The league year for the 2017 NFL season began on March 9th. As teams have made big splashes in free agency, the Indianapolis Colts decided to change course. Compared to the last couple of seasons, the franchise refrained from signing some of the bigger names on the market. The roster that newly hired GM Chris Ballard inherited is far from championship contention, especially on defense.
Indianapolis Colts Free Agency Recap
Ballard has assured Colts fans that he will do his best to make smart decisions, however a quick-fix mentality is not his approach. When referring to free agency, Ballard has stated the goal of building and maintaining a positive locker room. “You can’t buy a locker room; that has to be developed over time.” [IndyStar] Ballard has kept his word so far.
— IndyStar Sports (@IndyStarSports) March 6, 2017
Some of the biggest decisions each offseason include which players to keep. The Colts have re-signed tight end Jack Doyle and running back Robert Turbin. The most notable of these is definitely Doyle, a hometown hero for the team, who led all NFL tight ends in reception percentage in 2016.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 10, 2017
Due to the breakout season of Doyle, plus the emergence of Erik Swoope as a capable downfield threat, the Colts ended up trading Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots. The money used to keep Doyle, coupled with a lack of production led to Allen being expendable. The Colts were able to shed Allen’s contract, while moving the 200th overall pick up to 137th overall. That pick could hold very good value, as just last year Dak Prescott and Devontae Booker were selected with the 135th and 136th respectively.
Retaining key depth is a goal for every GM in the NFL. Robert Turbin has proven to be a capable backup to starter Frank Gore. He led the team with seven rushing touchdowns in 2016, while adding another touchdown through the air. His eight total touchdowns tied Gore for the team lead, therefore signing for two years at $4.1 million seems to be a great value.
Defensive back Darius Butler is also in the plans for the Colts moving forward. Butler played well in 2016, and is wanting to switch to safety to prolong his career. The veteran corner will be 31 entering the upcoming season. His leadership will be an integral piece towards creating a “winning” atmosphere in the locker room.
Darius Butler re-signs with Colts https://t.co/heX156HnJY
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) March 17, 2017
“Hit the Road Jack!”
Ballard has not been shy when deciding how to shed the roster. His first notable cut before the free agency period was D’Qwell Jackson, an aging middle linebacker. Releasing Jackson was a sign of things to come. Acquiring youth is a huge team need, and Ballard will commit to the task. Weekly starters from the 2016 season that were set free include: Mike Adams, Trent Cole, Erik Walden, and Patrick Robinson. The most notable player that Ballard let walk is Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams. It is hard to argue with the new GM’s decision, as Adams will be 36 years old before the upcoming season starts. He did have a great impact during his tenure with the Colts, and he feels his play will not regress.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) March 10, 2017
Erik Walden did have a career year in 2016, but Ballard needs to shape the roster for the long haul. This philosophy includes correcting the mistakes the prior GM, Ryan Grigson, burdened the roster with; overpriced, patchwork players.
Welcome to the Shoe
The addition of free agent players is a crucial step towards fixing roster shortcomings. Some free agent signings bring teams closer to glory, while other signings do not perform as expected. Recent history for the Colts reveals more of the latter, as the team has regressed since their 2014 AFC Championship game appearance.
The free agent signings so far for the 2017 season suggest that GM Ballard will not overpay for mediocre or overrated talent. It also shows a commitment to developing players through the draft. Free agent signings for the Colts, as of this article include: linebackers Barkevious Mingo and John Simon, defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt, punter Jeff Locke, offensive lineman Brian Schwenke, and defensive tackle Al Woods.
The best player of this bunch would appear to be Jabaal Sheard, who outperformed the elite Chandler Jones as a member of the Patriots in 2015. Sheard is a solid edge defender, although he did lose his starting gig for the Patriots at the end of last season. John Simon is viewed by many as a player on the rise, so getting him and Sheard without a large financial commitment is a seemingly nice move.
The One that Got Away?
Leading up to the biggest names of the free agent carousel getting deals, social media was ripe with hype. There were rumors of the Colts targeting players such as Alshon Jeffery, Dont’a Hightower, and Dontari Poe.
Jeffrey went to the Eagles (thank goodness), and Hightower re-signed with the Super Bowl champion Patriots (no surprise).
Ballard’s roots with the Kansas City Chiefs added more weight to the potential of signing Poe. The defensive tackle visited with numerous teams, eventually deciding to join the Atlanta Falcons on a one-year deal. The Colts reportedly offered Poe a lucrative long-term deal.
There were talks including something in neighborhood of 5-yr deal worth up to $60M. Not only option. 1-year was discussed too, per source. https://t.co/ZjyllnvrJZ
Stats do not always tell the story for interior defensive lineman, however Dontari’s numbers have regressed for three seasons in a row. Colts fans should not worry too much, as the new GM has shown a willingness to be patient. The team will try to use newly acquired Al Woods as a stopgap, while possibly drafting a defensive tackle or signing another in free agency. The move also will make it easier to part with David Parry if need be, who has had a recent run-in with the law.
There’s Still Time
With Dontari Poe set to join the Falcons, the potential cap space set aside for him is available to recruit other impact players. The needs on the defensive side of the ball are still apparent. Gore will be 34 this season, and the “heir apparent” is currently not on the roster. Protecting Andrew Luck will always be a crucial factor when filling out the roster. Chris Ballard is molding this team with an eye on the future. Fans of the Colts need to be patient. The upcoming NFL draft will be a key indicator regarding the trajectory of the team.