The feeding frenzy that associates the NFL legal tampering window is exhausting. Fans watch as the biggest names in free agency agree to terms on record-breaking deals with teams around the league. Fans of teams led by general managers who are not inclined to get sucked into league-wide bidding wars are left feeling unsatisfied.
As I discussed earlier, there are legitimate reasons frustration and the feeling that the front office is sitting on its hands. Vastly overpaying for “B” rate talent is a bad organizational philosophy and avoiding these types of free agent gaffes will most certainly pay off in the long run but some players who hit free agency are worth overpaying in the short-term.
Either way, the ship has sailed on some of the biggest names to his the market but there are plenty of difference makers who are still available in free agency who can help the Colts field a better roster in 2018 than they did a season ago. We will discuss some of the players who have been tied to the Colts, their potential impact, and some of the trade scenarios that might still make sense.
Center/Guard Ryan Jensen
While Jensen was on my radar early in the free agency discussion, I didn’t believe he would escape Baltimore. I also had my eyes on Andrew Norwell —Jacksonville, Justin Pugh (free agent), and Zach Fulton — Houston. The reality is, Jensen is a better player than Fulton right now and was one of the toughest interior offensive linemen for Baltimore a season ago.
Jensen has position flexibility, has shown improvement each year in his young career, and does not have the imbalanced skill set that is typical of a lot of free agent offensive linemen — strong against the run but weak against the pass or vice versa. If Ballard brings Jensen into the fold it will require a contact that approaches $10M per year. This would be, by an definition, a marquee offensive line acquisition that rivals any of the others mentioned above.
Jensen will be in Indianapolis today for a visit.
Defensive End Adrian Clayborn
There has been a lot of discussion about how the Colts can find ways to improve their pass rush in 2018. The biggest names and most valuable pass rushers in the NFL very rarely reach free agency so it is difficult to expect major strides in this area absent a trade with a cap desperate team. It is also likely that any players who excel in this area are going to get overpaid in the open market.
Adrian Clayborn is arguably the most proven, veteran pass rusher that is available on the free agent market. He has under-performed for much of his career and has been picked apart by critics as having one flash in the pan game against the Cowboys in 2017 — setting a team record for six sacks. It is entirely reasonable to see that game as an outlier and keep that in mind when trying to evaluate what he is worth but it is also entirely reasonable to acknowledge that few players in history have ever had such a game. Lucking into a sack here and there is possible but lucking into 6 of them seems extremely unlikely — no matter what the situation was for the Cowboys offensive line.
DE Adrian Clayborn generating interest as one of the best pass rushers available. Patriots, Colts, Bucs, Browns -- and Falcons -- appear to be all in the mix, according to source. Clayborn led the Falcons with 9.5 sacks last season. https://t.co/Q6TfIu3Rwz— vaughn mcclure (@vxmcclure23) March 14, 2018
After Trent Murphy’s new contract with the Bills was projected about about $10M per year, you can bet Clayborn will be looking for a similar contract. It seems unlikely that Chris Ballard will go this route for that kind of money but signing Clayborn would be landing one of the biggest name pass rush specialists available in 2018.
Defensive Tackle Dontari Poe
Chris Ballard already had discussions with Poe about joining the Colts on a long-term deal in 2017. He chose to bet on himself by going with a one-year deal to join the Atlanta Falcons — fresh off of a Super Bowl run. While Poe had a solid year with the dirty birds, it is hard to say that he meaningfully improved his market value. In fact, while he was arguably seen as the biggest defensive tackle on the market last year, players like Suh, Wilkerson, and Richardson are likely seen as bigger prospects in 2018.
Poe is another target who would command a contract that averages somewhere in the neighborhood of $10M per year and he would form a formidable duo with Johnathan Hankins. This pairing is strong against the run and both would benefit by the presence of the other in terms of having opportunities to get pressure on the quarterback. Maybe the best policy to improve your pass rush and increase quarterback pressure in an edge rush depleted free agent market is to build your strength on the interior.
Tight End Austin Seferian-Jenkins
With a lack of proven receivers in the building, adding a receiving tight end like Austin Seferian-Jenkins could make sense. Pairing him with Jack Doyle will create opportunities to force mismatches on the interior and could give Andrew Luck some big targets underneath to punish defenses who sell out over the top to contain T.Y. Hilton.
His off-field history certainly would make him an outlier for typical Colts targets. However, his return to the NFL and season with the Jets seem to indicate that he may have turned over a new leaf and learned from his past mistakes. If true, he could be a great story and the kind of locker room presence who can tell his teammates first hand just how bad it is to make dumb decisions away from football.
There are a lot of reasons to think the Seahawks may be the favorites to sign a homegrown player like Seferian-Jenkins, especially since Jimmy Graham left in free agency. It also seems like the Colts could have confidence in Erik Swoope in his return after surgery held him out in 2017 and they showed some interest in getting Ross Travis started in the receiving game as well. Still, the receiving room is barren and this would be a big time free agent signing to address that issue.
Potential Trade Targets/Future Free Agent Bargains
The Philadelphia Eagles have still driven themselves through the floor in cap space. There is no way they can enter the draft without making some room — as they are currently entertaining a visit from Haloti Ngata who could push them even further into the basement.
There are two players in particular who could make a lot of sense for the Colts and with Frank Reich recently coming over from Philadelphia, along with playing in the AFC, there is a chance that getting something done would be beneficial for both teams. First, Indianapolis needs to address the linebacker position this off-season with the expected switch to a 4-3 base alignment.
Anthony Hitchens was the odds on favorite to potentially lead the new look Colts defense but the Kansas City Chiefs threw more money at him than Chris Ballard, and presumably Matt Eberflus, were willing to pay to bring him into the fold. A potentially cheaper option who might fit into the new system is Mychal Kendricks. Rumors have floated that the Eagles were willing to move him more than one season and with their desperate cap position they might entertain the idea of taking a middle to later round draft pick to unload the cap.
Another player who the Eagles may not be able to keep is defensive end Vinny Curry. The difficulty with finding a trade partner here is that Curry’s current contract includes cap hits of $11M and over for the next three years. He is a solid 4-3 defensive end but taking on a contract worth over $30M for a player who is not a huge pass rushing force is hard to justify for any NFL franchise.
It would take a vast imbalance in terms of a very low draft pick for a team to take on that type of cap hit or more likely team will wait out Philadelphia who will have to cut down their roster at some point and work on signing Curry to a more reasonable deal.