Yesterday, we discussed the proposed salary cap increase and how it will affect the Indianapolis Colts as they enter the free agent signing frenzy that will likely begin in early July. Although official salary numbers are hard to determine, we loosely projected that the Colts should be able to retain most of their own priority free agents — even if Peyton Manning plays at the $23 million franchise tag level in 2011.

With so many players set to enter unrestricted free agency though, there is a possibility that teams like the Colts will sign an uncharacteristically high number of outsiders. The best way to determine who Indianapolis is likely to take a close look at is to determine which players fit the team’s greatest areas of need, which players are most likely to fit in the Colts scheme, and which players are within the team’s budget.

With the departure of Bob Sanders to San Diego, the uncertainty surrounding Melvin Bullitt’s future with the Colts — and a lack of proven depth behind them — strong safety is Indy’s greatest position of need heading into the 2011 season. Accordingly, we will analyze three safeties who could attract the team’s attention in July.

Quintin Mikell – previous contract – 4 years, $4.3 million – 2009 cap hit = $1.7 million
Dawan Landry – rumored to be looking for 5 years, $26 million – 2009 cap hit = $5.79 million
Eric Weddle – previous contract – 4 years, $1.68 million – 2009 cap hit = $919k

*Approximate cap hit for starting safeties in 2009 $2-4.5 million

Mikell makes a lot of sense for the Colts in that he is an experienced veteran who should be able to fit into Indy’s defense from the word “go.” His contract history and age also suggest that he may be receptive to taking a little less if he has a shot to win a championship. The downside to Mikell is that he is already 30 years old, which will likely mean that the Colts will still have a near future need to find a successor. A two-to-three year deal with a $2-3 million cap hit could land him in Indianapolis.

Landry is another hard-nosed run stopping strong safety who could fill the Sanders/Bullitt role and quickly acclimate himself to Larry Coyer’s scheme. At 28 years old he is certainly not young but a four or five year contract would not be entirely out of the picture. If he is serious about his demands, it will take a $4.5-5.5 million cap hit for Landry to find his way to Central Indiana. To accomplish this, the Colts would probably have to part ways with Ryan Diem or Kelvin Hayden.

Weddle is speedy and has the skills to play strong or free safety. He is not, however, as adept at stopping the run as Mikell, Landry, Bullitt, or Sanders. He makes up for this by being an excellent tackler and excels in coverage. What could make it complicated for the Colts to land Weddle is that Coyer may consider moving Bethea to strong safety. There is little doubt that Indy could handle the movement to bring in a player of Weddle’s talents for a $2.5-3.5 million cap hit, but he is the only free agent mentioned that could require shuffling positions.

Ultimately, the best options for Indianapolis are to either re-sign Melvin Bullitt to a long-term lucrative contract or bring in Quintin Mikell for two or three years. Mikell is more talented but may start declining in production due to his age. Bullitt has proven to be a reliable safety and has made some big plays in the past but his contract demands could very well determine which direction Indianapolis chooses to go for the 2011 season.