I’ll start by saying that I’m not a huge free agency guy. I am pretty picky with who I’d choose to go after, so there’s a good chance there are names that you think may be missing from this list. Instead, I’m a draft nerd, through and through.
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard is the same way when it comes to free agency, wanting younger players who are, in his words, ascending talents who still have potential ahead of them. They must be great in the locker room, which includes being a hard worker to justify their likely high free-agent contract.
The following is my ranking of offensive players that I think the Colts should pursue in free agency this offseason. For obvious reasons, I did not include players who have been franchise-tagged as well as guys who reportedly won’t be hitting the market for long, if at all, because their current team is working on signing them long term.
*The “legal tampering” period for free agency is from Monday, March 12 until 4:00 PM ET on Wednesday, March 14. Teams can begin signing free agents from other teams at 4:00 PM ET on March 14.
1. Andrew Norwell | Offensive Guard | Panthers | 26
Norwell is easily the best offensive lineman available during this free agency period, and you could make an argument that his position of offensive guard is the Colts’ biggest need. Protecting Andrew Luck will be the most critical task for Ballard and Co. to accomplish on offense this offseason. In four years, Norwell has started 54-of-55 games and has only been penalized six total times. He’s also only given up 6.0 sacks. Norwell has been even better in the playoffs. In six career postseason starts, he’s never been penalized or given up a sack.
2. Jerick McKinnon | Running Back | Vikings | 25
As a player, McKinnon totally fits the bill of an ascending player. He played quarterback collegiately and then switched to running back when he was drafted by Minnesota. He’s added more wrinkles to his game over time and has become a more complete, three-down back every year. While the Colts may be shooting higher by finding someone in the draft, McKinnon is arguably their best option among the realistic free-agent targets.
3. Sammy Watkins | Wide Receiver | Rams | 24
Watkins is only 24, so it’s hard to say whether we’ve seen him at the peak of what he’s going to be. Regardless, the player that he is currently is still an upgrade for the Colts. T.Y. Hilton and Chester Rogers are the only wide receivers under contract for 2018 that are anything to write home about, so the Colts will be adding receivers this offseason. Why not look for a high-end WR2 who has WR1 upside?
4. Justin Pugh | Offensive Lineman | Giants | 27
Pugh has been successful at playing both guard and tackle during his young career in New York, and he’s gotten better more recently in his career. If the Colts feel that they can best use Pugh at right tackle, then he’s got experience with that. Given the Colts history of dealing with offensive linemen missing time due to injury, Pugh’s versatility will help. He has dealt with his own injuries for basically his whole career, however, so he’d have to pass the Colts’ medical checks to make sure they’re not signing a “lemon”.
5. Cameron Fleming | Offensive Tackle | Patriots | 25
Fleming is an interesting prospect. He wasn’t an original starter (started just 20-of-47 games for New England), but he filled in quite well when he became the starter as an injury fill-in. If the Patriots trusted him enough to start throughout the playoffs, he’s going to be a decent option. Fleming was penalized twice and gave up 2.5 sacks while starting 8-of-15 games in 2017.
6. Donte Moncrief | Wide Receiver | Colts | 24
7. Paul Richardson | Wide Receiver | Seahawks | 25
8. Josh Sitton | Offensive Guard | Bears | 31
9. Weston Richburg | Offensive Lineman | Giants | 26
10. Zach Fulton | Offensive Guard | Chiefs | 26
11. Jonathan Cooper | Offensive Guard | Cowboys | 28
12. Ryan Jensen | Offensive Guard | Ravens | 26
13. Jack Mewhort | Offensive Guard | Colts | 26
14. Trey Burton | Tight End | Eagles | 26
15. Tyler Eifert | Tight End | Bengals | 27
16. Albert Wilson | Wide Receiver | Chiefs | 25