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Free Agents Who Can round out Colts Roster for Draft: Tier 3 Needs

NFL: NFC Championship-Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As the Indianapolis Colts head into the first full off-season of General Manager Chris Ballard’s tenure, the first time he has been able to control not just moves in free agency but has had his own staff to scout and prepare for April’s draft, there are plenty of holes to fill. With over $80 million dollars in projected room to help fill those holes, Ballard needs to repeat what he did last season — add important players at key positions and reduce the number of “must haves” in the upcoming draft. He needs flexibility in April so he can to get as much talent out of his full slate of picks as possible.

Here are the Colts’ most glaring needs as Ballard prepares to turn the page and enter a new chapter in Indianapolis with his hand-picked coaching staff in tow.

Colts Positional Needs:

Tier 1: Pass rush, guard, inside linebacker

Tier 2: Running back, cornerback, wide receiver

Tier 3: Tight end, defensive line, safety

No matter what Ballard does in free agency, Tier 1 areas will likely also require some kind of attention in the draft. Tier 2 needs will be somewhat dependent on what happens in free agency. Tier 3 could be addressed but will likely require a great deal of value or clear BPA to warrant one of Indy’s draft picks — particularly early.

This piece will focus on the Tier 3 level needs. These needs may not be addressed at all in the off-season but these are the free agents who could take all pressure off of the draft.


There are differing opinions on where the Indianapolis Colts stand at the tight end position. Jack Doyle just participated in his first Pro Bowl but his projected partner entering the 2017 season, Erik Swoope, never took the field. When Swoope returns to the team, it will be after missing a full season of work -- which might mean even more for a player who was a college basketball player. This left a huge revolving group of players to play opposite Doyle throughout the season.

Brandon Williams, undrafted rookie free agent Darrell Daniels, Jason Vander Laan, Ross Travis, and Henry Krieger-Coble were all on the roster at different times. Williams was brought onto the team with expectations that he would be a solid blocker and nothing more. His role in the passing game wasn’t particularly important but he displayed better hands than many expected. Darrell Daniels got opportunities in his rookie season but never developed into a major role on the offense, spending much of his time on special teams. Vander Laan and Krieger-Coble never really worked their way into the rotation.

Perhaps the most intriguing option to make his way onto the roster was late-season addition Ross Travis from the Kansas City Chiefs. General Manager Chris Ballard is already familiar with what he brings to the table and the offense focused on using his height and athleticism in the passing game to close out the season. He will certainly get an opportunity to compete for a roster spot over the summer.

The common theme behind Doyle is uncertainty. Will Swoope take the next step and resume where he left off prior to surgery? Will Daniels develop physically in his second season? Is Ross Travis a new weapon for the Colts offense? While these answers to these questions will take time, there are some free agents who will hit the market who could resolve the issue quickly.

The top tight end set to hit free agency is Austin Sefarian-Jenkins (25) of the New York Jets. He played a key role in the Jets offense. Some off-field issues set back his NFL career and could certainly limit the attention he receives from other teams — particularly the chemistry and locker room focused Colts — but adding Sefarian-Jenkins would give the Colts a true one, two punch at tight end (something the Patriots have had for years).

Another option for Indianapolis would be to target Trey Burton (26) of the Philadelphia Eagles. He is much more likely to test free agency than Sefarian-Jenkins. Burton doesn’t carry the off-field baggage, he works hard and is well thought of by his teammates, and even on a team with Zach Ertz he has been productive. Of the free agent tight ends set to hit the market, he is my favorite option. I’m guessing that other teams share similar feelings.

The final free agent who catches my eye is Richard Rogers (26) of the Green Bay Packers. What he brings to the table is a well-rounded game, experience, and production as a receiving target. He will never be mistaken as a primary option but is the kind of player who can fill in well in each area he is asked to contribute. He will likely not demand a bank-breaking contract and would be almost certain to be a full season member of the roster, barring injury.


Entering the 2017 season, many fans (including this one) would have told you that the defensive line was the unit that needed least attention in free agency and the draft. In fact, outside of nose tackle, many thought the line was set to be one of the most competitive groups on the team.

Chris Ballard clearly thought otherwise. He proceeded to part ways with Art Jones, Kendall Langford, David Parry, T.Y. McGill, and Zach Kerr. The only members of the 2016 defensive line he retained was Henry Anderson and Hassan Ridgeway. He tapped free agency to bring in Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, and Margus Hunt. He used the draft to bring in small school project player Grover Stewart.

Good thing he did because the 2017 Colts defensive line was hands down the best group the team has had for many years. While the position could certainly still get better and the team has to always focus on a future that will likely not include Al Woods, none of the current players are free agents and so, relative to other positions, this group has to be lower on the needs list. It would take a very solid player, an immediate upgrade, to demand significant attention.

Until Josh McDaniels and his new coaching staff officially arrives in Indianapolis, projecting what direction either side of the ball will take is relatively difficult. McDaniels and his offense is easier because he has been running the same system for the same team for the vast majority of his NFL coaching career. What former Cowboys linebacker coach Matt Eberflus will do with the defense? That is another matter entirely.

If there is anything that might be clear about Eberflus and his background it is that he is not tied to a particular scheme. It is quite possible that the Colts base defense could go from 3-4 to 4-3 but it is more likely that Eberflus will get the team’s best defensive players on the field as much as possible, no matter what scheme it takes to accomplish that goal.

With that in mind, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (27) of the Seattle Seahawks has been a dominant force on the inside. Pairing Richardson with Hankins on the interior of the defensive line would create a nasty combination that would cause offensive lines absolute nightmares. It would potentially mean that Henry Anderson would rotate in in passing situations or based upon down and distance.

The problem with Richardson is that he has had a history of creating issues in the locker room and hasn’t been entirely consistent on the field. He has shown absolute dominance and something that could be described as above average. You have to wonder if making this kind of move is entirely necessary for the money.

Another potential target is Dontari Poe (28) of the Atlanta Falcons. Last off-season he visited with Chris Ballard and the Colts before finding his home with a team who just reached the Super Bowl. He signed a one year prove-it deal to set himself up for a more lucrative longer term contract heading into 2018.

The good news is that Poe managed to stay healthy and allayed some of the concerns about his back. He was productive in Atlanta but now finds himself on a team that is strapped for cash after it failed to buy the missing pieces to get back to the Super Bowl and win it all. Where he could make the most sense is as a potential replacement for Al Woods. Poe and Hankins would form another dominant duo on the interior and would help Indianapolis generate a pass rush with so much attention from the offensive line.

If he is looking to break the bank, the Colts will likely look elsewhere. The need for a player like Poe in 2018 is smaller than the need in 2017 — hurting Poe’s leverage in negotiations for a high dollar long-term deal.

The last name that pops up was also a part of the 2017 free agent pool. Former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Bennie Logan (28) made his way onto the Kansas City Chiefs roster. He was known as an interior run stuffer who could provide teams with an interchangeable option if they were unable to land Hankins or Poe. Of the three players in this group, Logan is the least attractive as he is the least dynamic. He could project to be a longer team replacement for Woods but likely nothing more.


There will be differing opinions about the Colts safety position heading into 2018. On the one hand, Chris Ballard used the 2017 first round draft pick on Malik Hooker as the team’s future free safety. The team also saw the return of Clayton Geathers to the field and he dropped some weight to potentially take over the strong safety, and has already shown that he performs very well in the box. Finally, Matthias Farley was forced into action last season and definitely outplayed expectations.

The issue is that Hooker is coming off of a major knee injury and Geathers had neck surgery that creates legitimate concerns for the outlook of his career. Behind this trio is free agent Darius Butler and underachieving defensive back T.J. Green. How comfortable is Ballard moving forward with big question-marks that he cannot possibly answer?

He could use more of his draft capital to add a safety like Derwin James or he could take a look at free agents that he likes more. What if he chooses to move one of the players who have question-marks? Farley and Geathers would likely have interest from other teams. If he chose to go that direction, these are some players who could step in.

Tre Boston (25) of the Los Angeles Chargers is one of the most reliable safeties in the NFL. At 6’1”, 205 lbs. he is particularly strong in pass coverage, which could make him a poor fit. It would seem like the Colts need a reliable strong safety more than they do an insurance policy for Malik Hooker. Still, having great players who can defend the pass in the secondary is always a good thing.

Another prospect is Eric Reid (26) of the San Francisco 49ers. At 6’1”, 213 lbs. he is a more balanced player who does well in coverage but can also come up to stop the run. He has been a key part of the 49ers defense and would be an immediate starter in Indianapolis. Adding Reid would allow Geathers to roam a bit more and move up into the box.

What LeMarcus Joyner (27) of the Los Angeles Rams lacks in size — he is only 5’8”, 190 lbs. — he makes up for in elite athleticism. He plays all over the field, is not afraid to play a key role in stopping the run and can terrorize the deep parts of the field over the top. He is certainly a rare talent at his position and was an important part of the Rams secondary.

What might be the biggest problem for every one of the top safety prospects is that they play for teams with plenty of cap space. It is unlikely any of these players will actually make it to free agency.


The most likely outcome at these positions is that none of these players will be added in free agency. However, if there is a single player on this list who could offer a real upgrade at a position of lesser needs, it is tight end Trey Burton of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Burton likely wouldn’t come to Indianapolis because he won’t be an immediate starter and he can probably find that opportunity on another team but he would create a three-headed monster at tight end. He would also allow Ballard to rest easier as he wouldn’t be entirely dependent upon the healthy return of Erik Swoope playing at a new level.