The 2019 NFL free agency period is officially under a month away, and the Indianapolis Colts project to have one of the more intriguing periods with an estimated $107,563,186 in cap space (1st in the NFL) and several trade scenarios in their pockets. The Colts could enter the period as big spenders — signing marquee free agents and trading away stashed assets for valuable talents on the market — or follow the same manta as 2018’s offseason and make several under-the-radar signings that don’t eat at the available cap space.
The possibilities are endless, which is why the Stampede Blue staff sat around the table and answered four intriguing questions ahead of free agency.
Question 1: What free-agent signing would you like to see the most from the Colts this offseason?
Brett Mock: Eliminating those who are entirely unlikely, due to franchise tag or extremely high cost (e.g. DeMarcus Lawrence, Grady Jarrett, Antonio Brown), I would like to see the Colts offer a legitimate contract to Tyrell Williams — formerly of the Los Angeles Chargers. Williams stepped up in a big way the only time he has been the primary target for the Chargers, in a season where Keenan Allen suffered an early injury. Since that time he has remained more productive than any second receiver for the Colts and has dealt with superior competition for targets, including budding star Mike Williams.
Stephen Reed: I’ll go outside the box and say Landon Collins, an inside-the-box safety. The defensive backfield needs a significant upgrade. Geathers and Farley aren’t cutting it. Collins played very well prior to last year and struggled before being placed on IR after Week 13. When healthy, he’s a defensive player of the year type of player. He changes the game in so many ways and would allow the Colts defense a bit more margin for error. Even if they sign Collins, I wouldn’t rule out Ballard addressing the safety position early in the draft as well.
Andrew Aziz: Wide receiver Adam Humphrey, formerly of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Humphries, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated receivers in the league with great hands, good size, good athleticism and very good route-running skills. He can do it all and was an important player in the Bucs’ offense. I don’t think he was utilized to his fullest abilities and I think he could serve as a perfect complimentary #2 receiver in Indianapolis to TY Hilton. He’s someone the Colts should be wiling to pay $8-10 million per year for.
Blake Pace: When I think about who I think I’d enjoy the most for the Colts to bring in my mind quickly goes to the underachieving high-round pick that may have just been in the wrong situation to begin his career. He’s young, most likely relatively cheap and wouldn’t have to be a massive gamble for Indianapolis. Dante Fowler Jr., former first-round pick of the Jaguars and most recently a member of the LA Rams, is just 24 years old and set to become a free agent for the first time in his career. While injuries and fit haven't always benefitted him he’s averaged seven sacks a season in his three healthy years and could peak his slow development as a nice outside rusher for the Colts as he enters his prime.
Jared Malott: Jadeveon Clowney if I’m not required to be realistic. Frank Clark, Landon Collins or Trey Flowers if I am.
Elliot Denton: The Colts are in dire need for pass rushers and free agency offers the opportunity to help fix that need. Let me introduce you to Preston Smith. Smith is exactly what the Colts need, he’s young (26), still developing, has production under his belt (24.5 sacks in 4 years) and is durable (never missed a game through injury in the league). Smith handles himself well against both the run and pass so isn’t one sided in his play at all. He is exactly the type of signing Ballard would go for and he could be a cornerstone for a up and coming defensive line.
Question 2: What free agent the Colts should avoid at all costs?
Brett Mock: Le’Veon Bell. The reality is that he sat out an entire season for contract concerns. The legitimacy of his reasons aren’t entirely important to my opinion. There are a couple of items that are entirely more relevant. First, he will demand a fortune and his age, likely career longevity and recent absence from football make that gamble unnecessarily risky. Second, his fit in the locker room is questionable not just due to the “me first” label that has been thrust upon him but because the young running back committee has shown signs of promise. Ballard want to develop home grown talent and his young backfield has earned another chance in 2019 before they are abandoned. (The entire backfield in Indianapolis has been hand-picked by Ballard)
Stephen Reed: Le’Veon Bell. He’s certainly a talented player but he’ll command a rather sizable contract. There are also concerns how he’d affect the locker room culture. Ballard has been steadfast on making sure he does what is right for the locker room because, as he’s said several times, the locker room is watching. Bell just doesn’t fit the mold of a Ballard style player.
Andrew Aziz: Ezekiel Ansah from the Lions. The Colts need more pass rush help, but I don’t think going after Ziggy Ansah for big money is the answer. He hasn’t been as productive in recent years and has battled injuries recently. I feel like you can get a similar player for half the price or get a much better player in a similar price range. It’s not worth breaking the bank for an overrated player.
Blake Pace: To look past Le’Veon Bell into a more hidden answer, I’m going to go with Trey Flowers of the New England Patriots. He’s certainly been a great fit in New England, but it’s really hard to gauge what players are good because of talent or if they’re good because of the New England scheme. Individuals like Chandler Jones and Asante Samuels have found decent success beyond their time with the Pats, but there’s a laundry list of others that’ve seen their talents diminished outside of the Bill Belichick coaching tree. Flowers may be another exception to the rule, but three seasons would be tough to invest the money (an estimated five years and $76.8 million by Spotrac) I think he garners in the open market.
Jared Malott: Le’Veon Bell. You said “at all cost.” By all means, I agree with any sentiment that says you don’t sign locker room cancers or guys with big egos.
Elliot Denton: Le’Veon Bell. The Colts have three young very capable running backs who are all on rookie contracts. Mack showed exactly what he can do when healthy and behinds good offensive line, mix in Hines’ versatility and Wilkins’ relentlessness and you’ve got a great running back room. There is no reason or need to go anywhere near Bell especially at the price he’s been rumoured asking for. Steer clear at all costs Mr Ballard!
Question 3: Who’s an underrated free agent the Colts could steal this spring?
Brett Mock: Darius Philon. A slightly under-sized interior defensive lineman who excels using speed, explosiveness and is at his best when he is asked to penetrate. He is tailor-made for what Matt Eberflus is looking to do and would be another Denico Autry level signing who could easily have his best NFL season in the right system. The Chargers have some interesting things to consider in free agency so it isn’t a slam-dunk that he returns.
Stephen Reed: This one is fairly obvious to me but EDGE Preston Smith is the guy I think Ballard could steal. He’s an up and coming player who hasn’t peaked yet but has steadily improved over his career. He’s still young, 26, and shouldn’t break the bank. He’d be an immediate upgrade to the pass rush and can play the run as well.
I’d guess Smith is a common pick here so I’ll give another underrated Free Agent the Colts could steal. EDGE Dante Fowler. He’s young and improved after leaving Jacksonville. If the Colts staff can coach him up, he could be an absolute steal in free agency. He’ll also come significantly cheaper than most other pass rushing options.
Andrew Aziz: LJ Fort, linebacker from the Steelers. Fort won’t pop up on many radars, but he’s a great coverage linebacker with good athleticism. I think he would be a great player to have in sub-packages and against the pass. He’s not someone you can rely on to play 95% of the snaps as he’s not well-rounded enough to be an every down linebacker, but he can be very effective in the right role. For him, the right role involves coverage and utilizing his athleticism in space.
Blake Pace: One of the younger talents in this free agency period could add necessary depth to a thin position group of the Colts, on what I think would be a relatively cheap deal. Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander played in just six games last year before tearing his ACL, and has yet to have a second season in which he’s played all 16 games. With that being said, I think the injuries could scare teams away from rolling out a big payday and could be someone the Colts bring in on a cheap, short-term deal. He’d add depth the the linebacking corp and would at the very least compete for the starting job with Anthony Walker if fully healthy. However, there have been reports that teams may be willing to usher out $10 million a year for the 24 year old and, if that’s the case, I’m out on this one.
Jared Malott: Tyrann Mathieu because all the other big name players are going to sign massive contracts.
Elliot Denton: I couldn’t narrow mine down to just one so I’ll give you a two for one deal. First up is Tre Boston, he will be the perfect partner in crime for Malik Hooker. Hooker continues to do what he does best and patrol deep while Boston not only helps in that aspect but also adds that down hill thumper the Colts miss when Geathers is on the injury report. When you think of Boston think of Landon Collins lite, plus a lot cheaper too. Secondly Deone Bucannon, signing him and adding him to an already good linebacking core would help take the group to the next level. Bucannon brings the hybrid style of athleticism, toughness and physicality that the Colts defense preaches under Eberflus. Sign him up please.
Question 4: What player(s) would you like to see the Colts trade for?
Brett Mock: While I won’t identify a specific player to trade for, the player the Colts should seriously consider trading is Jacoby Brissett. While Chris Ballard has made clear that he won’t give up Brissett without being blown away by the offer, Brissett has understandably made it clear that he has an interest starting in the NFL. Opinions about what Brissett might yield in a trade differ but he almost certainly would give the Colts an early mid-round comp pick in 2020 if he were to leave through free agency.
I wouldn’t mind packaging Brissett with the Colts first round pick to move up with QB needy team that meets Ballard’s conditions. The team that stands out most is the New York Giants. The franchise has a lot of pieces in place and while it is rebuilding, the market has remained loyal to Eli Manning for years. Brissett would have plenty of weapons at his disposal and a trade here could allow the New York front office to feel that in the last two first round drafts they picked up the best offensive weapon, a starting quarterback who is ready to play immediately and still retained a late first round pick to add to their positions of greatest need.
Stephen Reed: I’ve mentioned this before but my ideal trade target would be a player on their rookie deal entering their fourth season, drafted in 2016, or fifth season, drafted in 2015, with their option picked up. The players from the 2016 draft that I’d like to trade for and might be available is pretty slim. It’d be Jalen Ramsey but there’s no way Jacksonville would make that move. From the 2015 draft, I’d honestly consider moving a late round pick for WR DeVante Parker. It’s rumored he’s on the outside looking in at Miami. He’s certainly got talent but has been plagued with injuries and bad QB play, a terrible combination. If he performs well, the Colts have a legitimate WR2 option opposite TY Hilton and control his rights for another year. If he blows up and leaves, Ballard gets a high compensatory pick. If he busts, they let him walk and it only cost a late round pick. It’s a win-win situation for the Colts.
Andrew Aziz: Ryan Kerrigan, currently on the Washington Redskins. The Redskins need a quarterback with Alex Smith expected to miss all of next season and the Colts have a very good one in backup Jacoby Brissett. Ryan Kerrigan has been a productive player for the last several years and would help fill a need for the Colts at their edge rusher position. He’ll be 31 at the beginning of next season, but he’s playing his best football right now and I believe the Colts can get at least 2-3 high level seasons from him before he “peaks”. A trade that involves a couple of picks (from the Redskins most likely) makes a lot of sense for all parties.
Blake Pace: While in the midst of working on a longer feature discussing this topic, I don’t want to give too much away. However, I truly believe the Colts should trade for Odell Beckham Jr. and for several reasons. I don’t think there’s every been a generational talent available for as small of a fraction that he is, the ‘diva antics’ and ‘locker-room cancer’ complaints have yet to come from a teammate and seem like propaganda from management and major media networks, and wide receiver may just be the biggest position of need for Indianapolis. With tons of cap space, the assets to obtain him and a need at the position, Odell Beckham Jr. could build himself as one of the greatest players in Colts history if given the opportunity.
Jared Malott: Antonio Brown. Winning solves a lot of problems. AB solves a lot of problems. We all have problems. Having AB and TY is not a problem for us.
Elliot Denton: If you hear the Colts and trade this offseason it will likely be the Colts trading someone away, look out Jacoby Brissett you’re going to Miami! But in the chance the Colts do trade for someone I would like to see them send a late round pick to Miami for DeVante Parker and see if Reich and co can unlock that potential. Or another one would be a mid round pick to New York for Leonard Williams and let him get out of the Jets dumpster fire and onto a young defense where he can fully develop.