The early wave spending spree in 2019 NFL free agency has been something to watch. Superstars have traversed the map to join new teams and perhaps trigger a new era of success, or at least take their franchises to the next level.
Some of the contracts have been ludicrous, in terms of total value, guaranteed money, and length. It isn’t difficult to understand why an NFL general manager who is taking a long-term approach would not feel particularly compelled to get involved in the frenzy.
If the front office can stay patient and disciplined, some really strong talent will be available at more reasonable prices. Though the marquee names have all come off the board, take a look at players who remain available at positions where Chris Ballard may look to improve his roster before the NFL Draft.
INTERIOR DEFENSIVE LINEMEN
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.
It is reported that the Colts sent Mike Phair to Clemson’s Pro Day and that he spent some time with nose tackle Dexter Lawrence. At 340 pounds, this big body appears out of place for the Colts defense. However, the unit will need to have someone on the roster capable of chewing up double-teams in a one-technique role, freeing up three-technique players like Denico Autry to get after the quarterback or into the backfield.
Logan is 6’2” and nearly 310 pounds. He is primarily known as a run defender and would serve a role similar to the one Al Woods played for two seasons.
Speaking of Woods, he did a nice job in Indianapolis. He is already familiar with the system, and at 31 years old would seem likely to come at a reasonable price.
In a defense that lives and dies off of getting penetration, Jihad Ward was incredible in limited snaps last season. Before he was injured, Ward tallied three sacks in six weeks. Depending on his health, bringing him back into the fold to see if he can continue building on what was working could make some sense.
There is little doubt that Chris Ballard is very familiar with Houston’s talent and attributes. If he is able to make a move to defensive end with the Colts and have a positive influence on the young pass rushing prospects that are already in the locker room, there is pretty big reason to bring him into the fold. Imagine a young pass rusher having the chance to learn from Robert Mathis and Justin Houston every day.
If you’re looking for a sleeper, Shaquil Barrett had the unfortunate job of backing up an aggressive Broncos pass rush that included Von Miller and Bradley Chubb. It was fortunate that he could learn from talented players in front of him and stay healthy, it was unfortunate that he was unable to get a chance to develop his game due to limited snaps. Could he shine in a new home with a bigger role? Can he transition to defensive end in the NFL?
A player who is already familiar to Matt Eberflus and who the Colts showed some interest in a year ago. He didn’t have the season he would have liked after joining the Arizona Cardinals but perhaps he would flourish if he returns to his old system and under a familiar coach.
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?
When you think of unsung heroes and blue collar workers, Adrian Phillips should come to mind. A former undrafted free agent, Phillips has worked his way from rotational player and special teams stud, to one of his team’s leaders and top tacklers. He flourished in 2018 with alongside Derwin James and has the ability to come up into the box against the run or the pass. At only 26 years old, he could be a healthier version of Clayton Geathers with upside.
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?
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?
Breeland was one of the strange stories of 2018 free agency. He lingered around until he was finally signed by the Green Bay Packers. He showed the ability to make plays in Washington before he hit the free agent market and Colts fans thought he might be a target for Indianapolis. He finds himself in the middle of round two of free agency, waiting for teams to show interest and extend offers. Will Ballard call his number?
Callahan is one of the bigger names in free agency at the corner position. He is only 27 years old and had a solid season for the Chicago Bears — one of the best defenses in the league a season ago.
Conley is coming off of the best season of his career. His progression has been gradual but he has played in an offense that has a number of weapons. What is important is that he run a 4.35 40-yard dash at the Combine in 2015 and that he set the all-time Combine record with a 45-inch vertical leap. He is an explosive player with speed who should have some success stretching the field. Chris Ballard was with Kansas City in their scouting process and would certainly know if Conley fits into what the Colts are trying to do.
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.
In many respects, the Colts are already pretty comfortable with the running back position. Marlon Mack is coming off of a breakout season, while second year players Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins showed a lot of potential. The Colts also seem to be pretty excited for the development of Jonathan Williams, who spent the latter half of the season on the practice squad.
That said, it wasn’t more than a couple of season ago that Jay Ajayi was seen as perhaps the best young running back in the NFL. He is only 25 years old and has seen his NFL career interrupted due to injury. If he is healthy, he has the ability to gain tough yards in the trenches and can break big plays. He know Frank Reich’s offense and can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Anderson has had an up and down career, playing in a strange Broncos backfield that could never decide who would get the bulk of carries. When Todd Gurley missed times with the Rams last year, Anderson may have resurrected his career. At 5’8” and 225 pounds, Anderson would offer the bowling ball style chain mover the Colts may currently lack. He is 28 years old.