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 wrap up by taking a look at the defensive pieces Ballard might look at carefully as he prepares to provide new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus with pieces to fit a new-look defense.
Beau Allen (26) – Allen was a rotational piece on the interior of the Eagles defensive line. There appears to be interest building from the Washington Redskins and if there is a bidding war for him, he may not make sense for the Colts but he has familiarity with Frank Reich and is best suited playing on the inside in a 4-3 base front.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Beau Allen to be pursued by Redskins - Inside the Iggles
Dontari Poe (27) – While Poe wouldn’t be a “bargain” in terms of his annual contract demands, he could offer the Colts the opportunity to build a dynamic interior on their new-look defensive line. This could take pressure off of the Colts’ weaknesses on the back end. Poe could likely be had on a longer-term deal for about $8M per year.
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $5.7M Avg. Annual Salary
Benson Mayowa (26) – Mayowa could be a solid rotational piece and a better natural fit at 4-3 defensive end than the Colts currently have on the roster. He has flashed potential as a pass rusher but shouldn’t be counted on to lead the team in this area. He already has familiarity with Eberflus and the Cowboys are not in a great position to re-sign him.
Kony Ealy (26) – Ealy’s career has been marked by inconsistency. There are games in his career where he has made a huge impact, including a Super Bowl with the Patriots. There are far more games where he does little or nothing at all. He is a pass rush specialist who displays little interest in playing a meaningful role stopping the run. The key for the Colts is that he should come relatively cheap, is only 26, and could benefit from a change of scenery.
2018 Jets free agency preview: Should Kony Ealy stay or go? — New York Jet Fuel
Alex Okafor (27) – Very few players who have strong seasons at defensive end make it to free agency. When they do, there is often a reason for it. In Okafor’s case, he was having a strong season in New Orleans before he ruptured his Achilles tendon and landed on the injured reserve. If he fully recovers from the injury and can return to the same level of production as was having in 2017, he is worth a serious look.
David Bass (27) – Bass has had a relatively quiet career as a rotational edge defender. He also has shown a knack of making big plays or showing up during games when his team really needs it. While he would likely remain in a rotational role in Indianapolis, he would bring a veteran presence and could make an impact.
Adrian Clayborn (29) – Another player who likely doesn’t belong in the true “bargain” conversation, Clayborn is the lone potential year-one starter and difference maker as a pass rusher set to hit the open market. He will likely command somewhere around $8-10M per year and will likely want to sign a two or three-year deal.
The Colts are certainly in a position to afford his contract, but his age is higher than what Chris Ballard has targeted in the past. It might be worth overlooking age to generate a pass rush, but it is also possible that Clayborn gets vastly overpaid in a bidding war with a short pass rushing supply.
Atlanta Falcons: The Case for Re-Signing Adrian Clayborn - Blogging Dirty
Anthony Hitchens (25) – MIKE This signing makes so much sense that much of the league appears to already be accepting it as inevitable. This is the exact kind of signing Chris Ballard likes to make with a player who is just coming out of his rookie deal, has shown improvement each season, still hasn’t hit his ceiling, and should be reasonable in terms of contract demands. Hitchens can and likely will play in multiple spots for Matt Eberflus but is projected to fill the extremely important middle linebacker role, calling plays in a defense he already knows.
Could Anthony Hitchens really return to the Cowboys? — Blogging the Boys
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $6.4M Avg. Annual Salary
Avery Williamson (25) – SAM Williamson has played as an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense for the Tennessee Titans. He has been a difference-making player against the run but not particularly strong against the pass. In a 4-3 front his pass defending liabilities may show up more often but if he plays in the strong side role the limitations can be muted. He also would be relied upon to use his talents against the run from that spot.
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $9.1M Avg. Annual Salary
Todd Davis (25) – SAM Davis is similar to Williamson in that he excels stopping the run. He has been a strong defender in Denver and has played through injury to continue at a high level of production. Linebackers who demonstrate the toughness to make it through nagging injuries for a full NFL season are certainly commodities worth a look.
Todd Davis was a consistent performer at linebacker in 2017 - Mile High Report
Nigel Bradham (28) – WILL Bradham is a versatile veteran linebacker who can defend the run and pass. He is athletic enough to fill in on the weak side of the defense and has enough experience to move around if needed. He is a starting NFL linebacker who is set to hit free agency because the Eagles can’t afford to keep a lot of their players with a desperate cap situation.
He is slightly older than Chris Ballard typically likes but could be a major upgrade to a unit that Reich and Ballard have made clear will receive a lot of attention this off-season.
NFL Free Agency Rumors: Eagles expect to lose Nigel Bradham and others — Bleeding Green Nation
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $5.9M Avg. Annual Salary
Bashaud Breeland (26) – There is a lot to like about what Bashaud Breeland brings to the table as a potential cornerback in Indianapolis. He has four years of experience in Washington that saw him improve as a player, has a knack for batting down passes, and has experience in zone coverage. There is little doubt that he could fill a starting spot in his first year on the team and should be entering the prime of his career.
Potential Falcons free agent profile: Bashaud Breeland — The Falcoholic
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $6.9M Avg. Annual Salary
E.J. Gaines (26) – Gaines excels in zone coverage schemes and had a nice impact when he was healthy for the Buffalo Bills. He has missed 5 games per season the last two seasons though and might be too much of a health liability or question-mark for Ballard to make a major investment. Still, at only 26 and with the kind of skill-set Matt Eberflus is trying to find in his new look defense, he is worth monitoring.
ESPN: E.J. Gaines will get paid more than you think — Buffalo Rumblings
CONTRACT PROJECTION PER SPOTRAC: $9.3M Avg. Annual Salary
T.J. Carrie (27) – Carrie was the best cornerback in Oakland last season and capitalized on his opportunity to take increased snaps. He has a skill-set that should translate well to the changes that have been proposed in the Colts new-look defense and could be a bargain relative to other big names who will hit free agency. Oakland has cleared some cap in the secondary and put themselves in a position to re-sign Carrie if they want to keep him in the fold.
Oakland Raiders’ Biggest 2018 Offseason Free-Agency Decisions — Bleacher Report