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After the DeForest Buckner Deal, What’s Next for the Colts in Free Agency?

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Divisional Round - Los Angeles Chargers v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After the Indianapolis Colts acquired San Francisco 49ers All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner for their 2020 first round pick, it now raises the question of what’s next for the franchise in free agency.

While Colts fans can’t realistically expect another blockbuster deal, their general manager Chris Ballard presumably isn’t done yet.

According to OverTheCap.com, the Colts still have a projected $46.6 million of cap space even after signing Buckner to a new 4-year, $84 million extension.

The biggest remaining question for the Colts is at starting quarterback.

While Buckner has plenty of prime years left, his acquisition likely heightens the Colts need for a starting quarterback upgrade immediately because there’d be no prudent reason to acquire and pay a star player $21 million annually otherwise in a full-on rebuild.

Rather, the Colts would’ve been better off having the cheaper rookie contract and developing the younger player with the 13th overall pick—if they weren’t serious about immediately competing.

Buckner’s signing shows that the Colts—or at least Ballard and team owner Jim Irsay believe that the franchise isn’t as far off from seriously contending as some may think.

With Buckner anchoring their defensive line, a veteran quarterback upgrade, and another quality starting wide receiver, the Colts could be much more competitive in 2020.

For perspective, the Colts finished 7-9 last season, and with a clear quarterback upgrade and stronger kicking game (all other team flaws aside), it seems probable that they could’ve won at least 2-3 more games and made the playoffs—at least as a wild card.

In a conference that just saw a 9-7 Tennessee Titans team reach the AFC Title Game led by quarterback Ryan Tannehill, perhaps the Colts contending isn’t so far-fetched after all—if Indy can build enough of a well-rounded team surrounding whoever’s starting behind center.

Additionally, the Colts play in an AFC South division where two of the teams, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, appear to be competing with one another in a race to the bottom—seeing who can trade away more of their superstars for scraps.

What’s next for the Colts is presumably the signing of a veteran quarterback, which more than likely appears to be longtime Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers at this time (although perhaps New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could be a longshot—whose market may be cooler than expected with several suitors bowing out).

[One potential veteran option, ex-Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, has agreed to a deal with the Las Vegas Raiders and is now off the market.]

Rivers would reunite with his former offensive coordinator (now Colts head coach) Frank Reich, while providing an immediate upgrade to incumbent starter Jacoby Brissett.

The veteran gunslinger has shown a willingness to push the ball downfield and would be passing behind one of the best offensive lines in football.

However, there are still some other veteran quarterback options out there such as the Cincinnati Bengals Andy Dalton or Jacksonville Jaguars Nick Foles via trade or Tampa Bay Buccaneers free agent Jameis Winston.

Perhaps the Raiders could now make Derek Carr available as well.

The Colts have several other remaining team needs this offseason (including at wide receiver), but signing a veteran starting quarterback appears to be most likely the next domino to fall—and Indianapolis still has ample cap space to get any desired deal done.