The Colts certainly have needs in the secondary from the outside looking in. Why would they want to keep Bethea?
Stampede Blue: There are several legitimate reasons why the Colts should re-sign Antoine Bethea. He is a tremendous presence in the locker room and was named the Colts Man of the Year in 2013 for his work both on and off the field and has also served as a team captain in the past. He is a great veteran presence on this young team, having been with the Colts organization for eight seasons, since 2006.
On the field, he is as reliable as you could possibly get, having not missed a single game in over six seasons - an incredible and very noteworthy accomplishment. Not only does he always play but he always produces, too, notching over 100 tackles in each of the last four seasons and in five of the last six. While he isn't the player he was a few years ago when he was among the best safeties in the league, the 29-year old Bethea is still a viable option at the position for most teams.
Looking at the Colts specifically, they would need to find a guy to replace Bethea should the pending free agent safety leave, and that would mean another newcomer to the secondary. The Colts signed safety LaRon Landry and cornerback Greg Toler last offseason and traded for Vontae Davis two off seasons ago - a player who is also a pending free agent this year but who the Colts will try very hard to re-sign. Based on Ryan Grigson's misses last offseason and his seeming apprehension to sign a big name free agent, I do think that probably the best option for the Colts at safety is to re-sign Antoine Bethea, as long as the price isn't terrible, which we'll get to in just a moment.
Why would the Colts let Bethea go?
SB: There are two reasons why the Colts would let Antoine Bethea go, and they are two of the biggest reasons you could get: his play and money. First, his play. Bethea's numbers are still impressive and those are enough to fool some people -- like Peter King, who seems to really like Bethea -- into thinking that he is still a top-notch safety. But the truth is that he's just not at that level anymore. For the second year in a row in 2013, Bethea wasn't very impressive. While you could call 2012 a "down year", which I did, it's hard to do the same when it happened for the second straight season.
More likely is that Bethea just isn't the safety he used to be. He still produces tackles, to be sure, but don't let the tackle numbers fool you - he was just an average safety in 2013, and at times below average. He had a really strong surge at the end of the season where he played well, but that wasn't enough to overlook his play this season as a whole.
That plays directly into the money issue, as he's a player that might want a higher contract than he is worth or that the Colts are willing to give him. I don't think the Colts will overpay greatly for Bethea, so if he insists on a higher contract the Colts will let him walk. A few years ago Bethea was a player that the Colts absolutely had to keep no matter what, but his play has declined to the point that they would like to have him back but it's not nearly as necessary anymore.
Do you have any idea of what his salary expectations would be?
SB: This is the big question, and it's very hard to predict. I don't really know what type of money Antoine Bethea wants, but the deal that LaRon Landry got from the Colts last year might make it a bit more difficult for general manager Ryan Grigson. He gave Landry a 4-year, $24 million contract with $11 million guaranteed last offseason, according to Spotrac, and not only did Landry lack the resume of Bethea but his 2013 season was a ton worse than Bethea's, too.
Landry's contract might make Grigson have to pay a bit more for Bethea than he would like because the safety he just signed last offseason is getting significant money that he hasn't earned yet. Would Bethea want that type of money? I see that as a reasonable assumption, though I'm not sure if that's what Bethea wants or if the Colts would be willing to pay it. At this point, honestly, it's a complete guess.
What's the best scenario for Bethea to land in for him to be successful?
SB: The Colts. They want to re-sign him and will make him a priority. That doesn't mean that they will overpay greatly for him, but I think they probably will reach a deal. That would be best for both Bethea and the Colts. Bethea can continue to be an average safety and 100 tackle guy for a couple more seasons and the Colts would take that from anybody they sign. Also, if Bethea can continue to stay healthy and be a great locker room presence, which he will continue to be, that makes bringing him back even better.
For Bethea, he would return to a system that he knows and to a coaching staff and locker room that he knows as well. He is a leader of the team and has a lot of respect, and even if his play does drop off a bit I don't see the Colts benching him. He would be able to play through struggles and hopefully continue to produce in a place that he loves -- he likes Indy and would like to stay -- and the Colts would bring their starting safety and a team leader back. It's a good fit and I think it will happen. It's not a certainty by any means, but I think that Antoine Bethea will be back with the Colts next season.