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.
While it is fair to say that Shelton has not lived up to his draft billing, after getting selected 12th overall by the Cleveland Browns in 2015, he can fill a role as a 0-tech or 1-tech nose tackle. Matt Eberflus and Mike Phair seem to prefer speed and the ability to penetrate over the ability to clog things up on the defensive line but Shelton is only 25 years old and showed some signs of development in New England. He would bring championship experience to the locker room as well.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
If you’re looking to add experience to a young backfield and enough size to move a pile in short yardage situations, you could do worse than Crowell. He is comfortable catching passes out of the backfield and has broken numerous long runs in his career. He is used to working in a backfield committee and shouldn’t come at a premium price.
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.