The Indianapolis Colts have gone from juggernauts in the lowly AFC South to a team that has missed the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. All this despite having Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck at quarterback for the past two decades. How has it happened? With poor drafting, bad decisions in free agency and the refusal to fire Ryan Grigson.
Well, Jim Irsay finally pulled the plug on Grigson and it’s now time for Chris Ballard to make necessary changes to the roster. The Colts have more than $60 million in cap space this offseason, and they need to use it to add playmakers on defense. With the free-agency class a bit top-heavy, the Colts will have to go after some of the big-name players if they want to add difference-makers.
Here are five players they should target when free agency begins on March 9.
OLB Erik Walden (Colts)
Walden is the biggest of the Colts’ free agents, establishing himself as the team’s best pass rusher in 2016. If the team doesn’t re-sign him, it’s essentially conceding that the first pick of their draft class will be a pass rusher. Walden had a breakout season in 2016 with 11 sacks after his previous career high was just six. Does that mean he’ll fall off in 2017 or continue his newfound production? No one can be sure, but the Colts should make a guarded bet that he’ll put up double-digit sack numbers again next season.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
CB Prince Amukamara (Jaguars)
The Colts’ secondary is not exactly littered with talent, but with the draft class being so deep at cornerback, Indianapolis probably doesn’t have to spend top dollar on one. Amukamara would fall into that second tier of players after putting together a solid season for the Jaguars. He would give the Colts a nice secondary option next to Vontae Davis as well as a potential rookie draft pick. Amukamara showed flashes of being a consistent No. 2 cornerback when healthy, which is exactly what the Colts need. He’d be a budgetary option if new GM Chris Ballard opts to go the lucrative route at a position like outside linebacker.
DT Dontari Poe (Chiefs)
New general manager Chris Ballard came over from the Chiefs, and he could try to bring one of KC’s prized free agents with him. Poe is a good fit in Indianapolis’ 3-4 defense despite being a shell of the player he was as a rookie. He’s still among the 10 best nose tackles in football, which will cause him to be paid fairly well in free agency. Defensive tackle isn’t the Colts’ top priority this offseason, but they could certainly use a run-stopping nose in the middle of their defensive line.
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DE Jabaal Sheard (Patriots)
Sheard saw his playing time fall off a cliff in the second half of the season, having his snap count greatly reduced in New England. In Indianapolis, Sheard can play defensive end and thrive in that role. He has the size and power to hold up against the run while also providing some pass-rushing ability with one hand in the dirt. Sheard won’t be one of the most expensive defensive linemen on the market, but he’s still just 27 years old. He’d be a good addition for the Colts, who need some help up front.
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OLB Melvin Ingram (Chargers)
The No. 1 target for the Colts this offseason should be Ingram. He’s a budding star at outside linebacker, possessing all the traits you want in a pass rusher: speed, bend, explosiveness, power. Although he’s not quite Von Miller, he can have a similar impact for a team like the Colts. If he somehow gets away from the Chargers, the Colts and their ample amount of cap space have to go all in for him. They had one consistent pass rusher in 2016 and that was Erik Walden, who also happens to be a free agent. The Colts are desperate for a defensive playmaker.