Who the Indianapolis Colts should be targeting in the Free Agency

by Rob Grimwood – @FFBritBaller

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

Quarterback

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.

Photo Credit: Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune

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.

Wide Receiver

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.

EDGE

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.

Photo Credit: Icon Sportswire

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.

Tight End

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).

Right Guard

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.

Defensive Tackle

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.

Photo Credit: Godofredo A. Vásquez, Houston Chronicle

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.

Cornerback

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.

There is just no Luck in Indianapolis… What next for the Colts?

By Rob Grimwood (@FFBritBaller)
The baby’s cry woke me up early on Sunday morning. The wife and I had only been home from an Ed Sheeran concert a few hours, but nonetheless, the kid was hungry. With a heavy sigh, I reluctantly rolled out of my bed whilst fumbling around to check the time and get my bearings in my somewhat groggy morning state of mind.

It was at that moment when I had to double take when looking at my notifications on my mobile phone. I had received a text message from one of my best friends in Canada which read “Oh man, Andrew Luch has retired”. Not only did I need to double take because of the spelling mistake, but I couldn’t fathom this to be true with my early morning baby-brain.

For a brief moment I was clutching at straws. Please tell me there is an NHL player called Andrew Luch who I hadn’t heard of… or even another sportsman from another sport I am not familiar with like NASCAR, or Water Polo, and my friend was merely making random conversation!

No, sure enough, it was the news that our franchise QB had indeed retired. Our leader, our Captain. Stunned into disbelief, I furiously scanned every media outlet possible with my phone clasped to my perspiring right hand. The left was busy attempting to deliver the milk bottle to my confused, impatient son. Milk was going everywhere except the kids’ mouth, but my mind was elsewhere.

Photo Credit: Michael Conroy/Associated Press

I balanced the milk bottle perfectly between forearm and the kid’s ravenous gullet as I watched the main man himself being booed off centre stage at Lucas Oil stadium. I immediately felt for all of the fans inside that building knowing that a public backlash was inevitable. But they, the non-Colts folk won’t understand. It wasn’t the player they were booing; it was the result of being strung along on this injury-plagued rollercoaster that started in 2017.

It’s frustrating not being told exactly what is wrong. Not knowing whether to feel jubilant for the upcoming season or whether to grit our teeth and hope the backups can take the next step and ride it out until we get our man back.

Lack of communication and information haunting us like 2017’s ghost is why the fans booed. The quick-fire delivery of this earth-shattering news is why the fans got upset. It wasn’t about Luck. They could have let us down more gently. They could have told us the situation was bad, season ending, heck, even career threatening. But not like this, just please, not like this.

With 24-hours passing and the disgruntled look etched upon my unenthused wife’s face who was sick of Sundays most used phrase “I can’t believe Luck has retired”, I decided to stop dwelling on the recent past and started to think about how the Colts can look to rectify the hole that it now finds itself in. Where do we go from here?

Internal Scouting

With Andrew Luck no longer atop the depth chart in Indianapolis, it is highly likely the Colts will ride the season out with one of the backups that have currently been steering the ship throughout the preseason.

Jacoby Brissett

Brissett will be the favourite amongst bookmakers and fans alike to be the man under centre come week 1. He’s had the role before when traded from the New England Patriots in 2017, the year Luck missed the entirety with the shoulder injury.

He played in all 16 games that season and was the starter from week 2 onward. It was an admirable season-long performance from the then 24-year-old out of North Carolina State (3,098 passing yards/13TDs) but was a long way off the dizzy heights that the Colts’ fans new Luck could provide.

After guiding Indy to a 4-12 record that season, you’d expect this to be a floor if he were to be the QB for the upcoming season due to the improvements the Colts have made since 2017. A better O-line and more explosive pass catchers would likely see Brissett have a better opportunity to win more games. Despite this though, it will still be a tall order to assume Jacoby, or anyone for that matter, would be able guide Indianapolis to a playoff berth.

Chad Kelly

Kelly was the last draft pick of the 2017 NFL Draft (253rd) when picked by the Denver Broncos. His NFL career got off to a pretty good start once he returned from a wrist injury as he seemingly edged out Paxton Lynch to be Case Keenum’s backup heading into the 2018 season.

However, the character problems off the field that had teams skirting around him in the draft rang true when he was convicted of criminal trespassing relating to an incident after a Halloween party hosted by teammate Von Miller.

He was subsequently released by the Broncos and his NFL career was in jeopardy. Fortunately for Kelly, Colts’ GM Chris Ballard happens to be a friend of his uncle Jim Kelly and Chad was offered a second chance during the 2019 off-season.

He’s seemingly taken the chance given to him too as so far he has impressed coaches and fans with a good showing throughout training camp with a 72% pass rate so far this preseason. This was on the back of 13 completions for 121 yards in preseason week 1 including 53 rushing yards and an impressive rushing touchdown. He also performed exceptionally in the wake of the Luck news on Saturday evening against the Bears, throwing for 209 yards and a touchdown of 16 completions, along with 34 rush yards.

Photo Credit: AP Photo/David Dermer

It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that ‘Swag’ Kelly could end up being the starter for the Colts should the early season work not go Jacoby Brissett’s way. If he continues to take his chances should this scenario arise, Kelly could be in consideration to be Luck’s permanent replacement.

Phillip Walker

Originally signed on May 4th 2017, Phillip Walker has been added, removed, signed from, and cut from the Colts’ practice squad more times than I’ve changed my socks.

But again this offseason, Walker has had a chance to prove his worth to the team as the now current 3rd string QB.

Unfortunately though, unlike teammate Chad Kelly, Walker has only converted 24 of 48 passing attempts (50%) for a grand total of 259 passing yards (10.79 yards per attempt) and 0 touchdowns.

It’s fairly likely that Walker will remain as the 3rd string QB until further notice, but more likely until a new QB is acquired and therefore will probably find himself as a cut casualty in that case.

2020/21 Draft Class

If you don’t already know, the 2020 draft class is packed with elite-level potential quarterbacks. This ties in with Colts’ owner Jim Irsay’s method of operation nicely as since taking over the team in 1997, he has drafted 2 of the most important players in Indianapolis’ NFL history – franchise quarterbacks Peyton Manning (1998) and his eventual replacement Andrew Luck (2012).

On both instances though, the Colts have had the luxury of having that all important 1st overall pick in those respective drafts. Although now not out of the question for 2020, it’s unlikely the Colts will be picking within in the first 5 picks unless a trade is agreed.

Tua Tagovailoa

It is highly likely Tua will be drafted within the top 3 on the next draft night in Las Vegas. In fact, many analysts believe the Miami Dolphins have already decided to tank in 2019 in order to grab Tua with the 1st overall pick.

The Alabama quarterback has a quality arm which is more than capable to make any throw in the NFL. He’s a great athlete too which has become a very sought after trait in the NFL over the last few years.

His athleticism allows him to escape collapsing pockets and he has the ability to throw it deep and challenge defences. He doesn’t panic when the first read isn’t there and is generally an accurate passer.

In the right team, Tua could make it into the group of elite QB’s within the NFL and Indy would certainly be a team where that could be achievable. But this would require some draft pick trading in order to see that happen.

Justin Herbert

Herbert is another top prospect expected to go early in round 1. I can imagine a lot of the talk surrounding next years’ draft will be “Justin or Tua” based for the 1st overall pick.

So again, Indy would have to probably move up the board in order to grab Herbert if he is the QB that grades out to be the best fit. He has good size and a good arm. One of his best traits is the ability to throw the ball in exactly the right places for receivers to capitalise and gain extra Yards After Catch.

At 6 ft 6, Herbert uses his height to his advantage in the pocket where he remains calm and let’s routes develop before pulling the trigger, but his height doesn’t affect his rushing ability as he is more than capable of picking up yards on the ground.

Like Tua, Herbert would fit very nicely into the Colts offense but would likely need to work on his vision and focus in order to get the most out of the receiving options.

Jake Fromm

For me, Jake Fromm is the most NFL ready QB in this class. Bold statement, I know, but it’s his presence and leadership skill on the field which I like the most. That is the kind of mould that Indy possesses too. They like to take the leaders, the field generals if you will.

Photo Credit: Allen Kee / ESPN Images

Fromm is arguably the most accurate out of these projected top prospects in 2020. He avoids danger when throwing which will sit well with the coaches in Indy and also knows how to protect the ball and generally makes good decisions. Being an elite NFL passer isn’t solely down to arm strength. It’s what’s in between the ears that count, and Fromm certainly ticks that box.

If Tua and Herbert go 1 & 2 respectively, there will likely be a trade up for Fromm so I predict he will be a top 5 pick next year. This is where I can see Indianapolis putting their chips on the table and moving up if necessary.

Trevor Lawrence

I believe #TankForTrevor is already trending on twitter. Clemson’s signal caller is currently being described as a generational talent thus putting him in the Troy Aikman, Andrew Luck, Peyton and Eli Manning group of elite QB’s that are NFL ready coming out of college as the first overall pick.

But, Trevor Lawrence isn’t eligible for the 2019 draft pick. So unless, Jacoby or A.N Other can provide high enough performances in Indy over the next two years, it’s unlikely Jim Irsay, Chris Ballard an co will wait this long before grabbing their next franchise QB.

Who knows though, there could be a masterplan in place where this is possible. One thing is for sure; Lawrence will be worth the wait if the 2018 College season has anything to go by and would definitely fit in well at Lucas Oil.

Trade Ins

It’s unlikely that the Colts would trade for a starting QB as it’s not really how Irsay operates. But as we see year to year in this league, anything is possible and anything can happen.

Jameis Winston

Tampa Bay has put a lot of trust in to Winston for this upcoming year; They proved this by not re-signing 2018’s saviour at Raymond James Stadium, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Jameis, however, is on a short leash. A fantastic talent who can make any throw and be a locker room leader, but it’s the mistakes that has impeded his journey to the top.

Should Winston and the Bucs start the season 0-3/0-4, the pressure might be on to cash in on any value and move away from Winston, especially with the talent available next April and the fact he is also currently unsigned passed 2019.

At just 25, there is still plenty of time to develop Jameis, and a change of scenery might well be the answer if Bruce Arians is unable to repeat the success he had with Carson Palmer in Arizona.

Dak Prescott

Like Winston, it’s unlikely that Dallas will want to move their starting QB, especially with the way Dak has progressed since being drafted there in the 4th round of the 2016 draft.

However, like Jameis, with his rookie contract expiring at the end of the season and no discussions being reported, if the right offer is on the table, could Jerry Jones be tempted to cash in? Like I said, unlikely, but don’t forget the Jones’ are business men first.