While the Indianapolis Colts are busy cutting their roster down to 75 players by Tuesday afternoon, so are the 31 other teams in the NFL. Those cuts are also worth paying attention to, as there are occasionally some options the Colts may look at.
That tends to happen more in the final cutdown to 53 players than it does in the initial cutdown to 75, but there have still been some interesting players released. Today, three such moves have happened that have led Colts fans to wonder whether the team will or should be interested. The Cleveland Browns cut outside linebacker Paul Kruger; the New England Patriots cut defensive tackle Terrance Knighton; and the Detroit Lions cut guard Geoff Schwartz. Should the Colts be interested in any of those three? Let’s take a look.
Kruger has recorded 33.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in his seven-year career (99 games played, 53 starts), while he also has recorded 196 tackles, 22 passes defensed, and two interceptions. He was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the second round of the 2009 draft but only managed 6.5 sacks total in his first three years. In 2012, however, he rebounded with a productive season, recording nine sacks and then producing heavily in their Super Bowl run by adding 4.5 more sacks. That got him a five year, $40.5 million deal from the Cleveland Browns the following offseason, who reportedly beat out the Colts in a bidding war for Kruger’s services. His second season with the Browns was the best of his career, as he recorded eleven sacks and four forced fumbles in 2014. His 2015 season was a big step back, however, as he managed just 2.5 sacks despite playing in all 16 games (and starting 15). Here’s what Dawgs by Nature’s Chris Pokorny had to say about Kruger:
Kruger is coming off of a contentious season in which he was asked to drop back into coverage more by former defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. After having a career-best 11 sacks in 2014, he had only 2.5 sacks in 2015, often motoring toward the right tackle to no avail.
This preseason, Kruger was not doing anything of note from a pass-rushing perspective and had a big whiff on an open-field tackle two weeks ago. It was one of those things where I thought, “I don’t think he’ll be cut, but with the way he’s playing, he looks like a below average player.”
So should the Colts take a look? Sure, as there’s no harm in bringing a guy in for a workout. And with head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Ted Monachino both having ties to Kruger from their days in Baltimore, it seems like something the team might pursue. But with that said, keep in mind a few things.
First, Kruger isn’t an automatic upgrade as a pass rusher. If the Colts signed him they’d be signing a veteran pass rusher who didn’t produce last year - sound familiar? Actually, Trent Cole had more sacks and more forced fumbles for the Colts than Kruger did for the Browns last year, and we all know how Colts fans felt about Cole. Kruger isn’t really much of a guaranteed upgrade over either Trent Cole or Erik Walden, and what the Colts need is better pass rushers, not more pass rushers.
Second, signing Kruger would be taking away from the development of younger guys... or at least that’s what the Colts have believed. This offseason, the Colts didn’t pursue veteran pass rushers because they wanted to develop young guys. So it follows that if they were to sign Kruger now, it would be taking away reps (and a roster spot) from younger guys, which would be a reversal from their offseason philosophy.
And third (and this is probably the most important), the Colts probably don’t have the cap flexibility to work with in order to sign Kruger. He was due a $6.5 million base salary this year from the Browns, which likely contributed to his release. The Colts have roughly $10 million in cap space remaining, and they can roll over unused cap space to next year. So while Kruger probably won’t get nearly as large of a deal from his new team, it’s a very legitimate question of whether they want to spend a good chunk of their remaining room on a 30-year old pass rusher coming off of a disappointing season.
Knighton was drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft and spent his first four seasons in Jacksonville before heading to the Denver Broncos for two years, where he really emerged as a good nose tackle. He signed with the Washington Redskins in 2015, and then opted to sign with the New England Patriots this offseason. The Patriots released him despite the fact that they paid him $650,000 already, though it was easy to see this move coming after Knighton didn’t play in the team’s last preseason game. In 108 career games (96 starts), he has recorded 230 tackles, 14 sacks, ten passes defensed, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles.
The Colts reportedly had “serious interest” in Knighton during the 2015 offseason, but the tackle wound up signing with the Redskins. So should they consider him now? The team has David Parry at nose tackle, who did a solid job in his rookie season at the position as he started 16 games. He’s not the best nose tackle, but he’s good enough. With that said, however, adding Knighton would simply put him in the mix at the nose tackle rotation. Though that’s an intriguing option, it’s far more likely that the Colts will opt to use their own players as rotation pieces. Their defensive line has plenty of depth, with Zach Kerr, T.Y. McGill, Hassan Ridgeway (plus maybe even Art Jones) occupying depth roles. If the Colts want a true rotation with Parry, I think it much more likely to use Kerr, McGill, and maybe Jones in the mix over bringing in a guy like Terrance Knighton.
Schwartz has played in 74 career games (starting 39) during time spent with several different teams. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the seventh round of the 2009 NFL Draft, and he spent the first three years of his career with the team. In 2010, he started all 16 games, but then he missed the entire 2011 season due to injury. He then played with the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013, and the New York Giants in 2014 and 2015 before signing with the Detroit Lions this offseason. Schwartz has dealt with injuries quite a bit in his career, including in each of the past two years. He managed to start just two games in 2014 due to injuries, and then last year suffered a season-ending injury after starting the first eleven games. When he’s healthy, however, he’s been very good, and in fact both Pro Football Focus and Rotoworld had him as their highest-ranked free agent guard in 2014. This preseason, Schwartz once again dealt with some injuries, but the Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett tweeted that the lineman is healthy now and simply “got caught in a numbers game.” Here’s what Pride of Detroit’s Jeremy Reisman had to say about the situation:
Schwartz was brought along to help add a veteran presence and some experienced depth to the Lions’ young, unreliable offensive line. But Schwartz turned out to be a tad unreliable himself, missing practices regularly due to injuries. He hadn’t played in the past two preseason games, which really could have helped his case to make the final roster, but either his injury was too much or the Lions had already made up their mind.
The key when discussing whether the Colts should bring in Geoff Schwartz is health - but not neccessarily the lineman’s health. For the Colts, part of whether they should look at Schwartz depends on how much time Jack Mewhort is expected to miss. The current timeline says 2-4 weeks for Mewhort, though I’m sure the team has a slightly better sense of just how long it’ll be than what they’re saying publicly. Furthermore, how much longer will Hugh Thornton and Joe Haeg be out? Both are week-to-week, but again, the team probably has a better idea than we do of their health. Right now, however, the team appears pretty thin along the offensive line. With Mewhort, Haeg, and Thornton now out for at least the time being, it could very well be Jonotthan Harrison stepping in at left guard. After that? Maybe Adam Redmond or maybe Kitt O’Brien, but for sure not a great option. So if Geoff Schwartz is truly healthy and if Jack Mewhort, Joe Haeg, and Hugh Thornton are all expected to miss time, it might not be the worst idea to bring in help at guard, and right now Schwartz seems to be the best option out there.