The Indianapolis Colts have a number holes to address this offseason, particularly on the defensive side of the football. The defense lacks dynamic playmakers on the 2nd and 3rd levels of its defense. With pass rushing always being held at a premium in today’s NFL, the Colts could pursue one of the best ones in this year’s free agent market in the New York Giants Jason Pierre-Paul.
Oct 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) during warm ups before a game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles defeated the Giants 27-0. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Because he hit the NFL running, it’s hard to believe that Pierre-Paul is still only 26 years old. As a former 2010 1st round pick of the New York Giants out of South Florida, Pierre-Paul has been among the best pass rushers in the NFL. It’s baffling that he only had one season of major collegiate football as a junior at South Florida before being drafted. Already a 1x First-Team All-Pro and 2x Pro Bowler, Pierre-Paul played a big hand in the Giants winning Super Bowl XLVI against the New England Patriots in the 2011 season.
The success has continued, as the 5-year veteran is coming off a season in which he had 12.5 sacks, to go along with 77 tackles and 3 forced fumbles in 16 starts. At 6’5, 278 pounds, Pierre-Paul is one of the more truly physically gifted pass rushers in football with his rare blend of speed, strength, and athleticism.
The Indianapolis Colts could use another impact pass rusher as well. While the team will be getting All-Pro pass rusher Robert Mathis back, he’s coming off a 4-game PED suspension and season-ending torn achilles injury. At age 33, it’s highly uncertain whether he’ll be able to make a full recovery and be the dominating force he was in 2013, when he had 19.5 sacks.
Outside of Mathis, the Colts do have emerging young pass rusher Jonathan Newsome. As a rookie 5th round pick out of Ball State, Newsome shined as a rooke with a team-high 6.5 sacks this past season. Still, the team lacks much pass rush outside of Mathis and Newsome. While starting outside linebacker Erik Walden surprised with 6.0 sacks, he’s not really a natural pass rusher and any pass rushing production the defense obtains from him is more of a bonus. He’s largely utilized to “set the edge” and play against the run.
Sep 22, 2013; Charlotte, NC, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) on the sidelines. The Carolina Panthers defeated the New York Giants 38-0 at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
I’ve never heard of a defensive coordinator complain that, “They have too many pass rushers.” In a passing league that is today’s NFL, as mentioned, a defense can never get enough of them. Pierre-Paul would give the Colts 3 formidable pass rushers to pair with both Mathis and Newsome going forward.
The 26-year old is a dynamic pass rusher and overall defensive player. According to ProFootballFocus (subscription), Pierre-Paul was the 7th best 4-3 defensive end with a +16.9 overall grade. His pass rushing grade of +5.6 at 15th overall was just one spot behind former Indianapolis Colts pass rusher, now Buffalo Bill Jerry Hughes. Additionally, Pierre-Paul was 8th overall in QB hurries too with 38 hurries on the season.
However, that also leads me to a handful of potential issues with Pierre-Paul. He’s always been predominantly a 4-3 defensive end with the New York Giants. While in theory, he possesses the rare unique athleticism that should be able to translate to a 3-4 “stand-up” pass rushing starting outside linebacker with the Colts, nothing is for certain.
As the aforementioned Jerry Hughes showed with Indianapolis when he struggled as a 3-4 outside linebacker as the Colts 2010 1st round pick, only to find success later with the Buffalo Bills as a “hand-down” 4-3 defensive end, exceptional athleticism doesn’t always translate effectively. It should make the transition easier for Pierre-Paul in theory, but it’s not a given that he’ll be able to successfully make the conversion all together.
Dec 14, 2014; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) hits Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III (10) as he passes the ball during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
It’s also a bit troubling with Pierre-Paul to see his inconsistent sack totals. In 2013, he played with a herniated disc and only played in 11 games, recording just 2.0 sacks. The season before in 2012 was solid, but unspectacular for him too as Pierre-Paul had 6.5 sacks in 16 starts.
While this season’s 12.5 sacks were impressive, it’s worth noting that 9 of those came in the final 5 games of the season. It raises questions of whether Pierre-Paul’s pass rushing motor is always constantly running.
Still, Pierre-Paul is only 26 years old and possesses tremendous athleticism off the edge with a proven track record of success. There are some questions with his ability to successfully convert to a 3-4 outside linebacker and consistency in his sack production; however, pass rushers are always held at a premium. When a team can find a talented young one, more often than not, they’d be wise to jump at the opportunity.
As a productive pass rusher in his football prime, Jason Pierre-Paul figures to be paid as one of the highest paid pass rushers in the NFL on a lucrative long-term contract. He’s projected to make anywhere from $9-12 million annually.
The good news is that if the Colts want him, Pierre-Paul has a strong possibility of hitting the open market as the Giants are unlikely to use the $15 million franchise tag on him. Still, the Colts will have to “pony up” the cash accordingly to obtain Pierre-Paul’s pass rushing services, which would eat a significant chunk of their projected $25-40 million of cap space this offseason: