As the Colts head into their bye week, we have an opportunity to look toward the future and try to get inside of the head of Chris Ballard and the Colts front office. There will be a broad process to get through all trade options, outside free agents to target, and draft preparation. Today, our focus is on Indy’s own free agents and which will be priorities to re-sign this off-season or to potentially extend before we even get to that point. We will take a look at the internal free agents who will not be free agency priorities tomorrow.
Tier 1 — Rashaan Melvin
No player has done more to exceed expectations in 2017 than Melvin. His two interceptions and 10 passes defended don’t come close to describing the impact he has had in the Colts secondary. Maybe the best example of his impact this season is what he did last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
#Colts CB Rashaan Melvin is quietly having a breakout year. Spent most of his Sunday shadowing the NFL's best in Antonio Brown (3 catches, 47 yds).— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 13, 2017
"Fun time. Challenging. Another day to improve and show the rest of the league the type of player I am."
If that isn’t impressive enough, Melvin shadowed Brown on 88% of his snaps on Sunday and allowed on 2 catches for 42 yards in coverage. Still not impressed? What if I also told you following the game coach Pagano shared with the media that the reason Melvin was assigned to Brown is “because he asked for it.”
This is a guy who is playing at the peak of his ability and has entered the prime of his career. He is having the best season as a cornerback the team has seen since Vontae Davis was in his prime. It will take legitimate money to retain him but signing him to a team friendly three-year deal that averages about what Davis was getting paid might get the job done.
Tier 1 — Adam Vinatieri
No player has ever defeated father time and Adam Vinatieri will be no exception. However, even late in his career Vinny has been impressive. There have been a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes from early in the year — which may well be due to a new long snapper and holder — but since that point he has been nearly automatic. If the Colts can get him within about 55 yards or so, there is every reason to believe that he will hit it.
Throughout the entire league there are only a handful of place kickers who are playing at or above Vinatieri’s level. He will likely set the all-time NFL scoring record in the next season. It makes sense to bring him back and have him do it in Indianapolis.
Tier 1 — Pierre Desir
When the Indianapolis Colts brought in Pierre Desir off of waivers at the end of the pre-season this year, he was a popular addition to the secondary. At that time, he was likely only to play a depth role for the team but he had already showed enough with the Seahawks to believe that he could develop into a quality NFL player.
What he has done over the last three weeks has been phenomenal. Playing against the likes of A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins, and Antonio Brown, Desir has been ridiculous in press man coverage. There are at least two catches made during the last two games that went for a long gain to JuJu Smith-Schuster and for a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins that he had as good of coverage as you could ever expect from an NFL cornerback. Suffice to say, some of the primary production that has gone against him has been the result of perfectly placed passes and fantastic catches by one of the best receivers in the NFL and one of the best young receivers who is starting to breakout for the Steelers.
If Desir can manage to keep up what he has done through four weeks, he will help form an outside duo with Melvin that could help form one of the toughest secondaries in the NFL. This is encouraging given that second round rookie Quincy Wilson and fifth round rookie Nate Hairston are also with the team and will be entering their second season. Don’t forget about Clayton Geathers returning to the field from injury, Matthias Farley continuing to play excellent football, and first round rookie Malik Hooker returning to play center field in 2018 as well.
Tier 2 — Barkevious Mingo
Four weeks ago, there is no way Mingo would be included in the second tier of free agents the Colts should look to re-sign to the roster. After John Simon went down with a stinger, I expected there to be a blatant weakness to Mingo’s side that would become the Achilles heel of the front seven — particularly against the run. Instead, his play has been a pleasant surprise.
Mingo is the second or third most effective edge rusher on the team this season. He also is one of the best coverage linebackers on the team — though he made a bad decision against the Steelers that led to a touchdown. He has outplayed any expectation I would have against the run. At 27 years old, Mingo is entering what could be the prime playing years of his career and after playing for multiple teams, he could be starting to develop in the Colts defense.
If the Colts target a marquee pass rusher in free agency — which will be difficult to find — Mingo may be expendable. Still, there is reason to bring him back due to his familiarity in the system and the growth he has shown as a player throughout the season.
Tier 2 - Jack Mewhort
The 2017 NFL season has been a disappointment for Jack Mewhort. He has dealt with a nagging knee injury all season that has resulted in lower performance than he has throughout his career. Last season he was one of the best offensive lineman on the team, forming the only three returning solid players on the unit that included Anthony Castonzo and Ryan Kelly. This season he becomes a free agent after a disappointing showing and with some long-term concerns about his health.
The key to Mewhort likely has more to do with contract demands and health than anything. If he is healthy and the Colts medical staff is confident he can move past the lingering knee issues, and if he doesn’t require the ridiculous money we saw a lot of offensive linemen demand in the open market last season, he is worth bringing back to the team. Absent adding a key free agent agent or making multiple additions to the line through the draft, he would likely still represent the team’s best option at guard to start the 2018 season.
There are a lot of ifs and questions to be answered here but if we get those answers, the team can ill-afford to lose interior offensive linemen.