Ever since Chuck Pagano took over as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts last offseason, I had wondered what Dwight Freeney's future with the Colts held in store. As the season went on, it became more and more obvious that the Colts could do much better at the rush linebacker position. Freeney played hard and gave great effort, but he wasn't a natural fit in the 3-4 defense and he was plagued with injuries all year. When his contract was up this offseason, I said that the decision not to re-sign him, while a hard decision, was the right one. The team could clearly upgrade the position.
Unfortunately, I failed to mention that they could also get worse. And that's just what happened.
In terms of the Colts' pass rush, it got worse. They lost the production of Freeney, who although he struggled last year still managed 5 sacks and a forced fumble. They gained the production of Walden, who has consistently gotten a few sacks a year (he has 3 in each of the past 3 seasons) but has never been a great pass rusher. In fact, the great statistical site Pro Football Focus consistently ranked Walden near the bottom of the league in terms of pass rush for two years straight. They graded the Colts' signing of Walden as the worst in the league, as Walden was the only signing that they put into their -1.5 grade, with the description of "Now why would you go and do that?" That's what many Colts fans are asking as well. Here is what PFF had to say about the Walden signing:
To finish last in our 3-4 outside linebacker rankings once is bad. To do it twice indicates a player who just isn’t ever going to get it. Walden, in comparison to his peers, isn’t a good player. He doesn’t do a great job setting the edge, he’s extremely unproductive rushing the passer, and he’s now getting paid $4m a year. We give the Colts a -1.5 for this deal but his agent deserves a +2.0 for pulling it off. The Colts have fallen into the trap of watching a player have a career game against them (his +4.1 was the highest he ever managed by far) and assuming that is close to the status quo. It’s not and they’re going to be very disappointed with what they get out of him.