INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Step 1 is obvious: find employment in the ultra-competitive NFL.
Step 2 often is critical in remaining employed: find a team that represents an appropriate fit for your skill set.
We give you Chris McCain and Rakeem Nunez-Roches, two of the Indianapolis Colts’ offseason acquisitions. Each was deemed expendable by his previous team, but considered ideal fits in a transition from a 3-4 defense to coordinator Matt Eberflus’ attacking 4-3.
Player acquisition, noted coach Frank Reich, “starts with the system . . . who fits into that system? Once you’re fit into the system, then some of the unique attributes that each player has . . . we can try to (accentuate) those.’’
The Los Angeles Chargers parted ways with McCain in mid-April even though he was coming off the best of his four seasons: 5 sacks and 19 tackles as a situational pass rusher. They had extended him a one-year, $1.9 million tender as a restricted free agent, but surprisingly pulled the tender, making him an unrestricted free agent.
McCain signed a one-year, $705,000 deal with the Colts May 8, and joined what already was a crowded defensive end room.
“We all know how the business goes,’’ McCain said of his departure from the Chargers. “What I was told is they needed more help in the rush stoppage, which kind of shocked me because when I was in there – I was talking to the GM – I was like, ‘Well, my run percentage was better than my pass production.’
“Not really a legit reason why.’’
McCain free-agent visits included the Rams and Raiders, but he decided “those teams were stacked; a lot of high-name guys, high-profile guys. The opportunity I would have had would have been less than what I’m receiving here.
“This is the perfect opportunity for what I need, to get my name out there, to be seen more and being able to add on to what I did last year which was my best season.’’
The one-year deal with the Colts amounts to a prove-it-or-move-on situation.
“I always approach it like that,’’ McCain said. “Never been a starter, so I have to make my name on special teams and I have to contribute whenever I have my plays or I have my reps.’’
His motivation to add to his modest resume (36 games and zero starts with three teams) and inject life into the Colts’ lackluster pass rush – 25 sacks last season, tied for second-fewest in the league – is personal.
“I have a family. That’s my motivation,’’ McCain said with a laugh.
In terms of Eberflus’ scheme, McCain represents an intriguing front-seven component, similar to 2017 third-round pick Tarell Basham, free-agent Denico Autry and rookies Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and Darius Leonard.
He’s 6-5, 236 pounds. He’s athletic. He’s quick off the line of scrimmage.
“Speed is everything,’’ said McCain, 26, “and here they are coaching speed and effort. And that’s everything that I have – tenacity, speed, effort and hustling every play because you never know.’’
Nunez-Roches was an 11-game starter for Kansas City’s AFC West-winning Chiefs last season. He was the 6-2, 307-pound interior anchor of Kansas City’s 3-4 defensive line.
However, security is fleeting in the NFL, and that reality hit Nunez-Roches in late April when many of the Chiefs’ defensive linemen were attending a Kevin Hart concert. One of the players made it a point to monitor in the NFL draft. Kansas City used its second-round pick on Mississippi defensive end Breeland Speaks and a third-rounder on Florida State nose tackle Derrick Nnadi.
Nunez-Roches was waived two weeks after the draft, and quickly claimed by Colts general manager Chris Ballard, who became familiar with Nunez-Roches’ skills from his time in the Chiefs’ front office.
“I kind of figured where it was going,’’ Nunez-Roches said. “So when it kinda happened and rumors went around the facility, it wasn’t no scare or a big ol’ surprise to me.
“It was more like, ‘Dang, your time has (come).’ So it was more like, ‘What’s my next opportunity?’’’
That would be Indy. The Colts’ assumed the final year of Nunez-Roches’ contract, which carries a $1.907 million base.
Eberflus plans on utilizing an eight- or nine-player defensive line rotation, and the tackle options include Nunez-Roches, Al Woods, Hassan Ridgeway, Grover Stewart and Autry. Lewis probably joins the mix in pass-rush situations.
Nunez-Roches considers the Colts’ 4-3 a much better situation for him than the Chiefs’ 3-4. No longer will his primary task be to hold his gap and allow the linebackers to make plays.
“I am a disruptive guy who can get up the field, penetrate, blow up, disrupt everything,’’ he said. “That’s what this defense is about. Going to a 4-3, getting up the field and letting the D-line off the leash.
“I’m not going to lie to you. I love to attack. I love to be the man in the backfield creating a new line of scrimmage. I love it and I enjoy it. I only know one thing. That’s go hard.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.