- The Colts will have to make a decision on Arthur Jones after his latest setback — a four-game suspension for a violation of the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy — since the former Ravens defensive end has not remotely delivered on the five-year, $33MM contract he signed before the 2014 season, Mike Wells of ESPN.com offers. Limited by ankle injuries prior to this suspension, Jones has played nine games in two seasons for the Colts. The oldest brother in a family that’s been scrutinized over the past year, with Chandler Jones and UFC fighter Jon Jones also running into trouble, Arthur Jones will lose $588K as a result of this suspension. But the Colts are uncertain about when his backup, Henry Anderson, will be back after a season-ending injury in Week 9 marred his offseason as well.
Receiver DeAndre Hopkins is under Texans control for two more seasons, but he’d like to remain in Houston a lot longer than that. “I love this city. I don’t want to play anywhere else but here,” the 24-year-old said Friday, per Tania Ganguli of ESPN.com. Hopkins didn’t go into detail, however, about the type of long-term deal he’s seeking. “I’m not looking for a certain range. I just want to be treated for what I’m worth. That’s fair to say, right?”
There’s no word on whether Hopkins and the Texans are progressing toward an extension, but general manager Rick Smith is eager to retain the 2013 first-round pick from Clemson. “He certainly is one of those guys that we’re going to keep around here for a long time hopefully,” Smith stated.
Worst-case scenario, Hopkins will only stay in Houston through 2017, as the club exercised his $7.915MM fifth-year option in April. A long-term accord would surely cost the Texans far more than that on an annual basis, though, considering Hopkins has emerged as an elite weapon despite having caught passes from a slew of mediocre quarterbacks during his first three seasons. Hopkins is coming off his best year, one in which he hauled in 111 passes for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns, and became the first player to amass a 100-yard receiving game with four different QBs in the same season.
The latest on two of Houston’s division rivals:
- The Jaguars recently worked out controversial free agent defensive end Greg Hardy and might even sign him, though a league source told Mike DiRocco of ESPN.com that such a move isn’t yet under consideration. However, the door isn’t completely closed on it, notes DiRocco, who opines that the Jaguars shouldn’t sign the 27-year-old because of his repellent behavior in Carolina and his issues last season in Dallas, where he was a headache both for the coaches and from a PR standpoint. From purely a football perspective, Hardy would upgrade a Jacksonville team whose top two edge rushers, Dante Fowler Jr. and Yannick Ngakoue, have zero NFL snaps between them. The Jags also finished just 20th in sacks last year (Hardy has 33 in his past 44 games), though Fowler missed the entire campaign with a torn ACL, Ngakoue was at Maryland and high-profile free agent pickup Malik Jackson was a Bronco.
- Contary to DiRocco’s argument, there are some Jaguars who believe Hardy would fit in their locker room, tweets Jason Cole of Bleacher Report.
- After the Colts stumbled through a tumultuous 2015 that resulted in an 8-8 finish, the expectation was that owner Jim Irsay would let go of general manager Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. Irsay did the opposite and extended the pair’s contracts, which has earned quarterback Andrew Luck‘s endorsement. “I think Mr. Irsay showed a lot of guts keeping coach Pagano and Ryan (Grigson),” Luck told Zak Keefer of the Indianapolis Star. “I think the easy thing is to start all over, I really do. I think that was an awesome, gutsy move. I think it surprised me, but then again, I think any decision would’ve surprised me.” One key reason the Colts went from three straight playoff berths to a .500 finish last season was the injury issues that beset Luck, who missed nine of 16 games. Luck also fared poorly in the seven games he did appear in, but that didn’t stop the Colts from awarding the 26-year-old a record-setting extension in June. In regards to the upcoming season, Irsay said of Luck, “I’ve never seen him more motivated. That fire is in his eye in a special way.”
- Earlier Friday, the league suspended Indianapolis defensive lineman Arthur Jones four games for violating its performance-enhancing drugs policy.
After news of a pending four-game suspension for Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell broke this morning, another prominent NFL player is facing a ban for the first month of NFL action. The NFL announced that Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones has been tagged with a four-game suspension for violating the league’s PED policy.
The PED suspension just marks the latest setback for Jones, who has struggled with injuries in his time with the Colts. He was a disappointment in 2014 – his first season with the team – after signing a five-year, $33MM deal, totaling 23 tackles and 1.5 sacks in just nine games (three starts). Then, as he was gearing up for what he hoped would be a bounce-back campaign, Jones tore ligaments in his ankle. In September, Jones went under the knife, ending his 2015 season before it could even begin. In March, the Colts and Jones worked out a new deal paying him $2.5MM rather than the $4.5MM he was originally slated to make.
In 529 snaps for the Ravens in 2013, Jones recorded a +15.7 PFF grade, performing very well against the run while also compiling 25 quarterback pressures.
It has been a rough year for the Jones family. Just a few weeks ago, Arthur’s younger brother Jon Jones tested positive for steroids and was removed from UFC 200. Jones, who is the UFC’s interim light heavyweight champion, could be facing a two year ban from competition.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Andrew Luck‘s extension was the Colts‘ best offseason moves, writes Kevin Bowen of Colts.com. Some of the organization’s other top transactions included drafting center Ryan Kelly, extending tight end Dwayne Allen, signing cornerback Patrick Robinson, and hiring assistant head coach Joe Philbin.
- Right guard and inside linebacker are two positions that will feature interesting battles for the Colts this summer, per Kevin Bowen of the team’s website. Incumbent Hugh Thornton, who has started in 32 of 37 career appearances, will try to fend off Denzelle Good, former No. 1 center Jonotthan Harrison and fifth-round rookie Joe Haeg at right guard. With Jerrell Freeman having departed as a free agent, Nate Irving and Sio Moore will fight for starting ILB duties next to D’Qwell Jackson. Irving (14) and Moore (22) have a combined 36 NFL starts between them.
- The Colts don’t have a clear long-term solution at running back, where 33-year-old starter Frank Gore is ancient for a rusher and coming off the worst season of his decorated 11-year career. But the club is bullish on undrafted rookie Josh Ferguson, writes Mike Chappell of CBS4. “He’s very, very athletic,’’ head coach Chuck Pagano said of the ex-Illinois back. “He’s a great receiver out of the backfield. We can split him wide. We can displace him formationally. He’s a mismatch out in space. He’s got juice. He can go. He’s got great vision. Just not a third-down back, but he’s a good runner.” Offered owner Jim Irsay, “We think guys like Josh Ferguson have a chance to be special. Time will tell.’’ Notably, draft guru Dave-Te Thomas, who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades, lavished praise on Ferguson when assessing the Colts’ rookie class for PFR earlier this month.
- The Colts have signed free agent fullback/tight end Emil Igwenagu, tweets Adam Caplan of ESPN.com. To clear room for Igwenagu, they’ve waived quarterback Josh Woodrum, per Mike Chappell of FOX59 (Twitter link). Igwenagu signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent from Temple in 2012 and appeared in three games that year. That’s his only NFL action to date, though he remained with the Eagles organization in 2013 and then caught on with the Lions’ practice squad in 2014. Woodrum became a Colt after they claimed him off waivers from the Giants in May. The UDFA from Liberty signed with Big Blue just a few days earlier.
- Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are among the NFL assistants who could be candidates for head coaching jobs next offseason, Mike Sando of ESPN.com writes (Insider subscription required). Both play-callers have been interviewed for a number of gigs in the past, but despite both having success at various stops, neither has ever been hired for a head job. Other options who could expect phone calls next year are the Colts‘ Rob Chudzinski, the Buccaneers‘ Mike Smith, and the Vikings‘ George Edwards, per Sando.
The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?
To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.
Now, we continue PFR’s Impact Rookie series with his insight on the Indianapolis Colts’ draft class:
One can argue that head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson are like oil and vinegar, as they just don’t seem to mix. Now, with both having their jobs on the line, they hope they can find the right ingredients for the team’s salad before both are tossed by ownership. Grigson does not have a great track record to survive another draft disaster, but outside of his first two choices in the 2016 draft, the other six selections will have a fight on their hands to secure roster spots.
Since taking over as general manager in January 2012, Grigson has overseen the draft with less than stellar results. Not counting his cache in 2016, he’s drafted 26 players from the 2012-15 phases. Based on his current roster, seven of those choices have earned starting jobs for the Colts. Four others precariously hang on to reserve roles, while eighteen others are no longer with the team, including a slew of them no longer in the league. Now, Grigson hopes he can stem the tide from those draft day disasters that also include 2013 first round selection Bjoern Werner.
Grigson’s first-ever draft selection was a no-brainer, taking franchise quarterback Andrew Luck with the top pick in 2012. However, Luck has been constantly harassed in the pocket while playing behind what is unanimously considered the worst offensive line in pro football last year. To protect their quarterback, the team pulled out a page from Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown’s mantra for building a team – start with a franchise-type center and build your line around him.
First Round – Ryan Kelly, C (Alabama, No. 18)
Luck looked like the Titanic – a total wreck – just seven games into the 2015 season. That was all the games the franchise QB would appear in, as five others tried their hand at quarterback after Luck was lost for the rest of the season. The former Stanford product produced his worst pro season ever, as he completed just 55.3% of his passes and had almost as many interceptions (12) as touchdown tosses (15).
The offensive line allowed 35 sacks last year. Luck was hit an incredible 121 times after getting rid of the ball and the running corps remained dormant, averaging 3.6 yards per attempt while reaching the end zone just six times. On top of it, those ball carriers coughed up the sphere nineteen times, resulting in eleven recoveries by the opposition.
Something needed to change in the trenches – enter Ryan Kelly, perhaps the “toughest hombre” to play in the pivot since the heydays of the Bears’ Olin Kreutz. With multiple national title rings on his fingers, Kelly brings that instant nastiness to the line that has been missing since Jeff Saturday was snapping the ball to Peyton Manning.
In the Colts’ zone blocking scheme, the center needs to be athletic enough to work down the line, along with having the agility to block in the second level. Against 3-4 defensive alignments, they are also required to have that strong anchor, in order to stall the two-gap charge from the nose guards. In most cases, size does not matter –intelligence, strength and balance are more important. Field smarts are needed to immediately identify the defense’s pressure packages.
Strength is needed, in order to stall the bull rush and help in widening the rush lanes. Quick feet and fluid retreat skills are required, as it is often the center that has to drop back and protect the pocket in passing situations. A long reach, firm anchor and great balance are important for the center, as he is usually asked to work in combination with his guards getting out in front on traps and pulls. These are all the traits that Kelly brings to the table, giving the team an immediate upgrade from former starter, Khaled Holmes.
Kelly might also have some “new friends” on the offensive line, as third round pick, Le’Raven Clark, will serve as an understudy behind Anthony Castonzo at left tackle. Five round choice, Joseph Haeg, shifts to right tackle, where he could mount a challenge for Denzelle Good’s precarious hold on the starting job. Toss in seventh round center/guard Austin Blythe for good measure, as there are no other back-ups to Kelly at center on the roster.
While some Colts players are surely anticipating their trip to London this season, it’s just more of the same for running back Frank Gore. The 33-year-old will be making his third career appearance at Wembley Stadium, and he compiled 189 rushing yards and three touchdowns in his previous two games.
The veteran told Kevin Bowen of Colts.com of his first trip to London in 2010. While the player was in an unfamiliar setting, it didn’t take long for him to feel at home.
“I saw people wearing my jersey and I was surprised by that,” he said. “I don’t know how they pick what team they want to cheer for but they are into it.”
Winston Guy (then with the Jaguars) played in London in 2013, and the veteran safety distinctly remembers the energy of the fans.
“It felt like a Super Bowl,” he said. “They didn’t care who won. They were just excited…It’s different, especially for guys that have never been across the world. Definitely a good week of experience.”
Let’s check out some more notes out of Indianapolis…
- LSU running back Leonard Fournette would be an excellent fit for the Colts in next year’s draft, writes Bowen. The team has a need for a young running back, and the Colts’ depth may take a hit if Gore decides to retire. Of course, Bowen also notes that the organization shouldn’t be reaching for Fournette at the top of the first round.
- Bowen can’t envision the Colts pursuing former Lions linebacker Stephen Tulloch. General manager Ryan Grigson recently said that the team probably wouldn’t be adding more veteran talent, and the organization is also looking to make their defense younger. Considering the presence of Nate Irving and Sio Moore, signing Tulloch may not be the best use of the Colts limited cap space. The 31-year-old was released by the Lions earlier this week.
- If the Colts end up seeking additional depth at other positions, Mike Chappell of Fox59 in Indy believes that receivers Brian Tyms or Josh Boyce could be out of a job.
- After two years on the practice squad, it’s time for tight end Erik Swoope to make the active roster, writes Chappell. If the 24-year-old doesn’t prove that he’s worthy of the spot, rookie Darion Griswold could see himself sliding in behind Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle.