Anytime the front office and coaching staff goes through a major overhaul, the new regime starts adding players with backgrounds they are familiar with or from their old teams. When Ryan Grigson came to Indianapolis, he targeted players from the Eagles and Browns. Chuck Pagano targeted players who played for Miami and who he had familiarity with from his time in Baltimore.
Don’t be surprised when Josh McDaniels and his staff start targeting players they know. Colts fans should be very aware of the fact that the franchise has been lacking a consistent pass rush and that the linebackers need a whole lot of work before the defense can finish coming together. How interesting it is that not only is Matt Eberflus a linebackers coach but he also is coming from a team with two linebackers who are set to become free agents. A man that will have the responsibility of fixing the team’s pass rush and improving at inside linebacker will have to look at who and what he knows to try to get off to a good start.
The Indianapolis Colts are slated to have over $80 million in cap space before the 2018 season officially begins. This is the third biggest off-season budget of any team in the NFL. The Cowboys? They have $20 million in projected cap space, which is 23rd in terms of free budget space to fill their roster. They also have two linebackers who are about to hit free agency and one tied for second in the NFL in sacks this season. They are at risk of getting outbid.
Lawrence is 6’3”, 265 pounds and terrorizes quarterbacks as an edge defender. He tallied 14.5 sacks, 26 quarterback hits, 14 tackles for a loss, 4 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and 1 pass defensed in 2017. He is only 25 years old and entering his prime.
With the Cowboys short on cash, it is possible that other teams could outbid them for one of the league’s top pass rushers. It is possible that he would be interested in traveling north to Indianapolis to stay with his linebackers coach and become a marquee player on a team with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis in their fairly recent history.
Imagine signing Lawrence in his prime and then doubling down by drafting Chubb at number 3 overall. Imagine a group of players on the edges like: Lawrence, Chubb, Sheard, Simon, Basham, and Mingo. That would be one of the better groups in the league. Prying pass rushers like Lawrence away almost never happens but these circumstances might make it possible.
Another player who Eberflus could convince Ballard to target is Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens is 6’0”, 235 lbs. and is also entering free agency after playing out the final year of his rookie contract. He is only 25 years old. When Sean Lee missed some time, Hitchens took over for him on the weakside and made a strong impression. Even missing the first four games with a knee injury, Hitchens finished with 84 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, 2 quarterback hits, 2 passes defensed, and one forced fumble.
During his time under Eberflus he played multiple roles and positions, including the Mike and Will positions. If the new coaching staff does intend to change things up defensively and place a heavier focus on more on 4-3 defensive concepts and target players with familiarity in those roles, Hitchens could be on that list.