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. Preston Brown | Off-ball Linebacker | Bills | 25
The Colts are in need of a rangy, three-down, alpha-type middle linebacker. Brown is all of those things, plus, he is just 25 years old. Although tackle totals can sometimes be a misleading stat for linebackers, it isn’t for Brown. He became an instant tackle machine as soon as he hit the league. He has improved his total each season and led the NFL in tackles in 2017 (144). Overall, he averages 128 tackles per season (6.5 for loss).
2. Avery Williamson | Off-ball Linebacker | Titans | 26
While Brown is an every-down linebacker, Williamson is among the league’s best run-stoppers at linebacker. Williamson may not consistently play every down with the Colts — potentially giving way to safety Clayton Geathers in certain sub-packages — but I can tell you that it’s a stark contrast to Antonio Morrison and Jon Bostic. Williamson can cover a lot of ground in a hurry, so he may not be a liability in the passing game in a 4-3 defense.
3. Rashaan Melvin | Cornerback | Colts | 28
It would be great for the Colts to be able to re-sign Melvin this offseason, but it has to be at a reasonable price. After a journeyman career where he played for five teams from 2013-’16, Melvin settled in and had the two best seasons of his career with the Colts. This is the first (and potentially last) chance for Melvin to really cash in, so no one can be mad about him going out there and maximizing his market value. There is mutual interest between the two sides, but Melvin is expected to test the market. He is a sticky corner who has become really good at making plays on the ball.
4. Bashaud Breeland | Cornerback | Redskins | 26
This is five years in the making for me. Breeland was one of my favorite players in the 2014 draft, and he’s held up his end of the bargain as a quality corner. His game is similar to several Colts corners who we’ve become familiar with by now; Breeland, Melvin, Vontae Davis and Quincy Wilson all being corners who make up for their lack of elite speed with physicality, the ability to stay in opposing receivers’ hip pockets, and all are willing tacklers.
5. Anthony Hitchens | Off-ball Linebacker | Cowboys | 25
This has been one of the easiest parallels to draw this offseason between the Colts and another team’s free agent. Hitchens played for new Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus back in Dallas for four years. Many people with insight into teams’ mindsets this free agency period have linked Hitchens to the Colts, as Eberflus is switching the Colts to a 4-3 base and will need somebody that he knows he can trust to run the defense on the field. Hitchens isn’t too bad in coverage but is a much better run defender.
6. Aaron Colvin | Cornerback (nickel) | Jaguars | 26
7. Kyle Fuller | Cornerback | Bears | 26
8. Todd Davis | Off-ball Linebacker | Broncos | 25
9. Tahir Whitehead | Off-ball Linebacker | Lions | 27
10. Star Lotulelei | Defensive Tackle | Panthers | 28
11. Pierre Desir | Cornerback | Colts | 27
12. E.J. Gaines | Cornerback | Bills | 26
13. Barkevious Mingo | Defensive End/Off-ball Linebacker | Colts | 27
14. Corey Nelson | Off-ball Linebacker | Broncos | 25
15. Dominique Easley | Defensive Tackle | Rams | 25
16. Beau Allen | Defensive Tackle | Eagles | 26
17. Datone Jones | Defensive Lineman | Cowboys | 27