Colts linebacker depth could take a big hit in free agency

Nov 13, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) braces for the
Nov 13, 2022; Paradise, Nevada, USA; Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (28) braces for the / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have one of the top two linebacker units in the NFL but Indy is at risk of losing some key players from that unit in free agency.

Despite an underwhelming 2022 season, the defense for the Indianapolis Colts had some very promising performances. With key players at every level, the Colts were especially strong at the second level of the defense, having some really good linebackers. Indy’s linebackers were dominant all season, and that was with Shaq Leonard, arguably the best linebacker in football, sidelined.

When healthy, Indianapolis has at least four linebackers who are capable of starting in this league. That’s why the Colts have a case for having the best linebacker unit in the NFL. The argument for the No. 1 group is between Indy and the San Francisco 49ers. Unfortunately, like the 49ers, Indy could be losing some key members from this dynamic group this offseason.

Shad Leonard and Zaire Franklin are still under contract for a couple of more years but Bobby Okereke and EJ Speed will both be unrestricted free agents this offseason. NFL insider, Jordan Schultz, has reported that league sources expect both Okereke and Speed to receive a significant amount of interest in free agency.

Colts could lose Bobby Okereke and EJ Speed in free agency

Indianapolis has already made peace with the fact that the team isn’t going to be able to retain Bobby Okereke. Okereke has established himself as one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Unfortunately, with Leonard and Franklin on the roster, the Colts won’t be able to give Okereke the kind of role or money that he will command in free agency. However, fans have been hopeful that Speed would be re-signed, but he may be more coveted than expected.

Okereke started 16 games over his first two seasons but has been a full-time starter in his last two years. He’s coming off a career best season where he played all 17 games and recorded 151 tackles, six for a loss, two forced fumbles and five pass deflections. He’ll have several teams trying to insert him into the middle of their defense to lead the unit.

Speed, on the other hand, has played more of a reserve role, starting only six games in his four-year career. However, he has shined on special teams and consistently made plays on defense whenever he’s gotten a chance. He is also coming off a career-best year, with 63 tackles, seven for a loss, one sack, two forced fumbles, and two pass deflections in 2022. There will definitely be a team ready to make Speed a starter.

While Okereke is as good as gone, the Colts will likely try their best to re-sign EJ Speed. Speed’s market will determine whether that happens or not. However this offseason unfolds, the Colts must make sure to rebuild their linebacker depth. Depth is what made Indianapolis a special unit and also how the defense still thrived without Shaq Leonard. Indy can’t afford to regress.

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