INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — After losing seven of their final nine games to close the season, it’s clear the Indianapolis Colts need help if they hope to return to the playoffs in 2020.
While getting back into the tournament starts with an improvement in quarterback play, the free agent market lacks any realistic, longterm options. There’s no way the Cowboys let Dak Prescott out of Dallas, Drew Brees isn’t leaving New Orleans and Tom Brady? Give me a break.
Other passers expected to be available include a 38-year-old Philip Rivers coming off the worst season of his career, a red-hot Ryan Tannehill, who seems destined to be franchised if not awarded a new contract, and Jameis Winston, who if you listen closely you can hear throwing another interception somewhere in the distance.
No, it appears the Colts will have to turn to the draft should they decide Jacoby Brissett isn’t the answer. The last we heard, the “jury is still out” on that, according to general manager Chris Ballard.
What the jury has reached a verdict on is that this roster will undergo change.
“Like I told our team, when time’s like this happen, change occurs,” said Ballard.
While Ballard has never been a big spender in free agency, the Colts are expected to have a league-high $96 million in salary cap space, according to Spotrac. Of course, some of that will need to be spent on resigningimpending free agent left tackle Anthony Castonzo should he decide to continue playing football.
Nonetheless, with the salary cap no longer constrained by a high-end quarterback contract, Ballard may be more willing to make a splash this offseason than he has in years past.
Here are five soon-to-be free agents who could make a major impact in Indianapolis in 2020:
Chris Jones – Defensive Tackle – Age 25
Jones should be the Colts’ top free agent target should he be unable to reach a deal with the cash-strapped Kansas City Chiefs. The interior pass-rusher has 31 sacks over his last three seasons, despite missing three gams this year with injury. Those have been the only games Jones has missed over his four-year career. The 6’6″, 310 pounder is a menace versus the run as well and has received a top-eight overall grade among interior defenders from Pro Football Focus each of the past three seasons.
After getting a combined 14 sacks from starting defensive tackles Denico Autry and Margus Hunt in 2018, the Colts’ interior defenders notched just 6.5 total sacks in 2019. As a young superstar at a position of need, Jones is one of the few potentially available players worth his hefty asking price.
Amari Cooper – Wide Receiver – Age 25
What was thought to be a deep wide receiver corps in July became a depleted eyesore by the end of the season. Though injuries played a huge role, T.Y. Hilton is entering the final year of his contract and has battled a litany of lower-body injuries over the past two years. Even if Indianapolis resigns Hilton after the 2020 season, the team is still yet to find the 30-year-old a running mate since Reggie Wayne retired. The lack of receiving weapons combined with a drop off in quarterback play resulted in the Colts finishing 30th in passing in 2019, with under 200 yards per game.
Cooper fits the classic interpretation of a number one receiver. He’s a route-running aficionado whose accumulation of skills, athleticism and size make him one of the better receivers in the league. The playmaker has topped 1,000 receiving yards in four of his five seasons and has shown the ability to take over games. With several key players nearing the end of their contracts, the Dallas Cowboys could elect to spend their funds elsewhere. Cooper won’t come cheap if he hits the market, but he’d give Indianapolis the weapon they so desperately need.
Jadeveon Clowney – Defensive End – Age 26
As the top edge defender in this 2020 free agent class, Clowney will charge a premium for his services. Still, if the Colts are willing to reach into their fat bag of doubloons, the former first-overall pick would be a welcome addition to a unit that still has work to do at defensive end. Though Clowney hasn’t been the sack artist he was touted as in college, he is consistently disruptive in the passing game and elite against the run. Clowney has PFF’s 11th overall grade among all edge defenders since 2017 with the Texans and Seahawks.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard will turn 31 by the time free agency kicks off in March, Justin Houston will be 32 in 2021 when his contract is up, and though they’ve shown flashes, youngsters Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu are still yet to prove themselves as reliable starters.
Byron Jones – Cornerback – Age 27
Despite handing out new contracts to cornerbacks Pierre Desir and Kenny Moore and spending their first draft pick on corner Rock Ya-Sin in 2019, the Colts could still look to upgrade the position. Desir is a rock solid outside cornerback when healthy, but injuries have been a reoccurring issue over the 29-year-old’s career.
Jones may not be a ballhawk with just two interceptions over his five NFL seasons, but he is a reliable cover man on the outside. He finished with PFF’s 14th highest coverage grade among cornerbacks in 2018 and the 21st in 2019. Jones also possesses positional flexibility, as he played safety for Dallas back when Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was on the Cowboys’ defensive staff. Though he’ll be a hot commodity on the free agent market, Jones’ presence would give Indianapolis’ secondary a significant boost.
Hunter Henry – Tight End – Age 25
Pass-catchers are pass-catchers, right? When healthy, Henry is one of the NFL’s top receiving tight ends. The mismatch weapon can beat defenders in-line, in the slot or on the outside, and his PFF grade against single coverage is the eighth-best in the entire league since 2016. Henry is an above average blocker in the run game as well.
Ballard has stated that the Colts will “probably move on” from impending free agent Eric Ebron. Though the team did resign Jack Doyle to a three-year deal in December, head coach Frank Reich has always been partial to two-tight end sets, even going back to his time with the Eagles and Chargers. Henry will be the top tight end available should the Chargers allow him to hit the open market.
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