The Indianapolis Colts have a number of free agents they’d like to re-sign, but none is more important than linebacker Jerrell Freeman according to one report.
The Colts have all kinds of holes across their roster heading into the 2016 season. They are going to have some tough decisions to make on which players to re-sign this offseason. One move the Colts should make is re-signing Jerrell Freeman, at least according to Ben Stockwell at Pro Football Focus.
Here’s what he had to say about Freeman:
"A contract year boom is always a concern, but the Colts must do what they can to bring Jerrell Freeman back in 2016. Already 30 years old after arriving via the CFL, Freeman is sure to look to maximize his contract value, but his performance in coverage ever since he joined the Colts in 2012 is a precious commodity in today’s NFL. Freeman’s exceptional run defense was out of character in comparison to prior seasons, but his solid play in coverage has been the bare minimum of his play over the last four years. In a league that is ever more predicated on the passing game, a linebacker who can cover like Freeman is a player that you cannot allow to walk out the door to a rival team."
PFF has been high on Freeman all season long. He came in fifth in their Most Improved Player awards and Freeman was by far the highest graded defender on the roster. PFF had him with a 90.6 (out of 100) which put him fourth among all linebackers in the NFL.
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Putting Freeman in the same company as a player like Luke Kuechly is tough to do, but it is undeniable that he had a very good season. The problem is going to be whether or not the Colts can work out a favorable deal with Freeman.
If Freeman is allowed to walk, the Colts are left with just D’Qwell Jackson who is really only effective on run plays and simply can’t cover. Freeman is far and away the team’s best cover linebacker, and that means he can play all three downs. Considering Jackson finished with a 55.9 overall grade from PFF (ranking him 62nd among linebackers), can the Colts even consider letting Freeman walk?
It would honestly be more worthwhile for the Colts to cut Jackson if it means retaining Freeman. This could end up being a bit of addition by subtraction as well. The likelihood of the Colts cutting Jackson seems low as it feels like coach Chuck Pagano is in love with this sort of outdated linebacker.
As mentioned by Stockwell, one knock against Freeman is his age as he’ll be 30 by the start of next season. He isn’t an old man by any means, but this is likely to be the only “big” contract he gets in the NFL and there’s a chance (especially with Drew Rosenhaus as his agent) that he is going to try and squeeze every penny out of whatever team he signs with.
There doesn’t seem to be much national recognition for Freeman, however, and it is doubtful most would view him as a great or even very good linebacker. He might mean much more to the Colts than any other team.
Regardless of whether or not the Colts re-sign Freeman, middle linebacker is a position the they are going to want to consider looking at in the draft. The Colts have some depth at the position, but far too many of the players are in the same mold as Jackson. Nate Irving (who has health concerns) and Josh McNary are good against the run and not much else.
The Colts might like this type of linebacker, but they’re not nearly as effective in the modern NFL. One of the biggest defensive flaws last season was the middle of the field generally against tight ends, running backs, or crossing receivers. Getting better in coverage at this position is crucial, but it will take a big hit if Freeman is allowed to walk.