With free agency set to officially begin at 4 PM ET on Wednesday March 14th, we will take a final look at free agents who might make sense given Chris Ballard’s history in targeting players last year. These are players who should be immediate upgrades to the Colts roster, many will be projected as immediate starters, and each of them will likely command fewer long-term resources than the very top names at their respective positions.
These players are still relatively young, show signs of continued development and upside, and are coming off of the best years of their NFL careers. We will start by taking a look at the offensive pieces Ballard might look at carefully as he prepares to install Frank Reich’s multiple look, no-huddle, up-tempo offensive style.
Jerick McKinnon(25) – McKinnon saw his role increase after rookie phenom Dalvin Cook went down with an ACL tear. He is a “multiple” threat as he can run inside the tackles, has the speed to get the corner, and is also an excellent receiver out of the backfield. The Colts can move him around for the match-ups based upon match-ups and should be able to use him interchangeably with Marlon Mack without losing much.
A look at Minnesota’s non-quarterback free agents - Daily Norseman
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $4M Avg. Annual Salary
Dion Lewis (27) – Finished the 2017 season without any meaningful injuries or missed time — which is noteworthy as the biggest knock on him has been long-term health. Like McKinnon, Lewis can have an impact on the ground and through the air. He is slightly older (for a running back) but is also more proven as an inside runner.
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $5M Avg. Annual Salary
Jordan Matthews (25) – Matthews has not had the start to his NFL career that he would have hoped. He was never able to fully put it together in Philadelphia and was traded away to the Bills just in time to miss out on a Super Bowl championship. Injuries derailed his season and after playing in a Bills offense that was inconsistent, he failed to build the value he would have hoped to build prior to hitting free agency.
The Bills are now without a starting quarterback and will have to land a big fish free agent or look to move up in the NFL draft if they hope to get one. Could Matthews flourish under his former offensive coordinator, now head coach Frank Reich? He has the kind of size and skill-set Ballard targeted previously when he hoped to land Alshon Jeffery (the comparison ends at size at this point) so it would be worth monitoring.
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Jordan Matthews free agent contract projection - Buffalo Rumblings
Albert Wilson (25) – The good is that Wilson is hard-nosed, speedy enough to get separation at the line of scrimmage, can play all over the field, is a nasty blocker, and is dangerous after the catch. The bad is that he is only 5’9” and is not the type of player you will see used significantly in the red zone or winning 50/50 balls.
Chiefs fans have pointed out that he might need to have an offensive coach scheme him open to win due to his physical limitations but his skill-set also gives offensive coaches flexibility to do other things. Chris Ballard is familiar with Wilson’s talent and bringing him on as a third or fourth receiver for a reasonable price tag is not outside the realm of possibility. Hard working, young, with room to grow sounds like a Ballard guy.
Why the Chiefs should probably let Albert Wilson walk — Arrowhead Pride
Paul Richardson (26) – Members of the Colts front office are familiar with Paul Richardson and were in the room when Seattle when he was selected in the 2nd round in 2014. His 2017 season puts him squarely in the camp of players who are on the rise but who will not command top dollar in free agency. He caught 44 passes for 703 yards and six touchdowns a season ago from Russell Wilson and proved to be a dangerous deep threat. The Colts could do much worse.
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $6.3M Avg. Annual Salary
Trey Burton (26) – You get the impression Burton would have been even more productive if he played on a team that didn’t feature Zach Ertz. What if he joined his former offensive coordinator in Indianapolis on a team where his skills would be immediately recognized? What if he took pressure off of Jack Doyle to be one of the team’s primary receiving targets – creating more balance and allowing the multiple looks from the tight end position Frank Reich enjoyed in Philadelphia? It certainly makes some sense and he could likely be signed for somewhere close to what Indianapolis is paying Doyle now.
NFL Free Agency Rumors: Trey Burton has up to 16 teams interested in him —Bleeding Green Nation
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $7M Avg. Annual Salary
Cameron Fleming (25) – There aren’t many tackles in free agency that jump out as immediate potential targets for Indianapolis but Fleming’s trial by fire in New England could make him an option. His performance with the Patriots was not flashy but he improved throughout the season and could add competition to an offensive line that is still searching for its identity. He might be the immediate front runner to start at right tackle.
Jack Mewhort (26) – The biggest knock on Mewhort has been his struggles with knee injuries. He has missed games and ended the season on injured reserve the last two years. However, when he is healthy, Mewhort is a solid NFL guard. The word “solid” isn’t often used as a label for Colts offensive linemen. If he can clear medicals, the Colts could bring him back to the fold on a reasonable prove-it contract and stop some of the bleeding on the inside.
Zach Fulton (26) – Zach Fulton bring a lot of value to the interior of an offensive line. He showed considerable improvement playing at guard for the Chiefs last season and is also a solid NFL center. When a team can get “solid” production at multiple interior line spots out of one player, that player will get attention. He is still young, getting better, and Chris Ballard would have a relationship with him from his time in Kansas City.
Chiefs OL Zach Fulton a favorite to land in Houston, per report —Arrowhead Pride
Justin Pugh (27) – Fascinatingly, it appears that Pugh has been overlooked by much of the Colts fan base. Similar to Fulton, Pugh has the flexibility to play multiple positions on the line if needed. He tends to perform better at guard and if he wasn’t injured last season, he would likely be getting more attention. He recently cleared medicals and confirmed that his back issue was muscle related and not something that could threaten his career.
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $6.4M Avg. Annual Salary
Jonathan Cooper (28) – Cooper entered the starting lineup for a highly respected Cowboys offensive line and never relinquished the spot. In fact, the line improved after he was inserted. With the cap awfully tight, it is possible this borderline starter for Dallas could be a big upgrade for Indianapolis. He played better in 2017 than he has at any other point in his career and while he’s stretching the upside of what Ballard targets in terms of age, guard can play into their 30s and still be very effective.
Cowboys 2018 offseason priorities by position group: Offensive guard - Blogging the Boys