colts now at receiver is what type of player Wayne will be once he hits the field for Week 1 of the regular season in the fall. He's 35 years old and working his way back from a torn ACL, suffered in Week 7 last season. There's no question Wayne is putting in the time to work his way back -- coach Chuck Pagano said there's been times he's been at facility seven days a week -- but age isn't on his side.

The pressure won't be on Wayne to carry the load with Nicks and Hilton, who emerged as Luck's go-to receiver after Wayne went down last season.

Just like the Colts want it.

Hakeem Nicks to meet with Colts

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INDIANAPOLIS - Could the Indianapolis Colts be closing in on a veteran receiver to go with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton?

If things go as planned, they could have it taken care of sometime Friday.

Nicks
ESPN's Josina Anderson reported Thursday that free-agent receiver Hakeem Nicks is scheduled to fly to Indianapolis and meet Friday with the Colts.

The visit with the Colts isn't surprising for Nicks. He said earlier this week that he had interest in catching passes from Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.

The 26-year-old Nicks had back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons for the New York Giants in 2010 and 2011 but dealt with injuries in 2012 and had 896 yards receiving with no touchdowns in 2013.

Nicks wouldn't have to carry the receiving load with Colts. Indianapolis has a number of offensive weapons, which include tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener, Luck can turn to. It would be a matter of simply fitting in for Nicks.

The Colts thought they solved their depth concerns at receiver when they signed Darrius Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract last season. Heyward-Bey's highlight in Indianapolis was that he could be one of the first players down field to pin a punt insider the 20-yard line.

Here's what I wrote about Nicks on Thursday morning in a post about the free-agent receiver market:

The issue could be that Nicks wants a multiyear deal. A one-year contract would be more ideal as some have alluded to because it could be a win-win situation for Nicks and the Colts. It'll allow Nicks to prove it was injuries that slowed him down the past two seasons and not simply lack of production. The Colts get another option for Luck to throw to for at least a year.

Analyzing Kiper 3.0: Jaguars

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s prediction in his third mock draft Insider that the Jacksonville Jaguars will take defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 3 overall pick in the upcoming draft is not surprising. He made the same forecast in his first two mock drafts. It's the pick that makes the most sense.

The Jaguars do need a quarterback and in Kiper's scenario Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel and Blake Bortles are available, but general manager David Caldwell has dropped several hints that he doesn't believe any of them are a franchise quarterback.

Caldwell has said rookie quarterbacks generally aren't ready to play right away. There are exceptions, such as Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and Matt Ryan, but those players didn't leave school early and played in pro-style offenses in college. He also has said Chad Henne, who signed a two-year extension last week, can keep the team afloat with better offensive line play and more weapons.

The Jaguars worked on both of those issues early in free agency by signing guard Zane Beadles and running back Toby Gerhart. They are expected to add at least one more offensive lineman and possibly a receiver before the draft, as well.

So Clowney, whom many regard as the best player in the draft, is the natural pick. He fills an immediate need and upgrades a pass rush that finished last in the NFL in each of the past two seasons. He's ridiculously athletic and exceptionally quick (4.53 40-yard dash, including a 10-yard split of 1.56 seconds) for a 6-foot-5, 266-pound end.

Some have concerns about his work ethic and motivation, but those issues are being overblown. Clowney is a freak who can dominate a game.

And consider this: Since the Jaguars will play six games against the AFC South it's important the team is built to handle those opponents. The Indianapolis Colts are the best team in the division because of Luck so the Jaguars need to be able to deal with them twice a year.

Clowney is the first piece.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ryan Grigson didn't have time to spare five minutes on the phone to do an interview. He was too busy talking and wearing his thumbs out texting agents as he prepared for the start of free agency.

The questions, just three of them I might add, were sent via email to the Indianapolis Colts general manager.

"In the middle of free agency, I felt like I had a homework assignment due," Grigson jokingly wrote after answering the questions.

[+] EnlargeRyan Grigson
AP Photo/Johnny VyRyan Grigson and the Colts have set the expectations high, and nothing short of the Super Bowl will suffice for the general manager.
If you know Grigson, you know he's always working, never settling for what happened in the past. He's that nonstop workaholic who is always believing another move should be made to improve the team.

That mindset was a necessity for Grigson when he took over for the fired Bill Polian in 2012. The Colts were coming off a 2-14 season after which they not only dismissed Polian, but also said their final goodbyes to quarterback Peyton Manning after 14 years, 11 playoff games and two Super Bowl appearances.

So the rebuilding process couldn't take long for Grigson, the first-time general manager. Not with holdovers like Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Antoine Bethea used to winning.

Grigson is headed into Year 3 of not rebuilding the Colts, but building off the success the franchise has had in the past two years.

They're 22-10 and made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, while dealing with the loss of coach Chuck Pagano for 12 games while battling leukemia in 2012 and the loss of five offensive starters last season.

"The element of surprise kind of goes away when you have such high expectations," Grigson said. "This is a winning organization and the bar is set high. I think that kind of environment is a healthy one for everyone involved. I'd hate to be somewhere that your expectation was anything less than being Super Bowl champs every year."

Grigson and Pagano walked into the perfect situation.

Andrew Luck, the best quarterback taken No. 1 overall since, well, Manning in 1998, led an impressive Colts 2012 draft class that also included receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

Grigson's obsessive, always-needing-to-be-working mindset is in high gear because the Colts are in position to take another step in the AFC next season. Manning and New England's Tom Brady are a year older and moving another step toward the Hall of the Fame.

Now it's up to Grigson to add the proper pieces around Luck. This is the perfect time for the general manager to redeem himself after his 2013 offseason moves didn't live up to expectations.

"No matter the circumstances, the last two years we expected to be in the Super Bowl and believed in that goal until the last tick came off the clock," Grigson said. "Year 3 will be no different; we just have to find a way to see it all the way through."

Indianapolis went into free agency on Tuesday with the fifth-most salary cap space.

Just like in Green Bay, players want to play in Indianapolis despite the small-market mentality some have about the city.

Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who the Colts signed to a four-year deal on March 6, was attracted to the franchise's history of success. That's understandable after he spent his first eight years in Cleveland, where that organization appears to be just spinning in circles.

Pagano is more than a coach to the players. He's the person who will ask a player about his off-the-field life nearly as much as he talks about offensive and defensive schemes.

"Having a sitdown dinner with him, I knew right away he was a good guy," Jackson said. "We barely talked football. Any time you can do that, you know you're dealing with a good guy. He's been through a lot in his life, obviously. The guy is high on life and I want to be around people like that."

Luck's arm, legs, smarts and mental toughness are the main reasons why the transition from the Manning era hasn't been too turbulent. It's also why Indianapolis is an organization that will remain a destination for free agents as long as the kid from Stanford is taking the snaps from center.

Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has already publicly talked about wanting to catch passes from Luck.

"First of all, winning makes you an attractive team," punter Pat McAfee said. "But I think the chance to hitch your wagon to an up-and-coming, hopefully Hall of Fame quarterback, which [Luck] should be, I think that's a big deal for a lot of the older guys that are looking for a ring, or maybe for the younger guys that are trying to jump-start their career. I think Indianapolis is becoming a very, very promising-looking destination for a lot people who want to win and hitch their wagon to a player who's going to be great for a very long time."

Nicks
New York Giants wide receiver Hakeem Nicks got some bad advice somewhere along the way in 2013. The manner in which he carried himself and handled his business during the Giants' disappointing season -- as a man more concerned about keeping himself healthy than about helping the team win -- seems to have been generated by the people who were representing him at the time. His act turned off Giants coaches, and when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Nicks is likely to be heading elsewhere.

Nicks has since switched agents, and the advice he's getting now appears to be pretty good. His new agents circulated letters to teams over the weekend in which doctors assert Nicks is medically fine and that past leg injuries should not hamper him in the future, according to our man Chris Mortensen. And then on Sunday, Nicks spoke with our Josina Anderson and said he was looking forward to signing a long-term deal with a team for whom he could be the "missing link."
"I know if I went to a place like Indianapolis, I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck," Nicks said. "I can see myself catching passes from Cam Newton or even Philip Rivers."


Now, if you're a Giants fan, you're 100 percent justified in wondering why Nicks didn't feel up to performing like the "missing link" for Eli Manning on a struggling Giants offense in 2013. If he was looking for opportunities to show he could be a difference-making No. 1 wide receiver, the Giants this past year offered him several. But he sleepwalked through the season because health was the most important thing.

Which is fine. Health is a precious asset for these players. The NFL is tough, and you have to make sure you get your money when you can get it. I'm just saying that the Giants and their fans have every right to roll their eyes at this latest statement from a guy who does not appear to have given his all in his final season with the team.

However, as for the future, I think Nicks is doing very well for himself in this pre-free agency period. The teams he lists all could certainly use him, and now he's got fan bases and front offices in those cities imagining him as the difference-maker at wide receiver that could put them over the top. All three of those teams made the playoffs in 2013 in spite of deficiencies at wide receiver, and all three likely are looking for upgrades at the position for 2014 and beyond.

As I have believed all along, Nicks is going to get a long-term deal from some receiver-needy team, and I also think (assuming he really is healthy) that he'll perform well for his new team. But while it's important to remember that he did perform brilliantly in 2011 and help them win a Super Bowl, the fact that the Giants aren't likely to be that team is something that will annoy Giants fans for a long time to come.
INDIANPOLIS -- Former New York Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks has the Indianapolis Colts on his radar as a future team to play for.

Nicks mentioned the Colts, Carolina and San Diego to ESPN's Josina Anderson as teams that intrigue him.

Nicks
Luck
"Ideally this is what I want: I want to go to a team where I'm the missing link. There are a number of teams that I have my eye on once I hit the market. I know if I went to a place like Indianapolis I would be dangerous with a quarterback like Andrew Luck. I can see myself catching passes from Cam Newton or even Philip Rivers. Players have already started to reach out to me from other teams saying they would love for me to come join them. I just want to make it clear that I want a long-term deal and I want to be happy. I'm excited about talking to teams and making it work."

This won't be the last time that a receiver talks about playing with Luck.

Why would it be?

Luck is one of the premier young quarterbacks in the league. The Colts will be a playoff team, even a Super Bowl contender at some point, as long as Luck continues to get better -- which will happen -- and they keep talent around him.

The Colts are in need of a veteran receiver to go with T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne. Wayne is working his way back from a torn ACL, so a player like Nicks fits the veteran description.

But there's an “if” when it comes to Nicks.

The “if” is if Nicks can stay healthy.

He dealt with foot and knee problems during his final two seasons with the Giants. ESPN's Chris Mortensen reported Saturday that Nicks started circulating medical assurance from a specialist that past injury problems won't impact him next season.

Nicks caught 79 passes for 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010. He followed it up with 76 catches for 1,192 yards and seven touchdowns. Nicks only had 56 catches for 896 yards and no touchdowns last season.

Free-agency primer: Colts

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

Key free agents: CB Vontae Davis, S Antoine Bethea, K Adam Vinatieri, RB Donald Brown

Where they stand: The Colts have the fourth-most salary-cap space ($41 million) in the league. They solved one of their issues when they signed inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday to start alongside Jerrell Freeman, Erik Walden and Robert Mathis. Davis is the most important player to re-sign with having to acquire a new starting center next in line after Samson Satele was released on March 6. The Colts re-signed punter Pat McAfee to a five-year deal Friday. The 41-year-old Vinatieri believes he can kick for several more seasons. Expect the Colts to look to add depth at receiver to give quarterback Andrew Luck another target to go with receivers T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

What to expect: The Colts should be able to work out a deal with Davis, who was inconsistent last season but has the talent to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Don't expect the Colts to go with a rookie or second-year player as their starting center. The position is too valuable for them to go that direction with their franchise player, Luck, taking the snaps. New Orleans' Brian De La Puente and Green Bay's Evan Dietrich-Smith are both free agents. Denver receiver Eric Decker is an ideal receiver to go with Hilton and Wayne. The Colts and Decker have mutual interest, but he may be out of their price range if he wants to be paid like a No. 1 receiver. Hakeem Nicks and James Jones are also free agents the Colts could pursue. Acquiring a veteran guard is a better option than drafting one, because Indianapolis has the talent to take another step in the AFC next season. Decker's teammate in Denver, guard Zane Beadles, is a free agent.

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