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The oldest player in the National Football League is officially returning for another season.

The Indianapolis Colts kicker have signed a one-year $3.875 million deal with 46-year-old kicker Adam Vinatieri.
This will be the Yankton, SD native’s 24th season in the NFL.

The deal was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter on Friday.

A four-time Super Bowl champion, Vinatieri made 23 of his 27 kicks this season, but struggled in the team’s AFC Divisional Round playoff game loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, missing two kicks, including one from 23 yards out. Previously, Vinatieri had been 97-for-97 in his career on kicks of 23 yards or fewer.

Undrafted out of South Dakota State in 1996, Vinatieri spent the first decade of his career with the New England Patriots before joining the Colts in 2006. With the Pats, Vinatieri became the first ever player to decide two Super Bowls with game-winning field goals against the St. Louis Rams at Super Bowl XXXVI and again against the Carolina Panthers at Super Bowl XXXVIII.

Vinatieri is the NFL’s all-time leader in points scored (2,598) and field goals made (582) and is the only player in NFL history to score 1,000 points with two different teams.

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INDIANAPOLIS – They are saying one thing, but doing another. The Indianapolis Colts say they are trying to win this year. But what are they doing?

They are punting.

They have been punting for months now, and as any football coach will tell you, punting is the right play at times. For the Colts, this could be the right time. It is dichotomy we are hearing, not outright double-talk, when General Manager Chris Ballard says on Sunday, “You can’t take these years for granted, and we will put a team out there that will go out and try to compete to win,” and when coach Frank Reich says one day later, “Every decision that we make is a win-now decision.”

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Ballard and Reich were saying those things in direct response to questions about the team’s latest punt, a towering blast that land out of bounds: the release of defensive end John Simon on roster cut-down day Sunday. Simon was the Colts’ most effective defensive end this preseason, and arguably their best defensive player – for sure their most disruptive defender – a year ago. Simon is 27. He has not lost a step. He is in his prime right now.

But the Colts aren’t playing to win right now.

Understand, they aren’t playing to lose. They’re hoping to win this season, but they’re not planning for it, and there’s a difference. Planning to win this year would mean including John Simon on this roster, even if it means giving up on a younger player whose tomorrow looks more promising than his today. And here, I’m talking about rookie Kemoko Turay and second-year pro Tarell Basham. They also play defensive end. Today they don’t play it as well as John Simon, but tomorrow? Things could change tomorrow.

Let’s not make this all about John Simon though, OK? The media tried to do that with Ballard on Sunday, peppering him with questions about the unexpected release of the Colts’ most effective defensive player, until someone apparently crossed a line by asking Ballard if there was “any worry (about) the message it might send to the locker room.”

Ballard, who earlier had professed great affection for Simon – “I’m close with John Simon. He’s one of my favorite guys and favorite players,” he had said – ended the Simon line of questioning with this answer:

“Look,” he said, “John Simon is a great player without any question, but we didn’t just release (Dwight) Freeney or (Robert) Mathis and 14.0 sacks.”

And it’s true. Ballard is correct. Have I written that the Colts released “a Pro Bowl defensive end”? Nope. I wrote: They released their “most effective defensive end.” Which they did. And teams not hoping to win, but planning on it, they don’t release their most effective player at any position. Simon had 2½ sacks in the preseason, and not against players soon to be released, but against actual NFL offensive linemen.

But again, this topic is bigger than Simon, whose release is merely another example of the Colts’ stated intention on the 2018 season. And their intention is to punt.

Hey, good things can happen on a punt. The punt team tracks the ball, does it not? Hopes to down it inside the 5-yard line, or better still, hit the returner and force a fumble and get the ball back. Like I say, punting doesn’t mean surrender. But it does mean: punting.

It means desperately needing skill players on both sides of the ball but waiting for the third day of the three-day 2018 NFL Draft to start grabbing them, stockpiling five picks in the first two rounds – and using every damn one of them on building-block pieces closer to the line of scrimmage.

It means needing a receiver so badly that the Colts picked up an inexpensive Eagles cast-off, Marcus Johnson, on cut-down day Sunday – but never brought in former Dallas Cowboys star Dez Bryant, far and away the best available receiver, as a prospective free agent. Signing Dez would have been a significant upgrade in talent in the Colts receiving room but a risk in their locker room, and teams playing for tomorrow make the choice the Colts made.

This is not about Dez Bryant, either. It’s about every single big-money free agent available this offseason, none of whom signed with the Colts. Not any. The Colts entered the spring with $70-plus million in cap space – more than 29 of the other 31 NFL teams – and made Denico Autry, who recorded five sacks in 16 games last season in Oakland, their biggest investment at $17.8 million over three seasons.

Coincidentally, Autry plays defensive end. Guess how many sacks he had in the preseason? One-fifth as many as John Simon: 0.5.

Point is not: Simon is better than Autry. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t – it’s close. But the point is: The Colts had so much cap space, and they have so many needs for mega-talent, but they went for pieces, for fits. Autry is a piece. Eric Ebron (two years, $15 million) is a fit at tight end.

Finding a big-money free agent to sign with Indianapolis in March, after a 4-12 season and before quarterback Andrew Luck’s return, would have meant overspending, and the Colts wouldn’t do that. Which is sensible for a team not seriously pursuing a postseason berth.

And the Colts aren’t pursuing the 2018 NFL playoffs. Not seriously. They’re thinking about next season, maybe even the year after that. Ballard has said repeatedly that he wants young players, and he wants to give those young players the chance to develop. Development takes time, and the Colts obviously think they have it.

Do they? Tough call, it really is. In the NFL you’re only as good as your quarterback, and the Colts have that position on lockdown, with Jacoby Brissett a tremendous backup and, of course, Andrew Luck a top-flight QB when healthy. Quarterbacks play longer than almost everyone else – New England’s Tom Brady is 41, New Orleans’ Drew Brees is 39, and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers just became the highest-paid player in NFL history at 34 – so this fact isn’t everything. But it’s something:

Next week, Andrew Luck turns 29.

The Colts have a quarterback, which means they have window – and while it’s not exactly closing, the window is open right now. And the Colts are aiming less for today, more for tomorrow.

Say what you want. Say that it makes sense, what the Colts are doing, and there’s certainly an argument to be made that it does. But there’s also this argument, and it’s not an argument, really. More like a fact:

After reaching the 2014 AFC title game, when Luck was 25, the Colts’ last three mediocre-turned-disastrous seasons backed this franchise far, far away from Super Bowl contention. And by punting the 2018 season, the Colts just pinned themselves deeper.

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Two days after fill-in starter Oren Burks suffered a shoulder injury during pregame warm-ups, the Green Bay Packers traded for an inside linebacker.


Luck gives himself passing grade for preseason
While Andrew Luck wouldn’t assign a letter grade to his preseason performance, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback says he earned a passing grade. Saturday’s final preseason game included a touchdown pass to Eric Ebron.

The Packers acquired Antonio Morrison from the Indianapolis Colts in exchange for cornerback Lenzy Pipkins, the teams announced Sunday.

“Antonio is obviously an experienced linebacker,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “If you look at the youth of the group, it’s something we felt we needed to add.

“These things don’t just happen overnight. We’re very young at that position.”

Burks, a third-round pick, had moved into a starting role after Jake Ryan blew out his knee the first week of training camp. The rookie from Vanderbilt started the first two preseason games and was slated to do the same on Friday at Pittsburgh, where he was hurt before the game even started.

McCarthy indicated the Packers were looking to add linebacker depth even before Burks’ injury, which he said Sunday was “better than we anticipated” and “should not be a long-term deal.”

“It’s a position that we wanted to add experience to,” McCarthy said. “And definitely [we have] some young guys there that we feel good about.”

Third-year pro Blake Martinez, who tied for the NFL lead in tackles last season, was the only inside linebacker on the roster with any NFL experience after Ryan was placed on injured reserve.

In place of Burks, the Packers started undrafted rookie Greer Martini and also used practice-squad member Ahmad Thomas against the Steelers.

Burks said his shoulder popped out of place.

“I didn’t really think much of it,” Burks said. “Knew something was wrong, obviously, but I’ve never had any shoulder issues before, so I didn’t really know what I was feeling or any kinds of things like that. Good evaluation, good feedback from the MRI and things like that. Like I said, just taking it one day at a time, trying to get rehabbed and get back as soon as possible.”
While running back Ty Montgomery left Friday’s game with a foot injury, he said he was fine and that “I’m not injured.” However, there is concern about backup offensive lineman Kyle Murphy, who started at right tackle against the Steelers. He sustained a right ankle injury and was seen Sunday in a walking boot.

Morrison, a fourth-round pick from Florida in 2016, started all 15 games he played in last season and made four starts as a rookie. The Colts switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this season, and Morrison fell to the third string.

Pipkins made the Packers’ 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent. He appeared in 12 games, mostly on special teams, making one start at cornerback and playing a total of 112 defensive snaps. The Packers loaded up at cornerback in the offseason, signing free agent Tramon Williams and using their first two picks on Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson.

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The pass-happy nature of college football has made finding NFL-ready interior offensive linemen more difficult. That’s what made Quenton Nelson so valuable to the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL Draft.

General Manager Chris Ballard explained Thursday his decision to rebuff trade offers and draft Nelson, a guard from Notre Dame, sixth overall.

“(That kind of player is) hard to find,” Ballard said Thursday on PFT Live, noting that colleges employ fast-tempo pass-first offenses more frequently than the NFL. “You don’t find them as ready-made in the draft as we used to.”

Ballard also heard from someone he trusts — former Notre Dame line coach Harry Hiestand — that Nelson is a cut above.

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More: Check out some of Quenton Nelson’s nastier blocks

“He’s a big man that can move,” Ballard said. “(Hiestand) had made a comment to me that (Nelson) could be the best of all of them. He’s consistently productive. He’s consistently dominant. When you see him practice, you see the same thing. That’s when you know you have the chance to have something really special.”
Ballard acknowledged the Colts got calls from teams wishing to move up to No. 6 once they were on the clock.

“We started getting a couple calls, and I just (said), ‘Turn in the pick,’” the GM said, adding that they likely turned it in before the TV networks covering the event wanted.

Ballard added that addressing the offensive line has been a focus this offseason. They have added veterans Austin Howard and Matt Slauson, and also drafted guard Braden Smith in the second round.

“This year, going in, we knew we wanted to address the offensive line,” Ballard said.

He added: “I thought (left tackle Anthony) Castonzo played one of his best seasons (in 2017).”
Indianapolis Colts first round draft pick Quenton Nelson met with the media today April 27, 2018. Clark Wade/IndyStar

What Ballard also addressed:

Defense: “We’re going to be young, especially at inside linebacker and cornerback. There’s still some areas that need to be addressed.”

The Colts drafted linebackers Darius Leonard (second round), Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin (both seventh round).

Andrew Luck: “He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do. He’s got a program specifically laid out that puts his timeline to be back at training camp. He didn’t want to skip a step.

“I don’t know if he skipped a step last year, but he felt the pressure of coming back. … He couldn’t get back right.

“He looks the best I’ve seen him. His body looks great. His arm feels really good. He’s just taking it step by step.”

Team culture: Ballard noted that coach Frank Reich and strength coach Rusty Jones will develop players and keep them healthy because the NFL is “a battle of attrition.”

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INDIANAPOLIS – Four weeks have passed since the bad football mercifully stopped and the coaching search quickly commenced. The Indianapolis Colts fired Chuck Pagano an hour after the season finale on New Year’s Eve; three days later, in Foxboro, Mass., General Manager Chris Ballard was sitting down with his first candidate.

He’ll have to wait one more week before officially naming Josh McDaniels Pagano’s successor.

The Patriots’ offensive coordinator has a work conflict, of course. He’s in Minneapolis scheming ways to attack the Philadelphia Eagles’ defense in Super Bowl LII.

From there McDaniels will descend on Indianapolis and embark upon the second head-coaching stint of his career, the aim being to do everything he did not the first time around. For starters: win.

Here are the remaining questions McDaniels and the Colts will soon have to answer:

1. This late in the coaching cycle, can McDaniels build a capable staff?

This is absolutely vital for McDaniels, and a factor Ballard has repeatedly stressed since taking over 12 months ago. The Colts want assistants who can develop young players and turn them into regular starters. It happened far too rarely under Pagano – in recent seasons, tight end Jack Doyle and cornerback Rashaan Melvin are two notable exceptions. But the gross lack of development, especially with high draft picks, has proven especially costly. That’s what leads to overspending in free agency. That’s what leads to four-win seasons.
At the outset of his coaching search, Ballard insisted that Pagano’s successor has “got to be able to hire a first-class staff that can teach and develop players. That’s what we’re going to be about. We’re going to be about teaching and developing players, and you’ve got to live through some bumps when you do that.”

That sentiment echoes Ballard’s stance on the coming free agency period: He’s long preferred building a team through the draft. But with roughly $85 million to spend, and holes darn near everywhere on his roster, it’ll be hard for Ballard not to address some, or plenty, of this team’s needs.
Colts insider Stephen Holder on what he learned about the next likely Colts coach from the Patriots’ locker room. Stephen Holder/IndyStar

And hiring that first-class staff might prove more difficult in February, a month into the coaching cycle. Plenty of sought-after candidates have already landed their next job. (At least six Pagano assistants have taken a job with a different team, notably offensive line coach Joe Philbin, quarterbacks coach Brian Schottenheimer, wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal and special teams guru Tom McMahon.)

Reportedly, McDaniels has tapped veteran Dallas Cowboys defensive coach Matt Eberflus as his coordinator on that side of the ball, and ex-Raiders QB coach Jake Peetz as the offensive coordinator. Neither move can be made official until McDaniels’ hiring is official. Eberflus is well-respected across the league, even reportedly turning down an offer from the Cowboys to coordinate their defense in favor of joining McDaniels’ staff in Indy. Peetz is more of a wild card.

For starters, that’s a young triumvirate: McDaniels himself is only 41, Eberflus 47, Peetz 34. By comparison, Pagano was 57 last season, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski 49, defensive coordinator Ted Monachino 51.

Maybe it matters. Maybe it doesn’t. But it’s clear McDaniels isn’t making decades of experience an overriding factor in his coaching hires.

As for Peetz, the expectation is that McDaniels will run the offense, install the concepts and call the plays. Peetz will work closely with franchise QB Andrew Luck, whom the team expects back at full strength next season.

2. With new coordinators, how much will the schemes change?

Expect the Colts to slide from the 3-4 defensive front they employed (rather unsuccessfully) throughout Chuck Pagano’s six seasons and shift back into the 4-3 base they used throughout the Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell eras. It’s the system the Cowboys have run under coordinator Rod Marinelli since 2013, the one Eberflus is familiar with. His expertise comes at the linebacker position, and that will be vital as the Colts alter their scheme up front.

The central question in all of this: Do they have the players for it?

Possibly. Vital in the 3-4 scheme are playmakers at the second level; it really only worked for the Colts in 2013, when Robert Mathis erupted for 19.5 sacks from the edge rushing position. The Colts – armed with capable if not spectacular outside linebackers in John Simon and Jabaal Sheard – aren’t getting anywhere near that kind of production these days. And the inside linebacking position was a huge weakness throughout the 2017 campaign.

Instead, at this juncture, the real strength of this average-at-best defense arrives up front. That fits the needs for the 4-3. Space-eating linemen Johnathan Hankins and Al Woods were the hidden gems of the Colts’ unit in 2017, under-the-radar Ballard signings who revitalized what had been a porous run defense for over a decade. The thinking if the Colts’ shift to the 4-3 base: Hankins and Woods would clear some lanes for Simon and Sheard (who would likely see time at defensive end) to get to the quarterback, a far more likelihood than those two shedding blockers in one-on-one situations.

A player to watch if the Colts do indeed make the switch: second-year linebacker Tarell Basham. An up-and-down rookie season ended on a relatively positive note for Basham, who stood out in pass rushing situations as well as on special teams. Basham starred in college as a 4-3 defensive end at Ohio, and prefers playing with his hand in the dirt. The Cowboys – with Eberflus on the staff – were very interested in Basham during last year’s draft, according to a league source. A move to defensive end in a 4-3 scheme might spark an uptick in production for Basham in Year No. 2.

3. Can McDaniels win over the locker room?

Do not discount the necessity of the new coach earning the respect of his players, particularly in this scenario. Publicly, there’s nothing Ballard emphasizes more often than the need for a strong locker room. There’s no strong locker room without a strong head coach. McDaniels knows this. He knows how rocky his tenure as the Broncos’ head coach unfolded. And he knows how Bill Belichick does it in New England.

Josh McDaniels
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Jan 13, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on the sideline against the Tennessee Titans in the AFC Divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports David Butler II, David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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Josh McDaniels
Make no mistake: That Ballard, a second-year general manager, is handing his team over to McDaniels is a gamble. Outside of the optimal coaching incubator that is Foxboro, McDaniels hasn’t done a whole lot in this league.

In Indianapolis, he’ll have to first win Andrew Luck’s trust. But it won’t end there. Defensive veterans like Sheard – whom McDaniels worked with in New England – Simon, Hankins, Woods are next on the list. Earn their belief and the rest will follow.

“You can’t buy a locker room,” Ballard likes to say.

It’s clear McDaniels has his work cut out for him.

First up: the Eagles’ defense, and potentially McDaniels’ sixth Super Bowl ring with the Patriots.

Then he’s got a program to build in Indianapolis.