If you’ve missed the games but caught the stat lines, it would be easy to diagnose the Colts’ defense as being as bad as they have ever been. You would be wrong. As we have pointed out often on Stampede Blue, this defense, while not complete, is a vast improvement over past years with a lot of upside potential. The defensive line has been very solid against the run, but lacks depth and wears down without the ability to rotate in solid backups throughout the game. The solution? Go get a great defensive end prospect who is just 26 years old.
Let’s take a look at the Colts defensive line in their base set this season when healthy: Henry Anderson starts at defensive end, Al Woods at nose tackle, and Johnathan Hankins at defensive tackle. As Brett Mock pointed out in his piece on the Colts’ defensive needs, the depth behind these guys is not great. The loss (again) of Henry Anderson will give several of those players a chance to make their case for a bigger spot on the roster, but unless there is a surprise breakout, Ballard will be looking to add to this group.
That is where Sheldon Richardson comes in. Richardson is a guy who can play both the 3 and 5 techniques, and even slide in and play the nose tackle position if needed. That versatility is a great characteristic in any defensive lineman, but it can add a dimension to a line that was beginning to come into its own before Anderson’s injury. Given all that, let’s take a look at the arguments for and against signing Richardson.
The Case For
As stated above, Richardson is a versatile player. He was the 2013 defensive rookie of the year and went to the pro bowl in his second year after putting together an 8-sack season. At 6’3” 295lbs, he is an imposing force on the line and a guy who is disruptive against the run and as stated above, has shown an ability to get to the quarterback.
Perhaps the best thing about an addition like Richardson would be what he allows the Colts to do with their defenders from a depth perspective. Many people argued that when Hankins was signed to the Colts that his strength was at the nose tackle position. Given the players available, the Colts’ best option was to use Hankins in the 3-technique and have Al Woods play that spot. Richardson would allow the Colts to move Hankins in to the nose tackle position and have Al Woods as a depth player.
Can you imagine having actual talent waiting in the wings so that the starting defensive line wouldn’t have to take 90% of the snaps and gas out in the fourth quarter? Of course you can’t, this is the Colts we are talking about. But trust me, the prospect of being able to get our linemen some rest and not see a huge drop in production would be great.
Add to that the fact that when Anderson goes down with a season-ending injury in week 9 next season, you can simply rotate Hankins out to the 3-technique, move Richardson to the 5-technique, and start Al Woods at nose tackle. There is certainly a lot that makes the prospect of acquiring such a talent exciting.
The Case Against
First, let’s start with the obvious a most prohibitive: the Seahawks might not let Richardson get to free agency. They don’t have a ton of cap space, but they also don’t have a ton of high dollar players who will need to be re-signed. The exception is Jimmy Graham who will be coming up for a new contract and is on pace to have his most productive year with the Seahawks by far. Add to that the fact that according to Field Gulls, Jarran Reed is having a great second season on the defensive line, and you may have a positional group that just simply does not need Richardson in the long-term. Still, the Seahawks gave up assets to get Richardson, so it is definitely possible that they will make a major effort to keep him.
If they are unable to do that, there is another issue with the signing. Richardson has a bit of a spotty history. He has missed 5 games due to suspension, 4 for violating the league’s substance abuse policy in 2015, and 1 in 2016 for an arrest after being pulled over driving 143 mph in the offseason. These instances don’t generate a lot of confidence in Richardson being a mature leader of a team. They will certainly need to be taken into consideration and weighed carefully. For his part, Richardson has kept his nose clean this season, and on some level, I wonder about how much of his behavior was related to the general dysfunction that seems to consistently surround the Jets. If the Colts were to sign Richardson, I would trust Ballard, who has done his due diligence with troubled players in the past, to thoroughly vet him and make the right call.
The last issue with Richardson is the money. Richardson is in the last year of his rookie deal. Given his youth and performance, he is going to want to get paid. Calais Campbell signed a 4-year, 60 million dollar deal with the Jaguars last offseason, and he is 31. At 5 years younger, I would expect Richardson to be looking to make at least at or above 15 million a year on a 5-year deal. That would put him near the top of the league in pay for a defensive lineman. It would also make him one of the highest paid players on the Colts’ roster. Given their cap room heading into the 2018 season, that money would not be an issue for the Colts, but Ballard has a very particular philosophy about bringing in guys and the kinds of money he is willing to dole out. In order to pay him that kind of money, he will need to feel comfortable with the man he is adding to the locker room.
This is a tough decision. If Richardson gets to the open market, he will likely command a good payday. Spending the kind of money necessary to get him would be within the Colts reach, but to spend it in an area that is viewed as a team strength might not make sense to everyone. Personally, I think the biggest flaw on the defense has been quality depth, which has led to the breakdowns in play in the fourth quarter. That means this is exactly the kind of move that seriously improves the Colts’ defense.
However, a major factor in the decision would be the kind of coach that is brought in. With a head coach who has good control of the players and a history of working with guys like Richardson, it would be a lock. Some coaches don’t possess that ability, and unless the new one does, Richardson could be an issue.
As far as his on-field contribution, if he were added to the roster, he could give this defensive line the kind of nastiness we have never seen in Indianapolis. That kind of addition could take some pressure off of whatever pass rusher or inside linebacker are drafted, and make their lives much easier as they acclimate to the NFL.
Would you like to see the Colts sign Sheldon Richardson in the offseason?
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