With roster deficiencies along the offensive line, defense, and even other offensive skill positions, we take a look at 5 ‘way-too-early’ free agents for the Colts to potentially consider this offseason:
5. Demario Davis, Inside Linebacker New York Jets:
There’s really a handful of steady free agent inside linebackers that the Colts could choose from including the Washington Redskins Zach Brown and Cincinnati Bengals Kevin Minter. However, the 6’2″, 248 pound Davis per Pro Football Focus (subscription) has the highest overall grade at +81.5 among candidates–including a +78.3 grade in pass coverage.
The Colts inside linebackers aside from the departed Jerrell Freeman two years ago have sorely struggled in coverage over the past few seasons, and the defense could really use a player at the position who can effectively play in space.
Ballard missed on veteran Sean Spence this past offseason, who has since been released twice and is out of football, but that shouldn’t stop him from trying again. The Colts could really use an upgrade over either incumbent starter Jon Bostic or Antonio Morrison in coverage and even overall at the inside linebacker position.
As a former 2012 3rd round pick of the Jets, Davis has 82 tackles (3rd most in the NFL), 3.5 sacks, and 3 passes defensed in all 10 starts, setting himself up for a potential nice multi-year contract in this upcoming free agency period.
4. Jarvis Landry, Wide Receiver Miami Dolphins
This is probably the biggest longshot of this list, as at worst, the top young wideout should be a candidate for the Dolphins near $16 million franchise tag–if a long-term extension can’t be reached. However, the 2014 2nd round pick of the ‘Phins has quickly become one of the best wide receivers in all of football:
“He (Landry) and Odell Beckham share the league’s all-time record for most catches in the first three years of a career, and he’s the only Dolphin ever to catch 100 passes in a season,” writes Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post.
Despite playing with the always inconsistent Jay Cutler behind center this season, the 5’11”, 208 pound Jarvis Landry has 61 receptions (2nd most in the league) for 472 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. Landry has had 90+ receptions, 1,100+ receiving yards, and 4 touchdowns in his past two seasons prior in Miami:
There’s no question that the Colts could use a more consistent wide receiver option to further complement 3x Pro Bowler and Colts bonafide #1 wideout T.Y. Hilton, as young wide receiver Donte Moncrief and veteran Kamar Aiken (both soon-to-be free agents) have been rather underwhelming as a whole.
The 2x Pro Bowler Landry can certainly fill that role–if not exceed it, giving the Colts two legitimate #1 wide receivers.
In particular, the Colts could use a sure-handed, possession receiver like Landry (with explosion) to pair with Hilton’s dangerous deep speed, as former franchise all-time great Reggie Wayne was so great in that role for Indianapolis previously.
It would be a significant step to help Andrew Luck (if healthy) and the Colts offense in getting back on track to becoming one of the best scoring units in football yet again.
3. Justin Pugh, Offensive Guard New York Giants
As a former 2013 first round pick of the New York Giants, the 6’5″, 311 pound Justin Pugh has consistently been their best offensive lineman in recent seasons. The 5th year veteran has started in 8 of the team’s 9 games this season and is currently battling a back injury, which has hindered his usual production.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription), Pugh has just a +52.4 grade overall this season for the Giants (51st among offensive guards); however, the past two seasons prior, he received overall grades of +84.5 (2015) and +81.2 (2016)–meaning he could be a potential ‘buy low’ candidate for the Colts if his injuries check out.
Obviously, the Colts could use upgrades at both starting offensive guard spots, as incumbents Jeremy Vujnovich and Kyle Kalis are backup caliber, whereas the team’s former longtime starter, Jack Mewhort, has become oft-injured in recent seasons and is a free agent in his own right coming off of season-ending injured reserve.
2. Ezekiel Ansah, Pass Rusher Detroit Lions
Like Pugh, the 5th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Detroit Lions, Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah, could be a potential buy-low candidate for the Colts as a free agent–only at pass rusher this time around.
Per The Detroit Free Press, because of injuries and diminished production, the 28 year old is no longer being considered a realistic possibility for the Lions 2018 $18 million franchise tag and may be looking to sign a 1-year ‘prove it’ deal to improve his value in order to sign a much more lucrative long-term free agency deal going forward.
Such a strategy could be right up Ballard’s alley for the Colts, as he’s signed other veterans at outside linebacker such as Jabaal Sheard and John Simon to short-term deals with very little long-term salary cap ramifications–if busts.
The 6’5″, 275 pound Ansah has played as a 4-3 defensive end in Detroit, but has the size and speed to successfully transition to a 3-4 outside linebacker in Indianapolis. Having battled a back and knee injury this season, Ansah has 18 tackles, 4.0 sacks, and a forced fumble in 8 starts.
Per Pro Football Focus, he has a +75.7 grade overall–including a +72.9 pass rushing grade, the latter which is formidable but not all that great. He also is coming off a season in 2016, in which he had just 2.0 sacks for the Lions. However, if you believe Ansah can return to the prolific pass rusher, who had 14.5 sacks in 2015, then he’s well worth a one-year roll of the dice by the Colts:
Right now, primarily Sheard, Simon (when healthy), and even occasionally Barkevious Mingo have provided some pass rushing push for the Colts, but the unit still ranks 22nd on the season with 19 total sacks.
Even if the team selects a pass rusher in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft with a top pick, the Colts could still use another veteran pass rusher to help lessen his workload and allow other pass rushers like Sheard to be more complementary in nature.
Don’t get me wrong, Ansah comes with his fair share of question marks right now, but premier pass rushers in their prime rarely–if ever hit the open free agency market, so the former Pro Bowler might be worth the risk given the lack of clear alternatives at the position.
1. Andrew Norwell, Offensive Guard Carolina Panthers
This should be the ‘slam dunk’ of the Colts potential free agency signings, should the 26 year old Andrew Norwell actually hit the free agency market. The 6’6″, 325 pound offensive guard has started in all 10 games for the Panthers this season, having started all 16 games for Carolina just a season prior.
Originally signed by the Panthers as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2014 (as a 2x Big-Ten All-Conference selection), Norwell has quickly become one of the best young offensive guards in football.
Per Pro Football Focus, Norwell is their 9th best rated offensive guard with a +82.4 grade overall–including a +87.9 grade in pass protection, which is the 3rd best among all offensive guards in the league.
Hear that sound? It’s the music to Andrew Luck’s ears at having an offensive guard, who actually excels at pass protection.
It’s not as though Norwell is a ‘one year wonder’ either, as he received a +84.2 grade overall last season and in fact, has never graded lower than +82.8 during his first four seasons in the league.
The 4th-year veteran is always a strong candidate to be re-signed by Carolina, who is projected to have $21.2 million of cap space in 2018, but the team already signed fellow starting offensive guard Trai Turner to a 4-year, $45 million extension this past offseason and also has starting center Ryan Kalil with a $10.3 million cap hit in 2018–making that potentially one really expensive interior offensive line with Norwell also commanding a lucrative long-term deal.
As mentioned, the Colts could clearly use two completely new starting offensive guards in 2018, as both Vujnovich and Kalis are not starting caliber, and the offensive line has currently surrendered the league’s most sacks (39) and total QB hits (82) respectively.
Simply put, the team has to improve their interior offensive line play around starting center Ryan Kelly and signing Norwell would be a great start in the right direction in keeping Luck both healthy and upright, as a ‘plug-and-play’ starting offensive guard.