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Stampede Blue Staff Edition “You’re the GM”: Colts Free Agency

Indianapolis Colts Introduce Frank Reich Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With free agency on the horizon, we are looking at general manager Chris Ballard’s time to shine. In a few years, we will look back on moves that were made this offseason as either the keys to the Colts taking the next step toward being perennial contenders or contributing to holding the team back.

Given its importance, I asked the Stampede Blue staff to put on their general manager hats and do their best to step into Chris Ballard’s shoes. They were tasked with deciding on their one key free agent signing, deciding on their player selection with the Colts first round pick, naming a player they would re-sign and/or a possible surprise cut, and a surprising trade they might make.

First up, is free agency.

Stephen Reed

Andrew Norwell - OG

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The most important thing this offseason is to protect the quarterback. If this is done in free agency, then it allows for the Colts to focus mostly on defense in the draft. Norwell has proven his abilities so giving him a big contract likely won’t upset the locker room.

Blake Pace

Anthony Hitchens - ILB

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Going into the offseason, my biggest worry on the defensive side of the ball is at inside linebacker. The Colts don’t have a current ILB on the roster that excels in pass defense and there are plenty of options on the open market. Hitchens, the youngest of the top options, has ties to defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus with the Dallas Cowboys and is set to leave the Cowboys due to their cap inflexibility. Hitchens can come over to Indy and blossom as a Colt, joining a rebuilding defense with young potential at all three levels.

Brett Mock

3 For the Price of 1: Justin Pugh, Zach Fulton, Jack Mewhort - G

NFL: New York Giants at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis is projected to be in a cap strong position heading into free agency. They certainly have some of their own free agents to consider retaining, and I suspect they will keep a handful of these players in the fold, but Chris Ballard showed last year that he isn’t afraid to spend bigger money on key free agents who can make immediate impacts. His two largest contracts in 2017 were for Johnathan Hankins and Jabaal Sheard, both who played key roles in the beginnings of a defensive renaissance in Indy.

It is also worth noting that Ballard is not afraid to tackle a specific spot on the field in free agency if he feels he can do so. Last year he added Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins, Margus Hunt, and Grover Stewart to the defensive line in free agency and the draft. All these players are currently projected to be on the team in 2018. This year he could switch his focus to the offensive side of the ball and play rope a dope with Andrew Norwell. He is expected to earn about $12 million per year, which is exorbitant even if front loaded. The Giants have already started chirping about making him the highest paid guard in the league.

If that is the case, I say let them spend silly money on the position and steal Justin Pugh from them through free agency. He will come at a fraction of the cost, will be a major upgrade on the interior, and isn’t so far removed from Norwell in talent that it makes financial sense to overspend at the position. As bonus free agent signings, Ballard can bring in Zach Fulton on another excellent value deal and sign Jack Mewhort to a short-term prove it contract to keep him with his teammates in Indianapolis.

If we go this route, we have three guard prospects, all who are projected to be solid or better guards in the NFL and who are young enough to continue improving in the fold for what will likely be just slightly more than Norwell. It is worth considering this alternative.

Andrew Aziz

Andrew Norwell - G

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If the Colts want to have a serious offense with a healthy quarterback they’ll need an offensive line. Andrew Norwell is easily the best offensive lineman on the market and he would be a huge upgrade for the Colts on offense. He’s a consistent phone booth type guard whose athleticism has gotten better over the years, making him more effective in space. The Colts need to rebuild their offensive line, so why not start with one of the best offensive linemen in the league.

Jared Malott

Paul Richardson - WR

NFL: Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I think the Colts are going to be without either Frank Gore or Donte Moncrief in 2018. If Gore leaves, in my dream scenario, the Colts use their abundance of cap space to attract Le’Veon Bell. That won’t happen and I’m not putting a max contract on a guy like… Isaiah Crowell. If Moncrief leaves, I’d pursue Jarvis Landry and giggle at the thought of putting him on the field with Hilton and Luck. That won’t happen so I guess I’m going after… Paul Richardson.

Matt Danely

Carlos Hyde – RB

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Once into free agency, the Colts are going to be spending some of what is left of that $80M in a similar fashion to last season. One of their top priorities will be to find pieces on the defensive side of the ball. However, they cannot overlook their offensive needs with one of them being a young, exciting addition to the backfield. Carlos Hyde is only 26 years old and would provide the assistance in moving on from Frank Gore as well as some cushion for the Colts to draft another RB a bit deeper into the draft. His 8 touchdowns are second only to Le’Veon Bell in this free agent class at the position.

Chris Blystone

Ezekiel Ansah - DE

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Free agency can so often be a crapshoot that it is hard for me to get too excited about it. Ultimately the Colts need the draft to be where this team develops, but free agents can play a big role in helping accelerate their improvement. The Colts are in a unique place where they may be able to benefit by trading back in the draft, but forgoing a more can’t-miss type player in Bradley Chubb. That means addressing the pass rush later in the draft, and probably also in free agency if possible. That’s why for my money I am going to get Ezekiel Ansah.

Ansah has the tools to be a major contributor rushing the quarterback off the edge for this Colts defense as it transitions to a 4-3. His price tag may be high, but the Colts desperately need a pass rush, and buying one doesn’t come cheap. He has struggled with injuries over the past couple seasons but has been able to play through them.

While he will be 29 to start the coming season, if the Colts were to front-load a 3-4 year deal with him to allow them time to develop their pass rush through the draft, they could get 2-3 years of very good pass rush out of Ansah, with the possibility if he stayed healthy of being not just a good but a great pass rusher.

Tomorrow: Our GM’s make their first-round draft pick.