Since even before the legal tampering period was officially underway, NFL free agency has been buzzing with activity and a ton of money has been thrown out by franchises who are looking to snag big name contributor who they hope will play an important role in a better outcome this season. While Chris Ballard had more cash (and still does) than any team in the NFL at the starting gate, fans in Indianapolis should have already been aware that his philosophy doesn’t include throwing money around simply because he has it.
Even knowing this, fans get restless watching many of their most coveted free agents make their way onto other franchises. Only time will tell if the aggressive efforts by the Cleveland Browns will deliver results. Perhaps Mike Mayock and Jon Gruden will do a masterful job of creating a healthy locker room culture.
It wasn’t long ago that the Philadelphia Eagles spent wildly in free agency to put a “dream team” on the field only to watch things fall apart. Perhaps the lessons from the Eagles are easy to forget or perhaps they were only an anomaly. One things seems pretty certain, Colts fans shouldn’t expect anything like that while Chris Ballard is general manager in Indianapolis.
Let’s take a look at how things have played out over the first 16 hours of free agency and how the Colts free agent cheat sheet has changed.
Wide Receiver Tier 1 (Top offensive need)
Williams will reportedly sign a 4-year, 44 million dollar deal to play with the Oakland Raiders. This is a reasonable deal and shouldn’t have been prohibitive if Ballard wanted his services.
While only time will tell, it should be noted that Nick Sirianni and Frank Reich are both familiar with what Williams brings to the table. The fact that the Colts didn’t push harder for his services might say a lot.
Adam Humphries will reportedly sign a 4 year, 36 million dollar contract with the Tennessee Titans. It was somewhat surprising that he reached an agreement with a team so quickly in the tampering period. It is also surprising that his quick choice destination would be a team that isn’t particularly gifted at passing the ball.
This is another reasonable deal where the Colts likely could have pushed up the price if they were really interested.
Wide Receiver Tier 2 (Top offensive need)
The upside is that Tate has been a highly productive NFL receiver since at least 2013. He has the experience he needs to know how to get open and is difficult to cover one-on-one. He played at Notre Dame so playing in Indiana would be nothing new for him. The downside is his age, as he will be 31 at the start of the 2019 regular season.
Perhaps the greatest unsung hero of the Colts monumental turnaround in 2018 was wide receiver Dontrelle Inman. After watching the receiver room catch a nasty case of the drops (does that sound wrong to anyone else?) to start the season, patience was wearing thin. Inman has familiarity working with Frank Reich and Nick Siarinni with the Chargers. He knows where he needs to be and had day-one trust.
While Funchess is coming off of a down season, one where he played with a quarterback experiencing major throwing limitations, he is still very young and has a lot of potential. At only 24 years old, he is as young as some of the players who will be drafted in the upcoming draft. He already has NFL playing experience and is only a season removed from what some thought was a breakout performance.
Can he rekindle that breakout version of himself in a new offense and with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball? He took a one-year $10M deal as a bet on himself to earn even more in 2020. He also reportedly turned down long-term offers to play with the Colts.
Edge Rushers Tier 1 (Top defensive need)
Flowers is expected to sign a 5 year, 90 million dollar deal to be reunited with his former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. This gives the Lions a replacement for the now aging and injury-prone Ziggy Ansah. While Flowers is certainly an exciting young prospect, 90 million dollars is a lot to put down for a player with his sack production.
Smith struck me as the type of player Chris Ballard would go after fairly aggressively. He has the potential to be a really effective pass rusher and proven chops as a run defender. To choose Indianapolis, Smith would have to be comfortable making the transition to a 4-3 scheme and playing almost exclusively with his hand in the dirt.
Although it was reported that his final options included the Colts, he chose the Green Bay Packers and remains in a 3-4 scheme. Maybe scheme wasn’t as important and it all came down to money. It will be interesting to learn more if the rumors about Indy’s interest are true. Smith is expected to sign a 4 year, 52 million dollar deal.
Edge Rushers Tier 2 (Top defensive need)
Smith is projected to sign a 4 year, 66 millions dollar contract to joint Preston in Green Bay. Between the two, the Packers have now locked in a ton of money with the hopes to rekindle their pass rush. After these moves, Nick Perry was released.
Interior Defensive Line Tier 2 (Primary defensive need)
Prior to suffering a herniated disc that required surgery in April of 2018, Timmy Jernigan was a solid defensive tackle with the Philadalphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens. He has the ability to play the run and can get pressure on the quarterback. What makes him a strong prospect is that he wins with strength and has the ability to penetrate the offensive line.
Chris Ballard has a knack for finding underappreciated defensive talent that is not getting the attention it deserves. Philon is a disruptive interior defensive lineman who has the strength to hold up against the run and has a knack for getting penetration through the offensive line. There are reasons to believe that he could improve in the simplistic, fast defensive scheme Matt Eberflus and Mike Phair have established in Indianapolis.
Safety Tier 1 (Primary defensive need)
Collins is expected to sign a 6 year, 84 millions contract with the Washington Redskins. WOOF!
Amos is expected to sign a 4 year, 36 million dollar deal to join the Green Bay Packers. It is entirely fair to note that Green Bay is throwing a boat load of cash into its defense. This is another reasonably priced deal where there is at least some level of surprise that the Colts weren’t actively involved, unless they weren’t particularly interested.
Safety Tier 2 (Primary defensive need)
He is only 26 years old and sliding him in across from Malik Hooker would mean that opponents have to throw into strength on either side of the field when they test Indianapolis deep. Boston is certainly familiar with both Nick Sirianni and Frank Reich as they were both with the Chargers early in his career. Would he be open to a reunion?
Chris Ballard has complimented the hard work Clayton Geathers has shown in his return to football after suffering a neck injury that jeopardized his career. Will his proclivity to show up on the injury report and serve only as a limited practice participant leave him on the outside looking in?
Cornerback Tier 1 (Secondary defensive need)
Ronald Darby is one of the best young cornerbacks to hit free agency in years. At just 25 years old, he could have 4-6 years of his prime remaining for whatever franchise chooses to bring him in. Does Pierre Desir’s contract take him off of the table?
Cornerback Tier 2 (Secondary defensive need)
Desir is expected to sign a 3 year, 25 million contract to stay with the Indianapolis Colts. This is a great locker room move and Desir is deserving of being rewarded after showing out in consecutive seasons.
Nelson is expected to sign a 3 year, 25.5 million contract to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. Frankly, I prefer Desir for less.
Linebacker Tier 1 (Tertiary defensive need)
While it is difficult to project the contract Jamie Collins will attract on the open market, he would be a potential upgrade as a SAM linebacker in Indianapolis. He has a nose for the football, a habit for creating turnovers, and the ability to quickly diagnose plays. Once he diagnoses the play, if he is not responsible for dropping into a zone, he will quickly get up the field to pressure the quarterback. The downside is that he is about to turn 30 years old.
Linebacker Tier 2 (Tertiary defensive need)
Bucannon is expected to sign a 1 year, 2.5 million dollar contract to join the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This could be a steal if Bucannon can return to form and play in a more realistic role. It is noteworthy that the Colts didn’t enter the fray here and for that price, you have to be pretty confident Ballard never reached out.