Back in January, Trent Cole hinted on Instagram that he would continue playing in 2017. Roughly six weeks later, we’re getting some mixed messages. Cole told SiriusXM (Twitter link) that he will retire if he is not offered enough money on his next deal. However, he took to Twitter minutes later to say “no retirement happening here.”
The Colts linebacker is scheduled to hit free agency this March. For many years, Cole was a starter for the Eagles, but he has been slowed somewhat by injuries and age since joining Indianapolis. In seven games last year, Cole amassed 17 tackles and two sacks. In the year prior, he totaled 32 tackles and three sacks. His Pro Football Focus scores have been in the 70s over the last two years, framing him as a slightly above-average linebacker rather than the force that he was in his Philly prime.
Cole, 35 in October, has two Pro Bowl nods and eight playoff appearances on his resume.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- While Colts general manager Chris Ballard would prefer to build his team through the draft, Mike Chappell of CBS4Indy.com believes the front office may need to pursue some veteran free agents to help shore up their defense. The Colts ranked toward the bottom of the league in multiple defensive statistics, and the organization is staring at more than $55MM in cap space. Chappell cites the success of the previous regime, as several buy-low free agents ultimately helped the team.
- Although Chris Ballard left Kansas City to become the Colts‘ new general manager, Chiefs GM John Dorsey doesn’t expect Ballard to poach any KC staffers “right now,” tweets Terez A. Paylor of the Kansas City Star. Typically, an executive will try to bring at least a few low-level front office employees along to a new job, but it sounds like Ballard will be starting from scratch, and rolling with the incumbent Indianapolis staff for the time being.
In advance of March 9, the start of free agency in the NFL, Pro Football Rumors will detail each team’s three most glaring roster issues. We’ll continue this year’s series with the Indianapolis Colts, who have now followed up three straight playoff seasons with back-to-back 8-8 slates. The Colts fired GM Ryan Grigson and hired Chris Ballard, and Jim Irsay will retain Chuck Pagano. But Indianapolis must address some on-the-field needs as well.
Pending Free Agents:
- Mike Adams, S
- Quan Bray, WR (ERFA)
- Darius Butler, CB
- Chris Carter, LB
- Trent Cole, LB
- Jack Doyle, TE
- Jonotthan Harrison, C (RFA)
- Zach Kerr, DE (RFA)
- Josh McNary, LB
- Erik Swoope, TE (RFA)
- Hugh Thornton, G
- Jordan Todman, RB
- Robert Turbin, RB
- Erik Walden, LB
Top Cap Hits for 2017:
- Andrew Luck, QB: $19,400,000
- Anthony Castonzo, T: $12,800,000
- Vontae Davis, CB: $10,250,000
- T.Y. Hilton, WR: $10,000,000
- Arthur Jones, DE: $7,350,000
- Dwayne Allen, TE: $5,937,500
- Patrick Robinson, CB: $4,500,000
- Kendall Langford, DE: $4.250,000
- Frank Gore, RB: $3,500,000
- Adam Vinatieri, K: $2,750,000
- Projected cap space (via OverTheCap): $55,371,812
- Fourteenth or 15th pick in draft (will be determined by coin flip between Colts and Eagles)
1.) Locate linebackers: Both parts of the Colts’ linebacking corps need help, now even more so after Thursday’s D’Qwell Jackson release leaves the team without much at any of the spots on the second level. But the pass-rushing stable is hurting the most. Robert Mathis‘ retirement signals the end of a special era for Indianapolis pass-rushers, with both he and Dwight Freeney ranking as two of the best players in franchise history. Almost every relevant pass-rusher on last year’s roster either plans to retire or will be a free agent. The Colts finished as a middle-of-the-pack team with 33 sacks last season (19th), but more than half of those came from players no longer attached to the roster. Erik Walden registered a team-high 11 despite recording 12 in his three prior Colts campaigns, and entering his age-32 season, his best football could well be behind him.
The franchise hired Chris Ballard, who’s respected for his draft acumen, having helped the Bears and Chiefs land many gems. He’ll be tasked with making this crucial repair. The potential exodus here is somewhat staggering given what the Colts have on their roster.
The Colts do not have an outside pass-rusher on their roster who recorded a sack in 2016. Entering free agency, Indianapolis employs Akeem Ayers and a host of UDFAs. The Ryan Grigson-era Colts were not shy about throwing money around in March, and the John Dorsey-led Chiefs haven’t been either. Although, the Chiefs’ buys have benefited the team more. The Colts need outside help here. Walden could be retained, but that’s a risky proposition after he nearly doubled his single-season sack best in a contract year. As for the UFA market, there are options. It’s unclear, however, if the impact players will make it to the market.
Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram headline this class of 3-4 pass-rushers, while Jason Pierre-Paul and Nick Perry profile as other high-end performers. The Cardinals are reportedly willing to apply the franchise tag (projected at $14.754MM for linebackers) to keep Jones after his third double-digit-sack season. PFR’s No. 2 overall free agent, Jones joins Calais Campbell and Tony Jefferson as Arizona UFAs, so the Cardinals have some tough decisions to make. The former Patriot will likely be the Cards’ top priority.
Not much has surfaced on Ingram’s status in Los Angeles, but he’s the Chargers’ top outside rusher and is now free of his five-year rookie contract. The Bolts are also moving to a 4-3 set under Gus Bradley, potentially leaving Ingram without a natural position. That’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but Ingram could be a more realistic target for the Colts as a result of that philosophical change. Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap notes Ingram could ask for Ryan Kerrigan money (five years, $57.5MM) but could also be franchised and placed at defensive end in Bradley’s 4-3.
Pierre-Paul wants to match or top Olivier Vernon‘s contract. He’s a tougher sell due to the injury history, position change, and the demands he’s making. Perry has played exclusively in the Packers’ 3-4 and would be an obvious fit. He’s a similar contract-year story to Walden, recording 11 sacks last year after a nondescript statistical history previously, but he differs in being set for just his age-27 season in 2017. Perry did not receive abundant interest as a UFA last year but will after his 2016 emergence. The Packers like to retain their own but have talents like Jared Cook and T.J. Lang residing as impending UFAs as well, complicating their equation.
Venturing off the top tier, the Colts could target DeMarcus Ware or Julius Peppers on a short-term deal, but having employed three 30-somethings outside in ’16, Indy could be in the market for a reboot. That said, the Colts are a perennial contender in the AFC South because of Andrew Luck, so veterans can’t be considered off the table. Another 30-something who would be interesting is Lorenzo Alexander, a strange belated breakout who surpassed his previous career sack total last season, accruing 12.5 for the Bills. Expressing a desire to test the waters in what could be his only chance for a reasonable NFL payday, Alexander will be 34 in May. He qualifies as a short-term answer as a result. As for younger talent, Jabaal Sheard, Alex Okafor (eight sacks in 2014, but two biceps tears in his career) and suspension risk Armonty Bryant stand as cheaper choices than the edge players who run the risk of being tagged. Regardless, the Colts will need to address this position via veterans or rookies.
Since choosing Freeney in 2002, the Colts have not had much luck identifying pass-rushers in the first round. Jerry Hughes (2010) did not blossom in Indianapolis, and Bjoern Werner (2013) has already retired. ESPN.com’s Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider link) has the Colts selecting UCLA outside linebacker Takkarist McKinley, who recorded 18 tackles for loss and 10 sacks last season. The Colts are not going to be able to select Myles Garrett without a major trade, and the likes of Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and Derek Barnett (Tennessee) are viewed as top-12 picks, per Chad Reuter of NFL.com. Todd McShay of ESPN.com has Michigan’s Taco Charleton (10 sacks in ’16) in that realm as well, viewing the ex-Wolverines edge man as an option for a 4-3 or 3-4 team. The Colts are likely to have edge-rushing options picking 14th or 15th, but it may come down to choosing whichever one of these talents remains on the board by the time they pick.
Their need at inside linebacker isn’t as glaring, if only because this position does not require the same kind of investment to upgrade. But Jackson’s release, following an inconsistent tenure and some off-the-field trouble, leaves the team without much experience. Cutting the 33-year-old veteran saves more than $5.5MM, helping the team potentially pursue younger free agents. But beyond Jackson and aside from safety/hybrid ‘backer Clayton Geathers, Indianapolis houses a fourth-round pick and UDFA — each possessing one year of NFL seasoning.
In their initial full-season stays in Indiana, Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison excelled in disparate fashion, according to Pro Football Focus. While neither linebacker graded particularly well, Edwin Jackson showed promise in coverage while Morrison fared better as a run defender. These two now representing the Colts’ top inside incumbents, each will be given another chance to make an impact.
Without much money tied up in the linebacker position (as of now), the Colts could target a free agent as they did D’Qwell Jackson. The likes of Lawrence Timmons, Zach Brown, Kevin Minter and Perry Riley stand to be available as UFAs. Dont’a Hightower is no lock to be franchised given the Patriots’ ways of operation, but he will cost eight figures per year. That’s not the best way to allocate funds at linebacker if no pass-rushing threats are on the roster. So, this could be an auxiliary need that could see more attention in April than March. The Colts’ first-round window doesn’t lend itself to inside-linebacking help, at least not the way this draft class breaks down so far, but by the time Round 2 rolls around, Indianapolis could be in the market for help here. That is, if the Colts don’t see a running back they covet.
Jackson, 33, has been with the Colts for the last three seasons. He joined the team on a four-year, $22MM contract with the expectation that he would anchor the team’s linebacking core. After a Pro Bowl season in 2014, Jackson started showed signs of decline and his off-the-field missteps haven’t helped matters. In March of last year, he was found guilty of simple assault, stemming from a February 2015 altercation with a delivery driver. Then, in December, he was handed a four-game ban for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs.
The advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus have Jackson ranked as just the 80th best linebacker in the league out of 87 qualified players for 2016. By PFF’s numbers, Jackson has actually been playing below-average football for the last four seasons, with his last respectable season coming in 2012. In any case, the Colts are looking to go younger at linebacker and they were unwilling to pay Jackson a $500K roster bonus in March. Had they kept him, he would have carried a $5.75MM cap number for ’17.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
Could Robert Turbin be the Colts‘ running back of the future? If the team wants him to stay in the fold, they’ll have to sign the pending free agent to a new contract. Turbin, for his part, says he wants to return but he is also seeking “security” in his new deal, Zac Keefer of the Indy Star writes. In 2016, Turbin had seven rushing touchdowns off of just 47 carries, plus one receiving score. Frank Gore still projects as the Colts’ starter in 2017, but the team has to start thinking about a successor since his contract runs out after 2017 and he will turn 35 before the start of the ’18 campaign.
- New Colts GM Chris Ballard will use analytics in his decision making, Colts.com’s Kevin Bowen writes. In his 16 years in the game, Ballard has watched analytics evolve to a point where they must be taken in heavy consideration along with watching game film.
With the Super Bowl in the rear view mirror, the offseason is officially underway for all 32 teams. We now have the complete draft order for the entire first round, with one exception which is noted below.
The Patriots, of course, will have the honor of having the last pick. The Falcons, after losing in heartbreaking fashion, will have the penultimate selection in the first round.
T-14. Eagles (via the Vikings)
T-14. Colts (Note: The Vikings and Colts have identical records and the same strength of schedule. The tie will be broke by coin flip with the winner getting pick No. 14 and the other team getting the No. 15 pick.)
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- Pat McAfee‘s early retirement leaves the Colts without the NFL’s yards-per-punt leader in 2016. But the team could ask for $400K of the retired punter’s $1MM signing bonus he received as part of a five-year, $14.5MM contract, Mike Wells of ESPN.com notes. This would be somewhat interesting if they did go after that rather modest sum, considering, as Wells notes, the Seahawks didn’t pursue Marshawn Lynch‘s $5MM bonus when he retired last year. The Colts clear $2.8MM in cap space in 2017 and $2.7MM in ’18 because of McAfee’s retirement. The Colts haven’t placed McAfee on the reserve/retired list because the 29-year-old specialist hasn’t submitted retirement papers yet.