Yesterday, we looked around the rest of the AFC South to determine the best and worst moves that the Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have made so far this offseason. Today, it’s time to evaluate the Indianapolis Colts.
To the surprise of those who don’t understand Chris Ballard at all, the Colts were almost dead silent for the first few days of the league year despite having over $70 million in cap space. Instead, the Colts were patient and let the market develop while it weeded out many of the players who just weren’t worth signing to the contracts they were being offered elsewhere.
Not Caving to Price Tags of Donte Moncrief, Andrew Norwell, Anthony Hitchens and Rashaan Melvin:
There were several players in this free agent class that the Colts really, really could have used. However, Ballard wasn’t going to be forced into paying more than what he thought a player or position should be paid.
Moncrief headed to Jacksonville for a one-year deal that could be worth excess of $11 million. Good for him, but no way were the Colts going to pay that much for a guy who didn’t earn it over the last four years. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, but Moncrief never lived up to his potential while in Indianapolis. Instead, the Colts will look to replace Moncrief in the passing game with tight end Eric Ebron ($6M guaranteed) and receiver Ryan Grant ($5M guaranteed). They are also interested in Chicago Bears restricted free agent Cameron Meredith, who also wouldn’t be very expensive.
I’ll say that I was all aboard the Norwell to Indy train. Whatever it took to get him, I was down with Ballard doing. However, Jacksonville (again) swooped in overnight during the tampering period and made Norwell the highest-paid interior lineman in the game ($30M guaranteed). Instead, Ballard re-signed Jack Mewhort ($300K guaranteed) and brought in Matt Slauson ($750K guaranteed). This is also a very good draft in the first couple of days for interior linemen.
Hitchens coming to Indianapolis seemed like a foregone conclusion to many people. New Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus reportedly wanted Hitchens to come to the Colts and be “his guy” to run the defense. However, the Kansas City Chiefs came in and threw a $9M-per-year deal at Hitchens with $21.3M guaranteed. It was likely a hard pass by Ballard.
The Colts also held strong in not giving Melvin a ton of money. He only signed for one year and $5.5M ($4.85M guaranteed) with the Oakland Raiders, but he apparently asked the Colts for much more than that. Instead, the Colts re-signed Pierre Desir for one year and $1.56M ($750K guaranteed), and they’ll likely use a draft pick or two on the cornerback position.
Not Addressing the Linebacker Position Yet:
There were about eight off-ball linebackers I highlighted heading into free agency that I thought could be a good fit with the Colts defense in their new scheme — Preston Brown, Avery Williamson, Todd Davis, Zach Brown, Hitchens, Nigel Bradham, Tahir Whitehead and Marquis Flowers. The market on some of these guys wound up being pretty expensive, averaging contracts of 3.3 years for $23.4M, with $11.3M guaranteed.
However, the Colts still need guys to make this work. Right now, they’ve got a MIKE linebacker (Antonio Morrison) that isn’t rangy enough to be effective in this defense, a SAM linebacker (John Simon) who should do just fine, and then several “maybes” (Anthony Walker, Jeremiah George, Darnell Sankey, Jermaine Grace, Tyrell Adams and Josh Perry).
I am sure the Colts have a plan for the linebacker group in the draft (this is a pretty deep class), but they did have options (albeit expensive ones) in free agency.