Thank God for Legal Tampering Day. How nice is it to get away from the insufferable drone of that dreaded plague and remember for once that sport still rules supreme. Certainly a few teams in the NFL seemed to be fed up with the same old news story anyway, as we saw some blockbuster trades and some important free agency agreements made.
Let’s take a look at the winners
1. Arizona pulls Houston’s pants down – Cardinals trade David Johnson, a 2020 2nd and 2021 4th: Receive DeAndre Hopkins and a 2020 4th.
Holy smokes, who saw this one coming? Arguably the best receiver in the league moves out to the desert to join the rising star and last years’ first overall pick Kyler Murray, as well as teaming up with future first ballot hall of famer Larry Fitzgerald and his young protege’s in Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and Hakeem Butler.
This move is monstrous in more ways than one for Arizona. Not only has Kyler got a deep, super talented plethora of receiving talent to throw to, the team can now focus on building that o-line and protecting Murray in this deep offensive lineman draft, and all of a sudden, with the right pieces – Arizona are challengers for the NFC West.
As for Houston… here’s a life lesson kids – if you ever own an NFL team, employ a general manager. First Clowney got shown no respect, now their best player is also out of the door. What are they thinking? For a team close to being considered a deep playoff contender, they certainly won’t get there by trading away all of of their best players… especially for peanuts!
An honourable mention for winners of today’s antics has to go to the defensive secondaries in Indianapolis, Tennessee and Jacksonville though. No more will they have to worry about being torn apart twice a year by a Nuke.
2. Indy finally get a DT – Indy trade away their 1.13 pick to San Francisco for pro bowl defensive tackle DeForest Bucknerand then give him a $21m extension
A glaring need for Indianapolis for the last couple of season has been in the middle of the defensive line. They prioritised offensive line 2 off-seasons ago when Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith were drafted in the first two rounds to help protect the Quarterback, and 2019 saw the defensive secondary get a boost along with a pair of linebackers. Offensive skill position players is also a need this off season, but defensive line was arguably the priority.
The Colts have a tonne of cap to use up so bringing in a 25 year old 2 x pro-bowler and former 7th overall pick and giving him an extension immediately seems a masterstroke from Ballard and Reich at this point in time. Costing Indy their 13th overall pick from the upcoming draft would indicate the Colts are close to wrapping up Pip Rivers for the 2020 campaign and either looking for the long term solution at QB in day 2 of the draft, or waiting for 2021.
3. Cleveland reinvigorates it’s O-Line –Sought after Offensive Tackle Jack Conklin, formerly of the Titans, signs for the Browns on a $42m deal with $30m of it guaranteed.
They are trying, bless them. The Mayfield experiment was successful in 2018. Not so much in 2019 even though they brought in the infamous OBJ to pair with Jarvis Landry out wide. The downfall was mainly because Baker had no time in the pocket.
Since Joe Thomas retired and Greg Robinson never lived up to the hype, Conklin becomes an important cog in that line protecting Mayfield which could prove to be the difference between under performers and playoff hunters.
4. Hayden Hurst evolves from a Raven to a Falcon –Atlanta replace newly departed Austin Hooper with former first round pick in 2018.
It can’t have been easy for Hurst who was drafted to be a main target for the future of the Ravens signal caller Lamar Jackson, but instead getting outshone by a player drafted later in the same draft as you, Mark Andrews.
Hurst racked up just 512 yards and 3 TD’s in his time in Baltimore, but now he gets to spread his wings like a Falcon where he should be the only pass catching tight end in town. Matty Ice has a history of getting the best out of his tight ends too, so expect Hurst to level up in 2020.
5. Dolphins defense rebuild starts –Miami add CB Byron Jones and EDGE Shaq Lawson as the roster reconstruction officially gets underway.
The Dolphins started the day as the team with the most cap to spend and they didn’t disappoint. They dropped $10m a year on both O-Lineman Ereck Flowers and former Bills edge rusher Lawson whereas the highest rated corner in the free agency pool, Byron Jones, became the most expensive with a rumoured $18mil a year deal.
It’s a good start for a team that is in desperate need for talented stars.
Chris Ballard and Frank Reich have already become icons for Colts fans, despite only being with the franchise a combined five years. A large reason for this, is how this dynamic duo go about their business during the off-season. It’s usually calculated, well thought out with a big emphasis on getting the right character for the dressing room over stats or ability.
Indy haven’t hit the headlines for their flashy moves by over-spending on the free agency over the last couple of off-seasons, neither have they drafted the ‘big names’ when the opportunity was there to do so (Quenton Nelson being the exception). Yet, the scheme and thought process works, and that is why there is a healthy level of respect from the fans towards Ballard and Reich’s transaction decision making.
For these reasons, predicting who Indianapolis are likely targeting this off-season is a difficult challenge, but it’s always fun having to dig deeper than you might have to for other teams when you have to take into consideration players personal characteristics off the field as much as what they can do on it. So, to get in to the complex thought processes of the Colts backstaff, we need to breakdown their current roster and see what their more pressing needs are as we head into the free agent frenzy.
Current Roster Grades
QB – C+
RB – B
TE – B-
WR – C
T* – B-
G – B
C – A-
DT – B-
DE – C+
LB – B+
S* – B+
CB – B
*Assuming LT Anthony Castonzo and S Clayton Geathers will re-sign as rumoured, otherwise grade decreases significantly.
Needs – Major – QB, WR, DE, TE Minor – RG, DT, CB
Philip Rivers – I like this narrative and Indy needs a rebound. Let me explain. Jacoby Brissett is the ‘meh’ girlfriend. I mean she looks ok, she’s a nice person, you have a good time but she’s no wife material. The Brissett experiment is dead in the water now, thanks for the good times Jacoby, but we gotta move on. Pip Rivers is the rebound. The next girlfriend, the friend with benefits, the ‘let’s have some fun before I look to settle down’ kind of deal, you catch my drift i’m sure.
He’ll bring his experience, he’ll get to reunite with Frank Reich and OC Nick Sirianni and he’ll have a decent chance of providing a solid playoff run to the Colts faithful at Lucas Oil in 2020.
Rivers will be the perfect stop gap before Indy commit to either drafting a future franchise QB with this upcoming draft or in 2021, and if they make a move this draft season, sitting behind Philip Rivers and learning the trade would be very appealing for a newcomer, I’m sure.
Tom Brady – Two words. No, thanks. Ok, i get it, he’s the GOAT, he’s TB12… yeah, yeah. He’s also turning 43 before the season starts and will be leaving all former camaraderie and rapports from his career in Foxborough.
Don’t forget us Colts fans don’t particularly look at New England with any kind of awe about it. If Brady signs for Indy, let’s just say the fans would be left ‘deflated’ by the news. Hard pass, and I wish the rumour mill would stop turning.
Jameis Winston – Ah, you thought you’d get through an article by Rob Grimwood without me mentioning Jameis Winston. Think again, sucker. If Jameis ends up in Indy, I will probably explode. Yes, the 42 total turnovers last season wasn’t ideal… actually, that was pretty abysmal. However, have you not heard that Winston has had eye-surgery this winter?
It can’t possibly get any worse, and what we know about Jameis is that, despite the mistakes, he can throw as good as any other QB in the league and has the ability to move the sticks and make big plays. He can sustain a whole plethora of receivers and is fresh off a 5,109 yard and 33 TD season. He’s a franchise Quarterback who’s still only in his mid 20’s. Is he the answer for Indianapolis? Probably not, but holy hell it would be fun to watch.
Emmanuel Sanders – The Colts have T.Y Hilton and a couple of young talents further down the depth chart in Parris Campbell and Daurice Fountain. They don’t have a veteran who can efficiently run all routes who is a safe option. That is Sanders. He’ll be fairly cheap and will be the chain moving receiver Indy crave in this current squad. Whether it’s Brissett, Rivers or A.N Other throwing the rock this year, Sanders has very little downside for a team desperate for consistent depth pieces at wide receiver.
Breshad Perriman – He’s never quite hit the dizzy heights that people thought he may have when Baltimore drafted him in the 1st round of the 2015 draft. However, last season he attempted to resurrect his career with a stint in Tampa Bay and he was a minor success there, particularly down the stretch. The dropping issues that haunted him in Baltimore seems to be a thing of the past as he only dropped just one of 65 passes thrown his way as a Bucc.
Like with Sanders, it’s depth that Colts require, and in a skinny free agency at wide receiver, Indy may want to focus more intensive scouting for WR depth within the upcoming draft class.
Arik Armstead – It’s very rare to find an elite edge rusher on the free agency as it’s one of those positions that teams just simply do not give up. Jadeveon Clowney is the exception to that rule, and might see free agency but will most likely re-sign for Seattle, meaning you have to look for the potential superstars in the free agency pool more than the already proven. Armstead is certainly in that category. He has the tools to become an elite edge rusher and certainly would tick alot of personality boxes in Reich’s locker room too along with fitting in with an already familiar 3-4 system.
Rumours have it though that Armstead wants to stay in California with the Niners and the Niners want him to stay so may be using the franchise tag in order to see him back for 2020. Should he fall onto the agency though, he should be high priority for Indy.
Bud Dupree – Dupree isn’t the long term answer for Indy at DE, but after a career year in 2019 for the Steelers where he recorded 11.5 sacks and a career high PFF pass-rush grade (76.3), he may be worth a small, short term investment if that kind of deal can be reached. He certainly would find himself high up on the current depth chart at the position, with Justin Houston being the only household name there currently. As with the wide receiver position, it’s depth that’s the key right now in Indy.
Eric Ebron – I’d quite like to see Ebron return if I’m honest. He didn’t have the rapport in 2019 with Brissett that he did with Andrew Luck in 2018, however it’s hard to ignore the 16 TDs he’s provided in his short 2 year stint with Indy. His presence in the red zone has been key for the Colts over the past couple of years and whoever is under centre in 2020 would love a threat like him to target alongside Jack Doyle, i’m sure.
Austin Hooper – Stepped up in a big way in 2019 after a career best 787 yards and 6 TDs. Hooper will be a hot commodity for any tight end needy teams come March 18th, so Indy will have to fight the likes of New England, Green Bay and Chicago if Hooper is the chosen target to replace Ebron. With much forecasted interest, Hooper’s price tag may be out of reach if Ballard wants to stick to his current frugal system, despite the Colts having the second most cap space ($86m) behind Miami ($88m).
Brandon Scherff – If Washington can’t re-sign Scherff and they chose not to tag him, he will be a highly sought after player when the 2020 free agency opens. With Joe Thuney playing as a Left Guard and Graham Glasgow as a Centre, Scherff is by far and away the best Right Guard option on the free agent market. Has had an injury plagued career to date missing 15 games over his rookie contract, but, when he’s on the field he can play at an elite level. Indy’s o-line is good in general, but Scherff could make it the best in the league. However, with a good looking offensive line class coming through this years draft, it would probably be in Indianapolis’ best interests to throw money at other needs rather than needlessly paying over the odds for a good-not-great player in a skinny market.
D.J Reader – Probably the top option on the market now Chris Jones has been tagged by the Chiefs. Reader is a talented nose tackle who would fit admirably into the Colts scheme under DC Matt Eberflus. On the field Reader has developed into a reliable defensive tackle that saw a career best last season for Houston where he accumulated 52 combined tackles (28 solo), along with 2.5 sacks, six tackles-for-loss and 13 quarterback hits. Off the field he was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award which speaks volumes about his personality, a big tick for the Colts backstaff.
Javon Hargrave – After recently hiring super agent Drew Rosenhaus, it appears Hargrave wants to get paid this off-season. Hard to argue that he doesn’t deserve it either after a decent stint in Pittsburgh since being drafted in the 3rd round of the 2016 draft. Pittsburgh play in a similar scheme on defense to Indy so would be a decent fit for both sides, however, will Indy be prepared to overpay for a player not yet at elite level but the potential to reach it?
Shelby Harris – Could be a cheap fix to add depth to that uninspiring defensive line in Indy. Harris is a solid run stopper that has also improved in the pass rush too. Last season saw Harris gain 6 sacks, had 49 tackles (28 solo), and 8 tackles for loss – all career highs. Harris finds himself a little way down the list due to a decent number of defensive tackles available, but could prove to be a hidden gem for the team that picks him up. Indy should invest.
Javien Elliot – As with the offensive line, the 2020 draft is littered with good looking prospects at cornerback. So if Indy were to add depth to the likes of Pierre Desir, slot corner Kenny Moore and last years’ rookie Rock Ya-Sin, it should come in the way of a up and coming star like Javien Elliot before committing to the draft to add depth. He did well after joining the Panthers from the Buccs in June 2019 and surprisingly isn’t getting an extension from the Panthers it would seem, a tad baffling considering James Bradberry is likely off too.
Bradley Roby – Roby has had a flighty career. Played well in 2015, not so good in 2016.. bounced back in 2017, declined in 2018 but had a solid season last year. Maybe 2020 means it’s a down year for the former Bronco and first round pick, but maybe a change of scenery is what is required to keep playing to a high level. Can play both outside and in the Nickel, Roby would be a good all-round talent with experience to join the Colts’ DB’s and will help to nurture Rock Ya-Sin in his development.