Indianapolis Colts March Scouting Report
Hey there Colts’ fans! Here are some thoughts and observations on the comings and goings in the Colts’ Corral as 2019 free agency is underway in the NFL:
With well over $100 million to spend in free agency, it was reasonable to suspect that the Colts might be significant players in free agency, and were linked to some of the biggest names in the arena this year including LeVeon Bell and Landon Collins. While they could have easily afforded these two monster contracts, it was evident well before the clock struck midnight to open the feeding frenzy that GM Chris Ballard was having none of that sort of spree. In addition to preferring to build through the draft and eschew large money deals, Ballard also repeatedly said that resigning their own guys and looking ahead to some expiring deals for key Colts was a bigger need than landing some giant big-name fish. He made a statement after a few days of the frenzy along the lines of "we had some dollar figures in mind for all the big guys too, but the numbers started getting stupid so we stood pat."
As the sun set on the first day of the free agent signing period, the only player that was added to the roster was likely starting WR Devin Funchess formerly of the Panthers. He was signed to a 1-year deal for $10 million with some incentives that could net him another $3 million. Despite his experience, he is only 25 years old so he is still fairly young if he works out and gets extended. I like the addition as he is a viable target and a valid threat that will draw coverage away from WR TY Hilton. This is a fairly low cost for a proven starting receiver – especially one of his size and speed – but there is always the concern about his drops; he has been among the least efficient receivers in the whole NFL and has suffered from the dropsies at times (see also TE Eric Ebron). The bigger thing from a fantasy perspective is that he might take some of those red zone targets from Ebron, thus reducing Ebron’s fantasy effectiveness (which was highly TD-dependent) in 2019. Overall, it should help the offense as he is a bigger threat on any play than any of the young guys or veteran WR Dontrelle Inman. Speaking of Inman, he is still unsigned despite a mutual desire having been stated for him to return. My guess is that eventually they are going to bring him back unless someone offers him some ridiculous numbers (unlikely) to serve as a veteran presence and a solid #3 guy.
The biggest splash finally came after a week when the team signed 4-timeProBowl pass rusher LB Justin Houston to a 2-year $24 million deal, filling the biggest gaping hole on their roster. While limited to just 12 games last year with a hamstring injury, he still managed 9 sacks and forced 5 fumble. It is also worth pointing out that as recently as 2014 he led the NFL in sacks and only three players have more sacks than Houston in the last 8 seasons. The biggest thing will be any adjustment for the 30-year old who has only played edge linebacker in a 3-4 defense for his entire career, but now he will be asked to adjust to putting his hand in the dirt and being a 4-3 defensive end. His athleticism and smarts should translate just fine, but even some great players have struggled to make those subtle adjustments going from a 3-4 to a 4-3 or vice versa. In any case, he represents the best pass rushing threat in many years since Robert Mathis retired.
All of the other players signed so far were re-signing of their own, none as satisfying as seeing that PK Adam Vinatieri will be coming back for his 24th NFL season. The biggest need signings were probably two starters in the defensive backfield, CB Pierre Desir and oft-injured SS Clayton Geathers. While both positions are likely to be targets in the early rounds of next month’s draft, resigning these two was essential at least for continuity and depth and for affording flexibility as the draft progressed to take the "best available" instead of for need. Nickel guy CB Chris Milton was also resigned, as was underrated long snapper LS Luke Rhodes; important rotation players and key contributors like DE Margus Hunt and OL Mark Glowinski were also signed to 2-year deals. I would not be surprised to see them extend OC Ryan Kelly before he hits the open market so they can get him more cheaply (since he has been injured two straight years) and secure the O-line for the foreseeable future.
What do they still need to do? All the rest of the safeties on the roster aside from 2nd-year man FS Malik Hooker are not under contract, so likely some of them will get inked as well. LB Najee Goode also was valuable last year and seems likely to stay around since the linebacking corps is a beat undermanned. Young R Chester Rogers showed value as a backup and as a return man, so he will likely get resigned and be on the final roster unless the two injured rookie wideouts from last year each recover and start to show value quickly. There is still a lot of room under the cap to play with, but the Colts have not seriously kicked the tires on too many veteran free agents. They did have RB Jay Ajayi in for a looksee last week, but the recovering (ACL) runner left without a contract offer in hand; I would rather see them bring in bowling ball RB CJ Anderson (a guy they were interested in last season as well) as a different kind of runner. Former first-rounder LB Shane Ray is also scheduled for a visit today, although he is coming off a disappointing 2018 and four injury-plagued seasons in Denver. If he can live up to potential, the pass rush might show a total turnaround with he and Houston on board. And I wouldn’t rule out veteran S Eric Berry as Ballard’s Kansas City ties could make him interested in this motivational leader for locker room purposes as well as on-field value.
That is all the free agency news for now. I would suspect that they still will be signing some more players and might just have a surprise yet in the offing with all the bucks they have at their disposal, but the bulk of my report next month will look ahead to the draft at the end of April and the likely scenarios for the team. Until then friends... enjoy the first days of spring and GO COLTS!!!
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