We are only a week out from one of the more entertaining times of the entire year for NFL fans. The NFL released a statement this week where they announced that the salary cap would be set at 182.5 million dollars for the upcoming season. While it is not as low as it could have been, it is still quite a drop from the typical rise we get every offseason. As a result, there are tons of cuts happening around the league to players who, in other offseasons, may have been safe.
For the Colts, this is an area where they love to attack every free agency period. Going after cut players does have an advantage as these players don’t count towards the compensatory pick formula and are typically looking for smaller, prove it type of deals. Chris Ballard has struck gold in the past with these players, most notably with veterans Xavier Rhodes and Justin Houston.
As the early cuts have come rolling in the last few days, I want to highlight a few guys who I think would be great targets for the Colts in this free agency period.
John Brown, WR, Bills
John “Smokey” Brown announced on his Instagram that he would be released by the Bills this offseason. This is pretty major news that left fans of 31 NFL teams salivating over the thought of adding the speedster to their roster. Brown is a 30 year old receiving coming off a productive two seasons with the Bills. He hit the 1,000 yard mark for the first time in his career in 2019 and was well on his way this past year until injuries derailed a promising year.
When it comes to his game, Brown wins in a lot of the same ways that TY Hilton has for the Colts over the past couple of seasons. While he may not be as good a route runner as Hilton, Brown’s bread and butter are deep crossing routes and quick screens where he can create after the catch. He is a dynamic speedster with easy 4.3 speed who separates with ease down the field. If Hilton does in fact leave in free agency, signing Brown to replace him would be an outstanding move for Chris Ballard.
An extremely savvy move by Ballard in the event that TY Hilton walks is to sign John Brown for less money. Brown is an electric 4.3 receiver who excels on deep crossers and quick screens. He would fit the Hilton role perfectly in Indy pic.twitter.com/HuQoNt4XDA— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 11, 2021
Riley Reiff, OT, Vikings
In a bit of a surprising move, the Vikings opted to release veteran left tackle Riley Reiff. This was just incredible news for tackle hungry teams like the Colts. Reiff is a nine year veteran in the NFL with over 8,000 career snaps under his belt. The consistent veteran had one of his better seasons in 2020 as he finished the year allowing just one sack and seven quarterback hits on a Vikings’ offensive line that mostly struggled in pass protection.
Reiff seems like the most logical option for the Colts in free agency at the tackle spot. He is as consistent as they come, one of the more durable players in the league, and a physically imposing player on the left side. Add in that he will likely want to take a short term deal— which lines up perfectly with the Colts since they have to pay Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson soon— and the fit seems perfect. Reiff is a sturdy run blocker who brings power and a veteran confidence in pass protection. Signing Reiff for a one year deal would essentially be signing a better version of what the Colts got out of Jared Veldheer to end last year. For a team that needs a left tackle, this seems like the best realistic option.
One of the better fits in free agency for Indy is now Riley Reiff at LT. Sturdy and consistent starter who would be great next to Quenton Nelson. I could see a one year deal which would give Reiff a shot back at the market next year. Think of a better version of Jared Veldheer pic.twitter.com/JGNmRfOtdN— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 11, 2021
Quinton Jefferson, IDL, Bills
Swinging back to Buffalo, the Bills announced that they released Quinton Jefferson. Jefferson was originally a fifth round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2016 NFL Draft (a draft that had Ed Dodds in a significant role in Seattle still). He flashed a good bit in Seattle and was signed as a free agent by Buffalo in 2020. He had a productive season for the Bills but ultimately was cut due to that lowered salary cap number.
Jefferson may be a player that you are unfamiliar with, but he would be a perfect fit in the Colts’ defense. Starting with his versatility, he lined up across the defensive line for the Bills as he logged snaps anywhere from the 0-Tech position (nose tackle) to the 5-Tech (defensive end). His elite length and speed for his size allow him to have that positional versatility. He is a solid run defender who flashed quite a bit as a pass rusher as well for Buffalo. If Denico Autry ends up walking in free agency, Jefferson would be the perfect role player to replace him on this defensive line.
If Denico Autry were to leave this offseason, my top guy to replace him would be recently cut Quinton Jefferson from Buffalo. Versatile defensive lineman who can play across the front. Super lengthy and has a good amount of juice on the interior. Would be a great rotational guy pic.twitter.com/GJXPXhZ0QF— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) March 11, 2021
Other Interesting Cut Players
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Saints: Now a veteran receiver in the league, Sanders still has some juice left in the tank. He may be worth a look as a veteran presence in the Colts’ receiver group if other options fizzle out.
Kenny Vaccaro, Safety, Titans: The Colts need a reliable safety to backup the young duo they have starting. Adding Vaccaro would also allow the Colts to go to more three safety looks in 2021, which they weren’t able to do as much as they liked in 2020.
Adrian Clayborn, DE, Browns: One of the more underrated pass rushers for nearly a decade, Clayborn just produces everywhere he goes. If the Colts want a steady veteran option who will have a good season, adding Clayborn would be a wise move.
The Colts will enter free agency as a top five team in terms of spending money. So obviously, there are plenty of ways they can chose to attack this unique free agency period. While they should at least pursue some of the higher end free agents, there will be many bargains to be had as veteran players will be more likely to take one year deals so they can hit the market in 2022.
Also, there will be plenty more players cut and released in the upcoming days. These are just the guys I like at the moment. By Sunday this could be an entirely different list (especially with players like Zach Ertz and Preston Smith likely to be cut). These players above though are players that the Colts should have some level of interest in this offseason, even if they don’t end up signing them.