As we continue to look at the positions that could be heavily targeted throughout free agency and the upcoming NFL draft, we have to believe that Chris Ballard will likely take the same approach as he did last season. Ballard did what he could to bring in guys who could bolster their respective positions, were largely well under 30 years of age and were signed to deals with very little guaranteed money after Year 1.
Ballard doesn’t want to live through free agency, but when looking to find potential assets who are heading into their second contracts and can make vast differences in the talent level at their positions, he’s hoping to sign players who can prove their worth almost immediately.
As for the cornerback position in particular, the Colts may still attempt to hang on to Rashaan Melvin and/or Pierre Desir as they both are set to hit free agency as well. But, should a plan there fail on either side of negotiations, there are some good, young options that could be coming available.
Stacking on top of young talent such as Quincy Wilson, Nate Hairston and even Kenny Moore at this point would give the Colts secondary a quick overhaul in terms of age and give the CB corps a foundation of youth and talent to work towards the common goal. Indecision makes this position somewhat difficult to call this far out, but assuming Colts current free agents at the position walk, let’s dig in to some replacements.
Kyle Fuller — 25 — Chicago Bears
Fuller may be one of the more interesting options here. He’ll be 26 by the time the 2018 season rolls around, and has missed a season due to a knee injury back in 2016. Interestingly enough he survived a coaching staff that wasn’t sold on the former first-round draft pick long before their exodus, but now that he’s working toward free agency, Fuller doesn’t seem like a lock to hang around.
He’s been very productive in his 3 playing seasons in Chicago though, with more than 50 total tackles in each of those, while racking up 8 interceptions and 41 passes defensed — 22 of which came in a very solid 2017 season. Despite missing out on 2016, Fuller hasn’t missed a game otherwise. He’s got the size and willingness to assist against the run that physical teams desire and is somewhat interchangeable between all cornerback positions.
Fuller could possibly carry a dense price tag along with him, however, the Colts aren’t hurting for money this offseason by any stretch of the imagination and are going to have to drop some cash in order to rebuild this roster the right way.
Bashaud Breeland — 25 — Washington Redskins
Breeland and Fuller are almost identical in age and he too will be 26 come training camp, but he has really drawn in the right kind of eyes this season. Breeland wasn’t churning out the tackles this season due in large part to the team having a much improved defense as a whole, but don’t let his 47 total tackles this season fool you. Breeland’s previous low was 69 total tackles as a rookie and has bypassed the 70, and 80 tackle marks as well.
Breeland is heading into his fifth season averaging 2 interceptions per season (8), and put up a career-best 19 passes defensed this past season. Breeland has taken some punishment in his young career for various reasons, including a couple bad stretches mixed in with minor injuries. But, with the confidence he showed this season his overall performance followed suit.
The Colts could do a whole lot worse than Breeland considering his age, ability to work in multiple coverages and his overall potential to improve. Whether or not he gets to the Colts is another conversation altogether, but he’s got the right upside in all the right places to possibly offer him a short-term deal with incentives.
E.J. Gaines — 25 — Buffalo Bills
Gaines, who will also be 26 before training camp, has also missed an entire season due to injury. Gaines’ was a Lisfranc surgery that kept him out of the 2015 season after suffering the injury in the first week of training camp following a pretty impressive rookie season in which he had 15 passes defensed, 2 interceptions and 70 total tackles.
Gaines has slowly begun to work his way back, despite having played no more than 11 games in the last two seasons for the Rams or Bills. He doesn’t have great size for the position at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, but he is a physical corner who loves to mix it up at the line of scrimmage on the regular.
Additionally, Gaines forced 3 fumbles last season in the process of showing that he is a multi-faceted cover corner with the ability to get the ball back to his offense. Gaines may not be the flashiest name on this list, but the Colts need blue collar talent, not flash.
Malcolm Butler — 27 — New England Patriots
Though Butler is the oldest of this group, and will be 28 by training camp, he fits the mold of the 3 his junior on this list. Butler has hit 60 total tackles the past 3 seasons, 43 total passes defensed and has been durable enough to play in all 48 games in that time span.
Butler is a smart corner who can do it all regardless of where he’s lined up. He has the instincts to match timing with longer, more athletic receivers. His technique allows him to remain within arm’s length of batting the ball down, and he’s physical enough to be an asset in run support as well.
Possibly his biggest draw is that he’s been so successful within the Patriots’ system, has made one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history and has risen to become one of the better corners in the league after going undrafted in 2014. Typically, it seems as though the Patriots retain their talent due to the success they have had over the past decade, but he likely is going to carry too much of a price tag for New England to hang on to.
The Colts do have the money, we’ve touched on this a lot lately, but I still question whether or not Ballard would want to drop that kind of paper in free agency right now. Butler is expected to land an 8-figure payday per season, so despite the Colts deep pockets he may be someone they choose to bypass