With the Los Angeles Rams recently releasing inside linebacker James Laurinaitis, it begs the question of whether the Indianapolis Colts could potentially be a suitor.
Originally a 2nd round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2009, the 7-year inside linebacker has been incredibly durable anchoring the middle of the Rams defense:
The former Ohio State Buckeyes standout is coming off a season in which he started all 16 games for the Rams defense, recording 109 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, and an interception.
However, due a $6.425 cap hit in 2016, the ex-Ram was recently released and sent packing for other pastures.
While the Colts primary focus should be on re-signing their own free agent inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman, it’s worth at least analyzing whether Laurinaitis could be an adequate fallback plan–should Freeman’s price-tag exceed the Colts offer ability.
The safe answer is no.
There’s no question that Laurinaitis is a fan favorite, a modern day NFL iron man, and has one of the cooler family sports backgrounds around–his father is professional wrestler “Road Warrior Animal” in the Legion of Doom for crying out loud.
However, from purely a football perspective, Laurinaitis hasn’t been all that effective in recent seasons.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription), Laurinaitis received a -37.6 grade overall at inside linebacker, which was the 59th worst among 60 qualifiers this past season. Specifically, his -30.7 grade against the run was the worst at his position.
When comparing that to Freeman, who had a +21.4 grade overall (2nd best), as well as a +16.2 grade against the run (again 2nd best), and it’s easy to see that the Colts need to do everything in their reasonable power to ensure that Freeman remains with the team going forward.
Even D’Qwell Jackson, who rarely is shined in a positive light by Pro Football Focus, received a -14.5 grade overall–which means it’s safe to say that Laurinaitis had his fair share of struggles last season.
Still, it’s not as though Laurinaitis had simply a down season, as he received a -9.6 grade overall by Pro Football Focus just a season earlier (although he was clearly considerably worse this past season).
That being said, the 29 year old Laurinaitis is a throwback football player and should latch on somewhere at starting inside linebacker again–likely at a reduced cap number.
However, the Colts would be better off simply re-signing Freeman than rolling the dice on Laurinaitis, given the difference in their respective play this past season. With fellow starter Jackson and even primary backup Nate Irving already in the fold, it makes even less sense from a football standpoint.