Editor’s Note: With the NFL trade deadline next week, SB Nation sites will be discussing potential trades. While many of these ideas are unlikely to happen, it is something to consider in the final week of potentially meaningful transactions for the 2017 season — especially for a struggling team in the middle of a rebuild.
If you’ve been watching the Colts this season, you know one thing for certain. This is not a good team. The Colts have failed to put together a good second half all season. Last week, against the Jaguars they decided to pair that with a lousy first half as well.
To make matters worse, rookie safety Malik Hooker was lost for the season to a tear of both his ACL and MCL, John Simon will miss time with a stinger, Rashaan Melvin is in concussion protocol, and Clayton Geathers won’t be back for several weeks at the very earliest.
In other words, this roster is non-competitive, and the easiest part of the schedule is behind them. This is a team that will be picking high in the draft and looking at hiring a new coaching staff at the end of the season. Chris Ballard undoubtedly has plans to churn this roster even more in the off-season, and with the trade deadline fast approaching, he might decide to do something big.
T.Y. Hilton led the league in receiving yards last year. Apart from Andrew Luck, Hilton has possibly the greatest value in a trade of anyone on the Colts’ roster. Hilton can play out of the slot or out wide and can run any route that’s asked of him. He represents a versatile deep threat that can be tough to stop when he is on. The biggest knock on him is that he is most frequently “on” against inferior talent. Take this year for example. 330 of his 512 yards this season came against the Browns and the 49ers. So, he totaled 182 yards in the other five games.
This is not the first time this has happened. It is a trademark of Hilton’s play. When he plays well, it is some of the most impressive stuff you’ll ever see. When he doesn’t? Well, he is a ghost. To make matters worse, Hilton has infused the wide receiver group with a little of his me-first mentality.
He aired his grievances with the offensive line to reporters after their shutout loss at home on Sunday, before recanting and apologizing the next day. People make mistakes, but Hilton is not known for leadership or humility. It is hard to imagine Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison putting that kind of statement out there regardless of their level of frustration.
Lastly, Hilton is not really a true number one receiver. Some of you will take serious issue with this, but it is the reality. An ideal number one receiver needs to be able to take over a game. Hilton can do that. They need to be able to run routes with perfect precision. Hilton can do that too. A true number one should be able to high-point a catch and win 50-50 matchups with regularity. Hilton can… well, he does that sometimes! They should be able to consistently beat top-level cornerbacks in 1-on-1 matchups. Well… Shut up! And lastly, a number one receiver should be a deadly threat to score in the red zone. That just isn’t T.Y. Hilton.
Which leads us to Chris Ballard. Ballard has a lot to fix yet on this roster. He has largely rebuilt this defense, but it is still very much a work in progress. One of the biggest areas of weakness is at inside linebacker. Given the Colts’ likely draft position, this might be tough to address there, because they will be drafting early, and they still desperately need a pass rusher and an offensive tackle.
Whichever of those do not get addressed early will be high on the priority list come round 2. With wide receiver, tight end, and running back all needing a fair bit of work as well, it is fair to assume that free agency and trades will have to come into play to get this roster closer to where it needs to be.
So, what if Ballard looked at his receiver group and decided that Andrew Luck is good enough to raise the play of his receivers? What if he decided to invest in the offensive line in the draft, and build Luck a wall to protect him and a running back group that could take the pressure off him? Tom Brady consistently performed well with run of the mill wide receivers and relied on a solid defense and a good running game to win.
So, if Ballard decided that was his plan, could he not then decide that dealing his star wide receiver in order to fill a major spot of need would be worth doing? He has already proven that there are no sacred spots on this team, save for Andrew Luck.
The player who might best fit this scenario would be Deone Bucannon of the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals have a respectable defense and have invested heavily into the inside linebacker position. Haasan Reddick has been playing very well this year, and that kind of play might make them more comfortable with the idea of parting with their star “moneybacker.”
It doesn’t hurt that the Colts and Hilton have a relationship with Bruce Arians, who was Hilton’s first Offensive Coordinator in the NFL and knows just how to use him most effectively. Add to that the fact that as legendary receiver Larry Fitzgerald’s time comes to an end, the Cardinals will be looking for a guy to replace him as a guy who can carry an offense and act as an excellent security blanket for a new quarterback.
For the Colts, Bucannon would add a key cog to a defense with a ton of potential. Their biggest flaws have reared their head in pass coverage over the middle, as well as good solid tackling. Bucannon offers the kind of role that Clayton Geathers often played when the Colts used him as a hybrid safety/linebacker, except on a more permanent basis.
Having a linebacker with those kinds of abilities would be a huge asset to this team and if they were able to pick one up now, they could utilize their early draft picks to get a blue-chip pass rusher and solidify their offensive line.
Imagine the potential of our current defensive unit with the returns of Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker back to health, a pass rusher like Arden Key, Quincy Wilson and Rashaan Melvin holding down the outside, and Deone Bucannon in the middle. That is a defense that could cause teams some problems!
Look, I know that the idea of getting rid of Hilton seems nuts. The guy might be the second-best player on our team. But maybe the wide receiver position is not as important in the makeup of Chris Ballard’s Colts. This is the guy who convinced the Chiefs to take Tyreek Hill. He plucked Marlon Mack out of the fourth round at pick 143. He knows a thing or two about explosive players. I believe he can find more. I also believe that the return of Andrew Luck can cover up for the loss of a top receiver.
So, if Ballard called up Steve Keim and worked a deal to send T.Y. to Arizona and bring in one of the better middle linebackers in the league to fill a major hole, I think I’d be excited. It would be a bittersweet feeling, but as prodigious as Luck is, the offense would recover, and it would put a game changer on the defense.