INDIANAPOLIS – One of the first orders of business for new head coach Shane Steichen, his new staff and Chris Ballard will be to analyze the roster and make internal free agent decisions.
Free agency is less than a month away (the first day of the new league year is March 15th).
The Colts have about 5-6 starters on their unrestricted free agent list.
Currently, the Colts are scheduled to have around $11.8 million in cap space for 2022, which ranks 13th in the NFL. That number can (will) fluctuate based off some cap savings moves.
Let’s rank the tiers of free agents by placing guys in the green (should look to bring back), yellow (could go either way) and red (no need to bring back):
Green (darker green to lighter green)
K-Chase McLaughlin (Age: 26): What a year for McLaughlin in going from not even on an NFL roster to start the season to now being (arguably) the Colts most important free agent. Not only was McLaughlin reliable in replacing Rodrigo Blankenship, but he gave the Colts an aspect they haven’t had in years—a kicker capable of making 50-yard plus field goals on a routine basis. McLaughlin didn’t miss an extra point (21-of-21) and was 30-of-36 on field goals, going 9-of-13 from longer than 50 yards. It doesn’t always look the prettiest with McLaughlin, but he needs to be the definite favorite to kick for Indy in 2023.
DE-Yannick Ngakoue (Age: 27): Production. Durability. Those are two items, especially the combination of them, the Colts have greatly missed from the defensive end position. Ngakoue gave the Colts a pretty high level of both. Ngakoue played the first 15 games of the season, missing the final 2 due to a throat injury. He also had 9.5 sacks. Again, those are rare numbers when you look at the Colts over the last decade. Were they the most impactful sacks/pressures? No. Would you like to see more consistency, especially in the second halves of games, from Ngakoue? Definitely. But for a position that lacks anything in the proven rushing commodity, bringing Ngakoue back is something to definitely explore, as the growth for Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo (not a natural defensive end rusher) continues. The return of Gus Bradley has to help Ngakoue’s chances of returning, giving their extensive history working together.
WR-Parris Campbell (Age: 25): It’s pretty impressive Campbell just put together the season he did to earn a spot so high on this list. But that’s what happens when your availability skyrockets to playing in every single game. Campbell played in all 17 games this past year, and produced at a nice level (63 catches for 623 yards and 3 touchdowns). While some long-term deal is probably not a must, the Colts should look into bringing Campbell back as the search to bolstering this wide receiver growth remains.
LB-E.J. Speed (Age: 27): It might surprise some that I have Speed in the ‘green’ category, whereas Bobby Okereke resides in the ‘yellow’ group. Much of that falls into the demand and contract each will garner on the open market. The Colts have a lot of money invested already at linebacker, in Shaquille Leonard and Zaire Franklin. Okereke is likely going to merit a starting level, multi-year deal. Teams might be a little bit more hesitant on that type of offer for Speed. But in his defensive snippets, Speed has shown more than a few flashes. He also just played the most special teams snaps of any Colt in 2022. Speed has some Leonard-type physical characteristics so bringing him back as a 3rd linebacker, a top special teamer and for insurance is something the Colts need to do.
S-Rodney McLeod (Age: 32): The Colts ended up relying heavily on McLeod in his first year with the team. McLeod started the final 15 games of the season, taking over for rookie Nick Cross. In his career, McLeod has started 138 games. He came to Indy on a one-year deal, but he was content with a potential reserve role, so that’s something to keep in mind as the Colts see what they have in younger safeties Julian Blackmon, Rodney Thomas II and Cross. One thing to keep in mind here, the only Colts player from 2022 with Eagles history from Shane Steichen is McLeod. Given his strong veteran presence, would this add anything to the intrigue in retaining him?
Yellow (darker yellow to lighter yellow)
LB-Bobby Okereke (Age: 26): If this list was picking out the ‘best Colts free agents,’ it’s possible Okereke would top the entire thing. He’s a good player and will continue to be a quality starting linebacker in this league. But when it comes to the finances, I don’t see how the Colts make it work with him. They have too much invested in Shaquille Leonard and Zaire Franklin. Now, if the Leonard back injury takes a sudden turn (which was not how Leonard was talking a few weeks ago), and the Colts magically come across some extra cap space, maybe you can squeeze Okereke in. But I think the market will be too tough to bring him back.
DL-Tyquan Lewis (Age: 28): When healthy, Lewis has been a useful and needed defensive line piece. But it’s the ‘when healthy’ part which continues to be an issue. For a second straight offseason, Lewis is rehabbing a torn patellar, this time in his opposite knee from last year’s season-ending injury. In Lewis’ 5 NFL seasons, he has missed 34 of a possible 82 games. He’s played double-digit games just once in his five years in the league. Still though, given Lewis’ versatility and consistency, giving him a super injury incentive one-year deal would make a lot of sense.
WR-Ashton Dulin (Age: 25): The Colts had some bigger expectations for Dulin as a receiver in 2022. But those never really matriculated. He caught 15 balls in 12 games. Dulin still means a lot to the special teams units, so his return is just fine if the thought is ‘core special teamer/potential 5th or 6th wideout.’
OL-Matt Pryor (Age: 28): Some might question why Pryor isn’t in the ‘red’ category, but hear me out. The 2021 version of Pryor was a nice reserve body, with the ability to play a few different spots. What if he can get back to that role, knowing that is the expectation, too? Pryor has more of an interior/guard body. Yet, the Colts wanted to try him at left tackle last year, so he re-tooled his body last offseason to try and make a drastic position change. It didn’t work. If Pryor is committed to getting back to his 2021-self this offseason (putting some more weight on it and training to play more at guard), he could still help the Colts out in the depth department.
Red (darker red to lighter red)
OT-Dennis Kelly (Age: 33): The Colts signed Kelly, a Purdue product, at the start of training camp as a veteran tackle body with 51 career starts. While the offensive line/left tackle was struggling mightily early in the season, the Colts waited a while before giving Kelly a chance. He finally started at left tackle in Weeks 7 and 8, but went back to the bench for rookie Bernhard Raimann after that. Outside of some emergency tackle, the Colts would be wise to explore other options behind Bernhard Raimann.
CB-Tony Brown (Age: 27): Brown’s only year with the Colts was spent mainly as a core special teamer. He played just 9 defensive snaps in 16 games. Typically, you can find guys like Brown as undrafted free agents or closer to training camp in trying to round out the cornerback group, with more of a special teams focus.
CB-Brandon Facyson (Age: 28): Where Gus Bradley ends up in 2023 will likely have some influence on Facyson’s future. All 5 NFL seasons for Facyson, spread across stops with the Chargers, Raiders and Colts, included playing for Bradley. With the Colts, Facyson played 16 games, making 4 starts and playing nearly half of the defensive snaps as the team’s third cornerback. Corner depth could use some attention this offseason, but moving on from Facyson would be just fine.
DE-Ben Banogu (Age: 27): Honestly, it’s a bit of a miracle Banogu played out his entire rookie contract. Banogu will go down as one of, if not the, worst draft picks in the Chris Ballard era (Round 2-49 in 2019). In Banogu’s final three seasons, he didn’t record a sack and had just 1 quarterback hit in 34 games. This marriage needs to end.
P-Matt Haack (Age: 28): After Rigoberto Sanchez’s torn Achilles, Haack gave the Colts about what you saw on the back of his baseball card. He finished 27th in punting average (44.6) and 24th in net punting average (40.6). It will be interesting to see if Sanchez is limited at all this offseason and if the Colts bring in another punter.
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