Having come over from the Kansas City Chiefs, there are many Indianapolis Colts fans now wondering whether new general manager Chris Ballard will look to bring two of his former players along with him–namely safety Eric Berry and nose tackle Dontari Poe, who are set to become free agents.
Both star defensive players were named in our ‘Way Too Early Top 5 Free Agents‘ for the Colts to consider earlier this offseason.
Armed with around $50M of cap space–including additional cap space available with the release of high-priced veterans such as Art Jones ($5.15M) and D’Qwell Jackson ($5.5M), the Colts could potentially be major players in this year’s upcoming free agency.
From the sound of things, Ballard’s Colts won’t be confused with the ‘New York Yankees’ anytime soon in free agency (nor should they be), as the new general manager alluded to his philosophy:
"“Now saying that, between street free agents, between waiver claims, we’ll get into free agency a little bit, but you can’t buy a locker room,” said Ballard during Monday’s introduction press conference. “You have to be very careful when you enter into free agency, but we’re going to try to acquire as many young players that we can to field a competitive roster.”"
At the same time; however, Ballard could potentially make a big strike or two in free agency with some of his former Chiefs players, Berry and Poe, being the targets.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Chiefs are projected to have only $4.1M of cap space. However, the team can save around $17M of cap space by releasing veteran backup quarterback Nick Foles ($10.75M) and running back Jamaal Charles ($6.18M)–the former which seems like a given.
That’s enough cap space to probably re-sign one of Berry and Poe, with the safe assumption being re-signing Berry if push comes to shove between its two young star defensive players.
Regarding the 28 year old safety, Berry finished this past season with 77 total tackles, a forced fumble, and 4 interceptions–making all 16 starts.
As a result of his once again exceptional play, the former 5th overall pick of the 2010 NFL Draft was named a 1st-Team All Pro (3rd time) and to the Pro Bowl (5th time) respectively.
Not to mention, Berry was the NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 2015, having successfully overcome Hodgkin’s Lymphoma–and already has a lifelong fan in Colts head coach Chuck Pagano because of it.
It’s not as though Berry simply lives off past reputation either, as per Pro Football Focus (subscription), he was rated as their 8th best safety overall with a +87.6 grade.
However, getting Berry out of Kansas City could be easier said than done (and it’s not just because of their world-class barbecue), as the 7-year veteran is the ‘heart and soul’ of the Chiefs vaunted defense and wants to re-sign with the only team he’s ever known.
Potentially working for the Colts, as well as other free agent suitors’ favor, is that Berry already played under the Chiefs franchise tag at $10.8M last season.
Meaning that if the Chiefs and Berry cannot work out a deal this offseason, Kansas City will be forced to apply the franchise tag which will effectively make him the league’s highest paid safety at $13M. Complicating matters further for Kansas City is that Berry says he won’t play in 2017 under the franchise tag–although he wants to remain with the Chiefs as mentioned.
It still likely means that Berry is a Chief for at least 2017, but applying the franchise tag for a third straight season after that may be impossible given Kansas City’s salary cap restraints soon thereafter–if a long-term deal cannot be reached.
Realistically, it means that Berry will not be a member of the Colts–at least not in 2017. However, it’s fun to dream about one of the best ballhawk safeties in the league re-energizing this Colts defense and finally providing a much-needed superstar again.
Giving the Colts a star presence at safety that the team has not seen since former Defensive Player of the Year Bob Sanders once infamously roamed sideline-to-sideline (although unheralded safety Antoine Bethea was also very good in his own right).
The Colts need to get more dynamic in their secondary by getting younger, faster, and more athletic–yet productive, and Berry provides all three as a superstar safety.
The more likely free agent signing for the Colts could be Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is a ‘monster in the middle’ for Kansas City’s defense at times.
Starting in all 16 games for the Chiefs last season, the 26 year old nose tackle recorded 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and a forced fumble–although basis stats aren’t a clear indicator of how productive a nose tackle really is, whose primary job is to draw a double team of blocks.
The 6’3″, 346 pound nose tackle would provide a much-needed interior presence and upgrade to incumbent starter David Parry–who’s much better suited long-term as a rotational defensive lineman:
"“Look, in this league you win upfront,” added Colts general manager Chris Ballard on Monday.“You win on the o-line, d-line, and if you’re not good upfront, it’s very difficult when you get into December football. December, January football.”"
It’s worth noting that nearly every historically great 3-4 defense, whether it be with the New England Patriots Vince Wilfork (or Ted Washington), San Diego Chargers Jamal Williams, or Pittsburgh Steelers Casey Hampton, have all had dominant nose tackles.
That being said, despite his massive size, surprising quickness, and agility, the 2x Pro Bowler doesn’t always play up to his immense physical potential on a consistent basis, so there’s some ‘buyer beware’ here (even if he can throw a mean touchdown pass).
Per Pro Football Focus, Poe received just a +59.8 grade overall this past season, which was only the 59th best among all ‘interior defenders’–including a +46.7 run defense grade.
Nevertheless, he’s just one year removed from earning a Top 12 run defense grade among all defensive tackles–meaning there’s some definite potential for dominance here.
However, if Poe wants to command a similar mega-contract to what New York Giants nose tackle Damon Harrison recently signed at 5-years, $46.5M last offseason, he may fall short because he simply hasn’t consistently brought it as a run-stuffer–which should be his calling card.
That begin said, still only 26 years old and as a former 2012 first round pick, my guess is that some NFL suitor will pay Poe more than his actual consistent production indicates because of his immense physical potential–flashing interior dominance at times.
Whether such a suitor will ultimately be the Colts remains to be seen, but the hiring of Ballard certainly adds speculation to the possibility of bringing either Poe or Berry to Indianapolis.