"1. Get Arthur Jones to take a pay cut. New general manager Chris Ballard has $60 million in cap space to work with, so he doesn’t necessarily need to be spendthrift, but Jones has been a disaster since coming over from the Ravens, due to injuries and suspensions. He’s unlikely to stick on his current $7.4 million cap hit, so the Colts will probably either ask him to take a pay cut or release the former Ravens standout outright.2. Fix the right side of the offensive line. Keeping Andrew Luck safe is job No. 1 for Ballard, after the deposed Ryan Grigson repeatedly struck out in doing so. The Colts are locked into the trio of Anthony Castonzo, Jack Mewhort and Ryan Kelly, and while Castonzo hasn’t been an upper-echelon left tackle, moving him to a position he hasn’t played as a pro in right tackle is probably just going to make things more difficult.Ballard can’t go into Week 1 with Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg on the right side of the line. He could very well use his first-round pick on a tackle, while heading into free agency for somebody such as Larry Warford or Kevin Zeitler to play right guard. Luck’s ability and desire to extend plays means he’ll always take more hits than most quarterbacks, but teams can’t be allowed to tee off on Indy’s franchise quarterback any longer.3. Find a top pass-rusher. Easier said than done, but the Colts are totally bereft on the edge. Erik Walden had a career year with an 11-sack campaign, but he’s a free agent and turns 32 before the season. Robert Mathis, the only other player on the team who topped three sacks, retired. Trent Cole is on his way out. Akeem Ayers is a free agent. Outside linebacker is a gaping hole.Indy could re-sign Walden, but given the former Packers player had 12 sacks across his first three seasons before picking up those 11 sacks last season, the Colts can’t rely on him to be their primary pass-rusher. They will probably need to head into free agency and pay full freight for one of the edge rushers hitting the market. If the Cardinals and Chargers franchise Chandler Jones and Melvin Ingram, respectively, that market is going to be quite thin. Indy might have to be the team that takes a risk on paying Jason Pierre-Paul or Nick Perry, if only because they don’t really have another clear path toward an upgrade.4. Find a long-term solution at running back. Frank Gore has been underwhelming during his time in Indianapolis, although the offensive line hasn’t helped much. The Colts could consider cutting the veteran back before the final year of his deal to save $3.5 million, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Indy hold onto Gore as part of a rotation with a younger back, one who will take over as the starter in 2018 and beyond.That back will most likely come in the draft, given that this is a relatively robust draft class of halfbacks. Indy could feasibly consider Leonard Fournette, if he drops to the 14th pick, although the Colts have too many holes along the line of scrimmage to spend such a high selection on a running back. It’s more plausible for Ballard to consider somebody such as Christian McCaffrey, if he slipped to Round 2.5. Add a second tight end. The Colts might be priced out of the market for Jack Doyle in a relatively thin tight end class, and they can’t really afford to pay their second tight end $6 million per year to line up behind Dwayne Allen. They could take a shot on somebody such as Luke Willson or Mychal Rivera, but more plausibly, this would be a position for the Colts to address in the draft.If his market falls to the $4 million range, though, the Colts might very well be able to justify bringing back Doyle after a breakout 59-catch campaign. Is he worth it? Hard to say. Over the past four seasons, no wide receiver or tight end with 100 targets or more has caught a higher percentage of the passes thrown his way than Doyle (79.7 percent). Not coincidentally, though, the average pass thrown to Doyle has traveled just 4.7 yards in the air, the lowest total in the league by nearly seven-tenths of a yard."
Nearly everything that Barnwell says is on-point, with one of the exceptions being that I would have ‘Find a pass rusher’ as the number one priority for the Colts, while ‘Fix the right side of the offensive line’ should follow closely behind at second–with ‘Get Arthur Jones to take a pay cut’ being pushed back to number three on the offseason grocery list.
[It’s also worth noting that outside linebacker Akeem Ayers is also not a free agent for the Colts, as the veteran is due a $2.6M cap hit in 2017.]
Regarding his actual rankings though:
1. Art Jones is due a $7.35M cap hit in 2017, and there’s absolutely no way the Colts can justify bringing him back at such an exorbitant price tag, as he simply hasn’t been able to stay on the field enough. When one considers that the Colts could sign a top-end free agent safety like the Arizona Cardinals Tony Jefferson for around that same cap hit (give or take $1-2M more), and it seems like a no brainer to either release or have Jones significantly restructure his contract.
2. The Colts would be taking a major risk by relying on a pair of 2nd-year offensive lineman, Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark, to solidify the starting right side of their offensive line–even if each showed flashes late last season. Rely on one? Sure. Both? No. Seems like a clear case of wishful thinking if otherwise.
Since young offensive lineman take time to develop either way, it would make sense that the Colts would look to bring in a veteran starter such as Larry Warford or Kevin Zeitler–both of whom can step in and immediately shore up a starting right side position. Bottom line, the Colts have to be better keeping their franchise player Andrew Luck healthy and upright going forward.
3. Pass rusher. Pass rusher. Pass Rusher. The Colts are going to have to ‘double dip’ in the pass rushing department by finding two impact pass rushers through either the early rounds of the NFL Draft or a proven player through free agency. If he can escape the Los Angeles Chargers franchise tag, a top-end pass rusher like Melvin Ingram clearly makes sense, and the Colts are armed with around $54M of cap space to get such a lucrative deal done. Nevertheless, pass rushers mentioned by Barnwell such as Nick Perry or Jason Pierre-Paul wouldn’t be bad consolation prizes in free agency respectively (although I’m not fully convinced ‘JPP’ escapes the New York Giants franchise tag either).
4. While I would disagree that starter Frank Gore has been ‘underwhelming’, as the veteran has managed to grind out yards behind running holes that simply haven’t been there consistently enough, there’s something to be said for Barnwell’s other portion of the take.
[In fact, Gore was the Colts first 1,000 yard rusher this past season since 2007.]
Specifically, I agree with the premise that the Colts could look to draft a younger running back in the early-mid rounds of this year’s NFL Draft (in what’s expected to be a deep running back class) in order to groom behind Gore for a season as his long-term successor.
The Colts could very well be tempted to draft a star running back prospect like Dalvin Cook or Leonard Fournette with the 14-15th overall pick, but in the end, my guess is they’ll look to draft a young running back a little later on in Rounds 2-4. If Christian McCaffrey somehow slipped to their selection in Round 2, I’d be all ears though–defensive needs, ‘shmefensive’ needs. That’s simply too good of a value to pass up and fills a major hole at a key position long-term.
5. If push came to shove, the Colts should cut Dwayne Allen if it means the difference in re-signing Jack Doyle, the latter who’s been the more productive and durable tight end over the past two seasons. Barnwell is correct though that it doesn’t make sense for Indianapolis to pay $6M to their second tight end–especially when there are so many holes defensively.
I wouldn’t be upset if the Colts slightly overpaid for Doyle as part of his non-starting role, as he’s a key core role player, sure-handed security blanket for Andrew Luck, and outstanding locker room presence–simply beloved by his teammates, coaches, and embodies ‘the Horseshoe’ at its finest. However, the Colts can’t afford to get in a bidding war with a tight end needy team either, as it simply doesn’t make sense from a salary cap standout and the overall needs of this roster to keep Doyle at all costs.
Overall though, it’s hard to disagree with Barnwell’s ‘5 moves’, even if there is some disagreement with their actual ranking in priority–as each of these moves has to be seriously considered this offseason if the Colts want to make the playoffs and return to their once winning ways.