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Indianapolis Colts March Scouting Report
Hey there Coltsâ€™ fans! I hope everyone has recovered from some spring break travels and is surviving the NFL offseason. There have been a tremendous number of big-name players changing teams, and the quarterback carousel has been especially active this month. Here are some thoughts on the Colts recent moves (and non-moves) as free agency barrels along and the 2022 draft approaches at the end of next month.
I am still surprised that the team traded QB Carson Wentz because it made little sense with what was perceived to be available and the relative dearth of tradeable draft assets that the Colts had in play. However, after the dust settled, I am pretty excited to see how it all transpired â€“ even though there were a few days there when nothing was on the table. Let me expand: the Colts traded away Wentz to Washington for a pair of 3rd round picks, one of which can become a 2nd rounder next year with some similar playing time conditions to the pick that the Colts gave up in 2022. And amazingly, the trade happened early enough that the Commanders will be picking up the entirety of Wentzâ€™s $28 million cap hit and salary, which freed up some bucks on the Colts side. This move was daring because there were really few viable starting quarterbacks on the market and there was no one available in trade that would not have cost a kingâ€™s ransom. However, about a week later the Colts were able to get veteran QB Matt Ryan from the Falcons in return for their own 3rd round pick in this years draft. Because of the timing, the Falcons were picking up a huge part of the salary cap hit for 2022, making Ryan a relative bargain at only $25 million for this year and $28 million for the final year of his contract in 2023. Then this week the Colts reworked his deal to push some $6 million of his cap hit into 2023, freeing up even more space. So effectively, Chris Ballard traded a commodity of questionable perceived value away and in return got a veteran leader and quarterback in Matt Ryan, and additional 3rd round pick and $10 million in 2022 salary cap relief. That sounds like a combined fleecing of two NFC teams to me.
Ryan gives the team not only a dependable veteran starter, but one who is lauded as a great leader as well. While he fell a completion or two short of his 11th straight 4000 yard season last year, it is important to note his reliability and decision-makingâ€¦and the fact that he has not missed a game in over 12 seasons. The Colts are the only team to have a different quarterback start 15 or more games in four consecutive seasons, and they are likely to have a 5th this year as well. This is a great fit for the franchise and for the offense, and he should alleviate any concerns about the position for at least the next couple seasons as they consider readiness of the current roster and delay the longer-term solution under center.
They also made a great trade on the other side of the ball this week, trading underperforming CB Rock Ya-Sin to the Raiders for pass rushing stud Yannick Ngakoue, perhaps the most underrated stud pass rusher in the NFL. Ya-Sin had started to play better down the stretch last year, but had not quite lived up to his 2nd round draft position. Ngakoue has been on four teams in six seasons, but has quietly been among the best in the business. Since coming into the league in 2016, he is one of only two players to record at least 8 sacks in each of those six seasons â€“ and the other one is Aaron Donald, so he is in elite company. He is coming off a year with 10 sacks, and has a career high of 12, so he is consistent and dangerous. He also has only missed two total games in his career, again highlighting the need for dependable playmaking options. He instantly provides the credibility to the front line and some relief from constant triple-teaming for DT DeForest Buckner.
So what are the Colts going to do with their money? They have been startlingly quiet in the free agency market despite having among the most money in the NFL with which to work; having salary cap space is useless if you donâ€™t spend it to improve your team, and the team still has a significant number of holes to fill. They have not really even been very active in resigning many of their own free agents, so their roster is a little barren right now. Among the guys they have resigned already are athletic TE Mo-Alie-Cox, special teams captain LB Zaire Franklin and rotational DE Tyquan Lewis. All of these guys have more potential than their market value indicated, and more value to the Colts than to other teams so these are solid, cap-friendly signings. Alie-Cox did get some big money, so the team might be counting on him to provide the spark to the receiving corps that they need from the tight end position. The Colts did also resign backup OT Matt Pryor who was tremendously valuable as the swing tackle filling in on either side. Unless they get something done in free agency or the draft, he might be in the mix (with Sam Tevi, signed in 2021 but injured in camp) to start at left tackle in 2022 right out of the gate. I still think they could bring back Eric Fisher and hope that he has a better year; he was underwhelming in 2021, but now he will be another 12 months removed from his torn Achilles in the AFC championship game in January 2021. In any case, they probably hould resign OG Chris Reed who filled in capably for OG Quentin Nelson and who could take over for Glowinski on the right side; he is at worst a versatile backup that can step in all across the line. There is still a need for another starting corner as well, especially after trading Ya-Sin, and CB Xavier Rhodes and CB TJ Carrie are each still unsigned as of this writing. Rhodes is another guy that should be brought back on at least a solid veteran 1-year "prove it" deal, but Carrie might be a numbers victim unless he comes back at a very friendly number.
But the team really needs some more considerable juice at receiver, so it was frustrating to see how little it took to procure Davante Adams and Tyreek Hill in the trade market (especially when there was so much salary cap room available to extend those guys after acquiring them). However, there are still some guys that could add some pop to the receiving crew, although many of them come with injury concerns. The obvious one is to maybe add WR Julio Jones on a manageable 1-year deal with the space freed up by kicking $6 million of Ryanâ€™s money to next season. This not only gives a viable target (if he is on the field, that is), but one with proven chemistry with Ryan. But the "if" of his health is a real concern and I wouldnâ€™t put all my eggs in that basket for sure. WR Odell Beckham would also be a nice investment as he recovers from a torn ACL, giving us a late-season alpha dog to have to keep 8-man boxes from corralling RB Jonathan Taylor, and locking him up top a 2-3 year deal could pay huge dividends as a true #1 in 2023 and beyond. But a better fit culturally and schematically might be OBJâ€™s college teammate WR Jarvis Landry who can run the entire route tree and has been just as productive (and far more available) in his career. Veteran WR TY Hilton has still not ruled out a return, but it would have to be on a cap friendly deal and as a complementary option; with Landry running out of the slot, for example, a guy like Hilton as an outside threat makes a lot of sense in 3-receiver sets. And even with the re-signing of Alie-Cox, there still might be room for a more threatening tight endeven though wide receiver is definitely a far bigger need. Another guy they need to resign is WR Ashton Dulin who is not only a decent depth receiver but a big part of the special teams coverage units.
They have lost veteran WR Zach Pascal (Eagles), special teams guy and backup S George Odum (49ers), DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (Bears) and perhaps the biggest was starting RG Mark Glowinski (Giants); losing Glow was expected since he was sure to command more on the open market than the Colts could reasonable expend on an already-expensive offensive line. Muhammad was a solid contributor, but the need to match the Bears was lessened after the Ngakoue trade, for sure. The only outside guy they have signed to date was CB Brandon Facyson, a 5th year corner with size that has familiarity with Gus Bradleyâ€™s schemes. He is a bigger guy which they lacked at the position, but is probably a veteran depth move rather than a projected starter. They also signed DB Tony Brown off the street, another 5th year journeyman (who was out of football in 2021) to add some depth.
So the team has made some big moves to address two major areas of concern (quarterback and pass rush) as well as addressing leadership on both sides of the ball. They still have some serious gaps to fill (left tackle, corner, dept hand especially explosiveness at receiver) but they do have some cap space with which to do it. If the team is really "all chips in" as owner Jim Irsay famously growled earlier this month, then they should make a splash sometime soon with either a trade or (more likely) with some big money free agent signing among the remaining veteran options. Time will tell if they finish the job, but the last few weeks are a good start.
That is all for this month from the Crossroads of America. Hang on to your seats â€“ the next month could be crazy if the first two weeks of free agency are any indication!
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