This time of year is where many teams valuate their roster in hopes of finding the right mix of talent and locker room culture with an eye to the future of their franchise. Free agency is right around the corner, the NFL Combine is just a week away, and GM Chris Ballard and Frank Reich have been scouting since the 2018 season came to a close for the NFL Draft in April.
Teams will cut aging veterans, make massive bids on available talent hitting the free agency market, and there are always those surprise cuts, or trades that tend to raise some eyebrows. The Indianapolis Colts’ roster has been injected with youth through, both, the draft and free agency under Ballard, and with the team earning a bit of a surprise playoff berth, the hopes for the near future are sky high in Indianapolis.
This brings us to looking at some possible moves ourselves throughout the roster. At first blush, Jabaal Sheard somewhat stands out as a possible candidate for this as the Colts head into the 2019 season with a continued youth movement in mind.
This is no crack on Sheard, though. He’s been one of the really good free agency pickups for the Colts under Ballard from his first free agency period.
Sheard has notched 11 sacks, over 100 total tackles, 23 tackles for loss and 27 QB hits in his first two seasons in Indy. By all accounts he is a fantastic locker room guy, earning praise from Ballard and his teammates for the leadership qualities he exerts.
Now, he’s not been that “10-sack guy” as Ballard saw him being to this point, but he’s been a massive contributor in the boxscore, as well as making life easier for his defensive colleagues as they’ve benefited from his pressures on opposing quarterbacks. Unfortunately, however, money and age become heavy factors in the future of these athletes this time of year.
First of all, Sheard has an $8M cap hit for the 2019 season which is currently the fourth highest payday for the 2019 season with the Colts. Also, he has no more dead money on his deal, and there are no real issues with deadlines on guaranteed money for the Colts to deal with.
Thus, there’s no real hurry for the Colts to move him if they choose to, but it doesn’t make it any more difficult for them to either.
Next, Sheard is in the final year of his 3-year deal with the Colts in 2019. Sheard will also be 30 for the 2019 season, which isn’t a major issue per se, but it wouldn’t seem that any sort of an extension would be coming, and it seems reasonable to assume that he may not even be able to meet his production from the past two seasons going forward. Again, it’s just a numbers game at this point in his career.
The Colts could potentially trade him for a late-round pick to a team needing that extra piece, or they could simply cut him like they did with John Simon and Johnathan Hankins last season and allow him to find a team on his own.
The Colts don’t NEED the money by any means, as they already have well over $100M at their disposal, but they also have some young pieces that they probably want to get more experience in their youth.
It’s possible that Tyquan Lewis is a guy that they envision working on the edge despite his potential impact from the interior. Kemoko Turay isn’t nearly the same build, but they have very high hopes for his future. Jihad Ward impressed last season and, though he’s set to become a free agent, it’d make a lot of sense to bring him back as a rotational piece next year.
Additionally, guys like Preston Smith, Trey Flowers or Frank Clark — just to name a few — may end up being available in free agency, and they could easily be a team targeting more youth at defensive end through the draft this year.
Look, keeping Sheard around isn’t a bad idea either, so this isn’t something definitive that SHOULD be done by any stretch. The Colts could just as easily see Sheard as a necessary piece to assist in forming the culture and use what he offers to ensure the depth of the team.
But, with the examples above from just a year ago, we know that Ballard will attempt to infuse youth as soon as he feels the roster can handle it, and he will try to get this team as competitive as possible, as soon as possible.
If at some point Ballard gets the itch, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see this very situation arise giving another player a starting opportunity for the up-and-coming Colts’ defense.