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Who Are the Top Free Agents that Avoided the Franchise Tag and Could Interest the Colts?

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

With the NFL’s franchise tag deadline having come and gone on Tuesday afternoon, there are now a number of high impact potential free agents who safely avoided the tag and could possibly pique the Indianapolis Colts’ interest in the upcoming free agency period (starting on March 17th).

Here’s a quick look at some of them:


Super Bowl LV Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Shaq Barrett, Edge, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Age: 28 years old

Size: 6’2”, 250 pounds

College: Colorado State

NFL Draft: Signed as an undrafted free agent by the Denver Broncos in 2014

NFL Experience: 7 years

Accolades: 2x Super Bowl Champion, Pro Bowl (2019), 2nd-Team All-Pro (2019), NFL Sacks Leader (2019)

2020 Stats: 57 tackles (43 solo), 11 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 77 total QB pressures, 3 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, and a safety during 15 starts.

Summary:

Barrett may have been the unsung hero of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Super Bowl upset win against the Kansas City Chiefs, as he had 10 total QB pressures and a sack on superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes—who was pressured all game in the passing pocket.

Barrett was PFF’s 22nd best edge overall this past season—featuring a +78.2 pass rushing grade (14th best).

The Colts franchise has had success with ‘undersized’ pass rushers in the past, and with a combined 27.5 total sacks over the past two seasons, Barrett could be the latest in-line—adding much needed production, pass pressure, quickness, and high energy off the edge.


Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Bud Dupree, Edge, Pittsburgh Steelers

Age: 28 years old

Size: 6’4”, 269 pounds (32 5/8” arms)

College: Kentucky

NFL Draft: 2015 First Round draft pick (22nd overall) by Steelers

NFL Experience: 6 years

Accolades: N/a

2020 Stats: 31 tackles (23 solo), 8.0 tackles for loss, 8.0 sacks, 43 total QB pressures, 2 forced fumbles, 2 passes defensed during 11 starts—before suffering a season-ending torn ACL in Week 12.

Summary:

Dupree is a prized pass rusher, who as an elite level athlete, tests a little better than his actual production, so there’s some ‘buyer beware’ here. However, he’s still been an impact pass rusher nevertheless more often than not at the next level for Pittsburgh.

Per PFF, Dupree was their 76th best graded edge with a +60.2 overall grade in 2020. He’s just a season removed from a +77.7 overall grade in 2019 however.

With a combined 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons, Dupree could provide much needed length, speed, bend, and overall athleticism to the Colts as a coveted pass rusher. However, while he tests out like Myles Garrett, he’s not quite that caliber of monster coming off the edge—and that’s okay. He’s still been a productive pass rusher for the Steelers.


Seattle Seahawks v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Shaquill Griffin, Cornerback, Seattle Seahawks

Age: 25 years old

Size: 6’0”, 198 pounds (32 3/8” arms)

College: UCF

NFL Draft: 2017 3rd round pick (90th overall) by the Seattle Seahawks

NFL Experience: 4 years

Accolades: Pro Bowl (2019)

2020 Stats: 63 tackles (53 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 3 interceptions, and 16 passes defensed during 12 starts.

Summary:

Griffin has length, speed, and athleticism for the cornerback position and is a willing run defender with physicality/toughness along the outside.

While he’s not necessarily a ballhawk with 6 career interceptions in 4 seasons, he has better ball skills than that output indicates, “ESPN Stats & Information has credited him with 39 pass breakups — passes that he either defended, tipped or batted down. That tied him for the 14th most in the NFL over the past four seasons.

He also has a wealth of experience playing in the Seattle Seahawks’ ‘Cover 3’ defense—which is a derivative of the type of zone defense that the Colts frequently deploy.

Per PFF, Griffin was their 49th best graded cornerback overall with a +64.6 overall grade this past season, but he’s just a season removed from a +77.0 overall grade in 2019—meaning like Dupree, a bounce back is definitely possible with the Colts.

With veteran starters Xavier Rhodes and T.J. Carrie both free agents, Griffin could come in and immediately become the Colts’ #1 cornerback for a younger, retooled secondary.


New York Giants v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Carl Lawson, Edge, Cincinnati Bengals

Age: 25 years old

Size: 6’2”, 265 pounds (31 1/2” arms)

College: Auburn

NFL Draft: 2017 4th round pick (116th overall) by Cincinnati Bengals

NFL Experience: 4 years

Accolades: N/a

2020 Stats: 36 tackles (18 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, 64 total QB pressures, and 2 forced fumbles during 16 games (11 starts).

Summary:

Like Barrett, Lawson won’t necessarily ‘wow’ you athletically as a pass rusher off the edge, but also similar to Barrett, he’s been very productive at the pro level.

Per PFF, Lawson was their 14th best graded edge overall with a +76.3 overall grade, highlighted by a +84.9 pass rushing grade (8th best at the position’s classification).

Lawson may not be quite as flashy as either Barrett or Dupree in free agency, but he’s been a highly effective pass rusher and is a little bit younger too. He utilizes his strength, power, and quickness for a player of his size—with an array of pass rushing moves.


Detroit Lions v Tennessee Titans Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Romeo Okwara, Edge, Detroit Lions

Age: 25 years old

Size: 6’4”, 263 pounds (34 1/8” arms)

College: Notre Dame

NFL Draft: Undrafted (2016)

NFL Experience: 5 years

Accolades: N/a

2020 Stats: 44 tackles (32 solo), 11 tackles for loss, 10.0 sacks, 61 total QB pressures, a pass defensed, 3 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery during all 16 games (9 starts).

Summary:

Okwara is flying a bit under the radar heading into free agency compared to some of the other more big named pass rushers.

That being said, he shouldn’t be this offseason.

Per PFF, while Okwara was just their 39th best graded edge overall, he was their 9th best graded edge as a pass rusher—boasting a +84.5 pass rushing grade (just behind Lawson).

Okwara has long arms, quickness, and a high motor and could provide a big boost to the Colts’ pass pressure next season—as a potential pass rushing sleeper in free agency.


Tennessee Titans v Green Bay Packers Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Jonnu Smith, Tight End, Tennessee Titans

Age: 25 years old

Size: 6’3”, 248 pounds (32 7/8” arms)

College: FIU

NFL Draft: 2017 3rd round pick (100th overall) by the Titans

NFL Experience: 4 years

Accolades: N/a

2020 Stats: 41 receptions for 448 receiving yards (10.9 ypr. avg.) and 8 touchdown receptions during 15 games (14 starts).

Summary:

The big bodied tight end has been so far underutilized in his career with the Titans, but features the speed, agility, and catch radius—with receiving chops to become one of the league’s better tight ends—we’re talking ‘Tier 2’ behind George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Darren Waller.

Replacing departed veteran Trey Burton, Smith would be a big upgrade as the Colts ‘move’ tight end as a dynamic receiving weapon at the position—who can line up all over Indianapolis’ offensive formations and be a mismatch in the middle of the field, red zone, and down the seam.

That being said, in Colts head coach Frank Reich’s tight end friendly offense, spending big money on the position may be more of a luxury for Indianapolis—especially when the team could just select a tight end on Day 2 or early Day 3 of the NFL Draft (after all, Smith himself was a former 3rd round draft pick).

However, if Smith’s pending free agent market doesn’t necessarily become robust, the Colts could find themselves a cost-efficient steal at tight end—while simultaneously robbing from the reigning AFC South Champions.

Smith would be a high quality receiving addition to help new Colts quarterback Carson Wentz’s transition to Indianapolis—who previously loved throwing to Zach Ertz in Philadelphia.


San Francisco 49ers v New York Giants Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Trent Williams, Left Tackle, San Francisco 49ers

Age: 32 years old

Size: 6’5”, 320 pounds (34 1/4” arms)

College: Oklahoma

NFL Draft: 2010 4th overall pick by the Washington Football Team

NFL Experience: 10 years

Accolades: 2nd-Team NFL All-Pro (2015); 8x NFL Pro Bowler

2020 Stats: 14 starts, surrendering 4 sacks and 19 total QB pressures—while committing 10 penalties.

Summary:

Williams is arguably the best left tackle in the NFL, featuring immense size, strength, quick feet, athleticism, and a mean streak.

No, he doesn’t necessarily make sense for the Colts on a long-term deal, as Indianapolis already faces lucrative multi-year mega deals for both All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson and emerging star right tackle Braden Smith imminently—with All-Pro center Ryan Kelly already making significant money in the offensive trenches.

That’s a lot of money to invest into one group with limited cap space and significant roster holes elsewhere—especially with an upcoming loaded offensive tackle draft class to simply get a younger, cheaper, and more cost controllable player to weather the tide.

Per PFF, Williams was their highest graded offensive tackle this past season with a +91.9 overall grade—including a +91.8 run blocking grade.

There’s no doubt he’s elite, and other modern great left tackles have shown that they can age gracefully into their mid-thirties such as Andrew Whitworth, Duane Brown, and Jason Peters previously.

I still don’t think Williams makes sense given the big money, three to four year contract he’ll presumably command in free agency, but in the extremely rare chance, his market is cool because of league revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19, and he’s up for a short-term deal, yes please.

No questions asked for the Colts.