The Colts have put together a league-shaking trade for All-Pro DeForest Buckner. We take a look at the specifics of the trade and how the Colts are set up for future success.
Free agency has barely begun, and as usual, teams across the league are putting shocking moves on the table. Around the NFL, Texans WR De’Andre Hopkins was traded to the Cardinals in exchange for RB David Johnson and draft picks. The Dolphins are making huge moves with Shaq Lawson and Kyle Van Noy. Byron Jones is also a Dolphin and will be the highest-paid cornerback in the NFL.
At the forefront of it all is the Colts’ trade for 49ers lineman DeForest Buckner. The Colts have pulled one of the most surprising moves of the offseason, given the front office’s prior use of cap space being minimal at best. Let’s take a deeper look at all aspects of the Colts’ trade and how it shifts the team into a completely new direction.
The trade and its specifics
A very surprising move by the Colts front office, GM Chris Ballard has orchestrated a deal not on anyone’s radar prior to its completion. The trade was a straight-up trade for Buckner in exchange for a draft pick.
Colts give: 2020 1st round pick (13th overall)
Colts receive: DE DeForest Buckner
I wrote yesterday, merely two hours before the trade went through, that the Colts were showing no public signs of a direction regarding who they’d select in the draft at 13 and how they were still very much in the running for a top QB.
Speculation of a QB, WR, and defensive lineman all swirled around as possible selections for the team. There were no rumors for any trades with the 13th pick, either, so it’s even more surprising to see Ballard pull this move off considering his conservative approach in free agency and his belief of building through the draft.
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Buckner was not only traded to the Colts but also signed to a deal, as well. A reported deal of $21 million per year, the deal makes Buckner the 2nd highest-paid defensive lineman in the NFL, only behind Rams DL Aaron Donald.
Is the trade a win for the Colts?
In short, yes.
It ensures that that the Colts, a team ranked 16th in sacks last season, get a dominant pass rusher outside of an aging Justin Houston. Houston, while productive, doesn’t have more than 2 or 3 good seasons left before dropping in production.
Alongside young lineman Kemoko Turay and Denico Autry, as well as DE Jabaal Sheard, Buckner provides the interior force that the team needs to put more pressure on the quarterback. This gives the opposing QB much less time to read the field, resulting in a lower passing percentage overall.
With the Colts becoming the first team in NFL history to allow teams to complete at least 70 percent of their pass attempts in two straight seasons (ESPN Stats & Information), Buckner’s Pro Bowl talent will be certain to put an end to that record at two seasons.
What about the 13th pick?
Trading for Buckner has its drawbacks; the most major of those being the 13th overall pick. Without it, the Colts’ top selection becomes the 34th overall pick (2nd pick in the 2nd round). Similar to last season where the Colts traded away their first-round pick, it takes away the ability to draft a top prospect.
As discussed in an earlier article here, the Colts are now out of the running to draft a top QB and the teams’ draft strategy has changed significantly. Now out of the running for Jordan Love, Justin Herbert, etc, it suggests that Ballard either wanted one of the top four QBs but wasn’t willing to trade up or the fact that the trade-up would have been a waste of assets for a player who may not be franchise potential.
This also takes the Colts out of contention for top receivers Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb. Although it seems too much to give up a future star for Buckner, he’s already blossoming into a star himself along the defensive line.
The Colts were able to trade for a young and already established Pro Bowler without needing to give up any extra assets. Essentially, the Colts just selected Buckner with that pick. Wording it that way, it’s a much better deal for the Colts than selecting a lineman with that pick. It gives the Colts a surefire star at one of their biggest positions of need.
Trading the pick isn’t necessarily the worst thing when discussing the receiver position, either. While not being able to select Jeudy or Lamb, this class is still one of the deepest in draft history at the position. Michigan’s Donovan Peoples-Jones and TCU’s Jalen Reagor are two receivers with a large upside that are likely to be available at the 34th pick. It still gives the Colts the ability to pair another young receiving talent opposite TY Hilton, even without the 13th overall pick.
What will the Colts do at QB?
The big question remains: what are the Colts going to do at quarterback? Without the 13th pick, it seems, at least on the surface, that the team is shifting towards a free agent pickup. Phillip Rivers, because of previous rumors, is the frontrunner to become the next Colts QB. It’s entirely still possible the Colts draft a QB with one of their two second-round picks.
Rivers would ask for at least 18 or 19 million, most likely upwards of 22 to even 25 million per year. Under the circumstance that Rivers asks for around 23 million per year, that puts the team at 22 million in cap room left. With Buckner on a long-term deal and Rivers looking for at least 2 more years, the Colts would be in hot water when dealing with other contracts. Both TY Hilton and C Ryan Kelly will be looking for contract extensions in the next year, putting the team awfully close to not enough cap space.
The Colts hold the 34th and 44th picks in the second round and could very well select Jacob Eason from Washington and Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts. Both prospects in need of sitting out in their first year as pros, it wouldn’t be a bad situation to draft one of the two and start Brissett again next season. Brissett, while underwhelming, played well when healthy and can still be a short-term starter for the team as they look to develop a new young QB with more upside and potential.
Buckner’s presence on the defensive line will certainly bring the Colts defense at least into the top half of the league, possibly even the top ten. The team can still find high profile weapons to pair with Hilton and find their QB of the future, all the while landing an All-Pro level star in DeForest Buckner.