There is no position in the NFL that is more valuable than quarterback. A star QB can erase so many of a team’s weaknesses by helping put points on the scoreboard. As the league continues to lean heavier on high powerful aerial attacks, the importance of finding a way to make the quarterback uncomfortable continues to grow.
No position other than pass rush can demand contracts that start to rival the quarterback. No defensive player has a greater impact on the outcome of games. Even mediocre quarterbacks can win football games if they are given the time to sit in the pocket and pick their spots.
It should come as no surprise that it is exceedingly rare for a legitimate pass rusher to ever make it to free agency. There is simply too much value for a team to not keep him under contract. This has been the case for years and has played out the same in the 2018 off-season.
The two biggest pass rushers with expiring contracts at the conclusion of the 2017 regular season were DeMarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah. Both players are capable of double-digit sack totals in a season and have regularly put pressure on opposing signal callers. Both players received franchise tag offers that will keep them in Dallas and Detroit, respectively, unless another team is able to put together a trade.
This leaves the pass rush free agent group extremely thin. For a team as desperate to find pass rushers as the Colts have been for a few seasons, and particularly during an off-season where changes to the coaching staff and defensive scheme are already weighing on the minds of the front office, there is increasing pressure to nail the early rounds of the draft and find solutions for this nagging problem.
The only free agents who really pop out as potential projects who could turn a corner with the right coaching are Alex Okafor of the New Orleans Saints, Kony Ealy of the New York Jets, and Aaron Lynch of the San Francisco 49ers. None of these players should be relied upon to solve Indy’s pass rush problems and each would simply represent the chance to improve competition at the spot and potentially serve in a rotational role. All have shown flashes of ability and are young enough that it’s possible they have more upside potential that is not yet tapped.
With this group of rotational rushers as all that is really left in free agency, Chris Ballard will have to look seriously at trade opportunities or to the draft to address what might be the biggest overall weakness on the team — or perhaps the most important. The obvious answer is to use the 3rd overall pick on Bradley Chubb and capitalize on the first opportunity to take the best pass rusher in the draft the Colts have had for years. It may even be worth grabbing a second pass rusher in the middle rounds to push Tarell Basham and Jabaal Sheard.
One thing is for sure, the cupboard is quite bare in free agency if the Colts are looking to create a pass rush. It might be best to focus the bulk of the available money at other positions with higher value: such as cornerback. wide receiver, and offensive line in this free agent class.