“You all know my philosophy on free agency. You cannot buy a championship. You cannot buy a locker room. We will continue to go down the same road we’ve been going down.”
Said Ballard on his season-ending press conference at the beginning of January. I'm aware that I am no-one to challenge his opinions, but this might be the perfect time for the Colts to finally make a splurge in free agency.
First, I fully agree with Ballard’s statement. You simply can’t build a team just with free-agents. Your main focus has to be on the Draft, which is a Ballard strength, but he would be foolish to ignore the impact a good free agent signing can have. Look no further than the Packers defense this season with Za’Darius and Preston Smith rushing the passer, or how Stephon Gilmore transformed New England’s defense into one of the greatest of all time.
Now I’m not saying the Colts should go out and try to solve all the problems on the team via free agency, what I’m saying is that there are certain positions of need on this roster that could be addressed in March. To take things a bit further, I believe the Colts can, and should, solve their defensive problems in free agency. This would allow the team to take a more offensive focused approach in the upcoming NFL Draft.
I ran several 4-round mock Drafts using TDN Draft Simulator focusing solely on the offensive side of the ball and I can say I would absolutely love any of these 5 results (ones more than others, of course, personal favourite is #3).
To see whether my point made sense or not, I analysed the past 7 free agency periods and was able to discover some clear tendencies that could shine some light on the issue, and perhaps convince those who are on the fence that this might be the time to spend big bucks.
I took the top 6 spenders in each free agency from the past 7 off-seasons and separated them into teams that made the playoffs the following year and ones that did not. Out of the 42 teams in question, just 13 made the playoffs (winners) after blowing out their cap space in March, while the other 29 (losers) were left sitting on the couch wondering where their money had gone.
After that, I started analysing where teams had spent their money, what positions winning or losing teams spent the most on, and I came to a surprising conclusion: The winning teams spent a much higher percentage on the defense than on the offensive side of the ball, while the losing teams spending was balanced.
(If you want to check the raw data I compiled for yourself I’ll leave the link to the spreadsheet in the comments, it was way too long for it to be in the article).
Now what does all this have to do with the Indianapolis Colts? It turns out that this free agency period will feature players who could help the Colts defense tremendously. At defensive end, one of the Colts main issues since Robert Mathis retired, Ballard will have the opportunity to go after division rival Yannick Ngakoue. Even if the Jaguars have the cap space to re-sign him after cap manipulation, it seems like Ngakoue does not want to be in Jacksonville any longer, and Colts’ legend Robert Mathis has already started recruiting him.
!— ROBERT MATHIS The1st (@RobertMathis98) January 22, 2020
If the Colts miss on Ngakoue, or the asking price gets absurdly high, then there are plenty of solid fallback options. Robert Quinn just posted the highest pass rush win rate in the league and Bud Dupree has significant potential, and absolutely rocked the Colts offensive line in Pittsburgh last season.
The Cowboys have plenty of cap space, but they have to deal with the re-signing of franchise quarterback Dak Prescott, who will potentially demand a record setting contract, and top receiver Amari Cooper. That could leave Jones as the odd man out of Dallas, and after a couple of spectacular seasons the Colts should definitely get their hands on him. Jones would transform the Colts secondary and is a great fit in Matt Eberflus’ scheme. In fact, Jones played two seasons in Dallas when Eberflus was the linebacker’s coach, so there is certainly some history there.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones was perhaps the most disruptive interior rusher not named Aaron Donald this past season and would turn one of the Colts biggest weaknesses, interior pass rush, into one of the team’s best strengths. It seems extremely unlikely that Jones would hit the open market but Kansas City has to take good care of their cap space with a Mahomes extension looming large. Additionally, the Chiefs committed a lot of money already on the defensive line for Frank Clark, so they might opt to save money to spend on other positions. Jones has previous ties to Chris Ballard, as the Colts GM was in Kansas City when Jones was drafted.
Even though Ballard will most likely stick to his M.O. and avoid spending tons of money in free agency, I believe this is perhaps the perfect time to get a blue chip defensive player that will help turn the Colts defense from good to great. While the Colts might not contend for the Super Bowl next year with the quarterback position in a state of flux, building a dominant defense for when Indy gets its franchise quarterback might be the right thing to do here.