According to PFF, the Indianapolis Colts are the projected landing spot for a pair of premier NFL free agents: Dallas Cowboys defensive end Randy Gregory and Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.—currently ranked 14th and 25th overall respectively among its top 2022 free agents:
14. EDGE RANDY GREGORY, DALLAS COWBOYS
Prediction: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS – Two years, $25 million ($15 million guaranteed)
Gregory was inconsistent in 2021 but flashed elite upside. One such stretch saw him record a 90-plus PFF pass-rushing grade in three straight games (versus the Giants, Patriots and Vikings). His play was crucial to the Cowboys’ defensive success, especially after Demarcus Lawrence went out in Week 1.
The Colts recently hired Gus Bradley as their defensive coordinator, and his philosophy is simple: rush four and play Cover 3, which only works an effective pass rush. Kwity Paye appears to be an effective pass-rusher, but adding Gregory opposite of him would enable Bradley’s scheme to flourish.
25. CB CASEY HAYWARD JR., LAS VEGAS RAIDERS
Prediction: INDIANAPOLIS COLTS – One year, $6.5 million (fully guaranteed)
This feels like cheating, but Hayward and Gus Bradley should be on the same team until Hayward retires. Bradley’s Cover-3 scheme fits Hayward’s skill set perfectly, as it allows him to use his instincts and smarts. The Colts could replace Xavier Rhodes with Hayward on the outside.
However, coverage performance from year to year can be streaky. Hayward recorded a 59.5 PFF grade in 2020 and then a 76.6 in 2021, but he could just as easily revert back to a sub-60 grade in 2022.
Regarding Gregory, the former 2015 second round pick of the Dallas Cowboys showed flashes of finally hitting his stride as a high-end pass rusher in 2021.
The 6’5”, 258 pound pass rusher (34” arms) recorded 19 tackles (15 solo), 4 tackles for loss, 6.0 sacks, 43 total QB pressures, a pass defensed, an interception, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery during 12 starts. Per PFF (subscription), among edge rushers, Gregory had their 12th highest pass rushing grade overall with a +84.7 pass rushing grade this past year.
It’s worth noting though that there is some potential ‘buyer beware’ risk here, as Gregory has missed 54 games already in his early NFL career—as a prior habitual offender for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
That being said, he’s shown maturation and growth, having been named to the Cowboys’ player council last season as one of the franchise’s unexpected, yet emerging leaders.
The Cowboys, to their credit, would assuredly like to keep Gregory. However, ‘America’s Team’ is currently $22.2M over the projected 2022 team salary cap limit. Even if the team moves on from starting wideout Amari Cooper (saving them $16M in cap space), Dallas still may face an uphill battle in freeing up enough cap space to meet Gregory’s market value.
Still only 29 years old, Gregory is the type of athletic, toolsy pass rusher that the Colts (who currently have a projected $36M of available cap space, without even considering an additional Carson Wentz cap-saving maneuver) could gamble may finally fully break out in new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s ‘Cover 3’ scheme—which requires an effective, persistent pass rush from its front 4.
While he projects largely as a ‘LEO’ (think weak-side, ‘wide 9’ speed, edge defensive end)—which may be starter Kwity Paye’s most natural position in this scheme going forward, the Colts need to add another impact pass rusher to this rotational group and can’t be dependent on solely one player regardless to consistently get after the quarterback.
Paye and Gregory are both versatile enough in potential alignments to get both players on the field at the same time, and it gives Bradley the ability to get very creative and dynamic with his pass rushing combinations in a variety of fronts (for instance, utilizing one at times as a pass rushing SAM linebacker off the edge)—to uniquely help amp up the pass pressure.
Meanwhile, Hayward Jr. is a 10-year veteran, predominantly zone coverage cornerback who’s been with Bradley in two of his last stops with both the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders as defensive coordinator respectively.
The former 2x NFL All-Pro and Pro Bowler continues to play at a very high level, even at age 32 years old. Specifically, Hayward graded out as PFF’s 12th best cornerback overall this past season with a +76.6 overall grade. In coverage, he was targeted 55 times for 30 receptions (54.5% completion rate), 388 receiving yards (12.9 yards per reception avg.), 2 touchdowns, an interception, 6 pass breakups, and an opposing NFL passer rating of 81.5.
For the price, Hayward would theoretically provide the Colts a lot of ‘bang for their buck’ as a starting caliber outside cornerback who looks like he still has plenty of gas left in the tank.
While the Colts have two ascending young quality outside cornerbacks, namely Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Rodgers—both of whom played pretty well down the season’s stretch, Hayward would provide another rock solid starting option, veteran mentor, and extra roster insurance—should injuries or a surprising regression arise.
He’s very familiar with Bradley’s defensive scheme and could be an invaluable soundboard in the team’s young cornerback room—in addition to providing dependable, reliable coverage along the outside.
He would presumably replace free agent veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes in such a role, who battled through a number of injuries this past season and at times, appeared very limited.
Honestly, I really like both of these moves for the Colts—and the two free agent signings in combination really make sense for Gus Bradley playing the type of defense he wants to ideally deploy in Indianapolis, debuting in 2022.