Buying or Selling 5 Baltimore Free Agents to Indianapolis
With Indianapolis Colts' head coach Chuck Pagano's former employment to the Baltimore Ravens (a defensive coach from 2008-2011), Ravens' free agents are often spoken of in connection to the Colts. Colts fans saw the connection immediately result in free agent signings last season, as veterans Cory Redding, Tom Zbikowski and Brandon McKinney signed with the Colts.
With Baltimore now needing to re-sign Joe Flacco after a phenomenal post-season, a large part of its projected $15.1 million in cap space will disappear. A franchise tag would put Flacco's contract in the $14.8 million range. With the little room for other contracts, many have speculated on the possibility of additional ex-Ravens joining the Colts in 2013.
If any year is the year to splurge in free agency, it is this year for Indianapolis, who has the NFL's third-highest amount of cap room at $46 million. It's a distinct possibility that a large portion of those dollars could go to ex-Ravens, but which ones?
Ed Reed, a mainstay in Baltimore for over a decade and a future Hall of Famer, is becoming a free agent. While the veteran has thought about retirement, indications are that he is contemplating signing with another team this offseason. While Bernard Pollard still sees purple and black in Reed's future, others believe that teams like the Patriots or Colts would be possible destinations.
The Colts make a lot of sense with Reed's connections in the Indianapolis locker room. Chuck Pagano not only coached the Baltimore secondary before becoming defensive coordinator in 2011, but he also recruited and coached Reed at the University of Miami. Along with that, Reed roomed with Colts WR Reggie Wayne while at Miami, and the two have a close bond to this day.
However, would Reed be a good fit in Indianapolis?
On one hand, Reed is aging, slowing, and had arguably the worst season of his career this past season, grading out as Pro Football Focus' 59th-best safety of the 2012 season. While he still has the skills to cover, he struggled to defend the run at times and offers little as a blitzer.
However, Reed still has the knowledge and savvy to be a solid coverage safety, something the Colts' sorely lacked in 2012.
While Reed's play is degrading, his coverage skills are still good enough that he commands respect from opposing teams. This allows him to play center field as a deep safety, which, in turn, allowed Bernard Pollard to roam free closer to the line of scrimmage. The Ravens did this under Pagano in 2011, and it worked wonders for Pollard, who had struggled mightily in coverage in Houston.
If the Colts did something like this, it could be a huge boost for Antoine Bethea, who struggled next to Tom Zbikowski in 2012.
BUY: He's not my favorite option for safety, but if he comes reasonably cheap he could work very well in Indianapolis for a one- or two-year period.
Like Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe burst onto the scene a bit more recently, becoming a full-time starter in 2012. The every down inside linebacker has made a name for himself, especially in the postseason, by outperforming his fellow inside linebacker and future Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis.
For the Colts, inside linebacker is one of the deeper positions, with Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner all capable starters. However, none of the three are stars, and the position is certainly open for upgrades. Ellerbe would bring a lot of flexibility to the position as somebody who can play every down.
Ellerbe was fantastic as a run-stopper this season, using his speed and agility to fill gaps quickly. He finished 14th among inside linebackers this season in run stop percentage, which measures the ratio of run stops per snap.
Ellerbe also stands out as a blitzer, something that would be very useful in the Colts' new scheme. Ellerbe finished third in the league in pressure-to-snap ratio among inside linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Ellerbe can struggle in coverage against slot wide receivers, his quickness makes him a decent option in shallow coverages.
SELL: With Lewis retiring, Ellerbe is likely the only big name the Ravens will try to hold on to, outside of Flacco. If the Ravens can't afford him, the Colts' need at inside linebacker won't justify the hefty payday Ellerbe will be looking for him.
This year's free agent class of cornerbacks is deep, with a lot of mid-level talent type of guys available, but there is not much of a pool of elite talent. But Cary Williams could be one of the more respected of the group, playing the most snaps (not even counting the playoffs) of any free agent corner.
The Colts' need at cornerback is desperate, as starting Cassius Vaughn for half the season proved to be a completely failed experiment. Darius Butler could be a viable slot corner if the Colts choose to re-sign him and Vontae Davis is a decent starter, but at least one more starter is crucial to the team's championship hopes.
Williams has that starting experience playing in all 16 games in both 2011 and 2012, plus six playoff games in those two years.
Unfortunately, I don't see Williams as much more than an average starter. He graded out as the 48th-best starting cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus, being very inconsistent all season. If he could be had at a decent price, this may not necessarily mean a whole lot, but I fear that his price tag will be higher than it should be come March.
SELL: There are better free agent options (Sean Smith, Keenan Lewis, Chris Houston) at cornerback, as well as a fairly deep class in this year's draft. While the Colts' very well could bring Williams in to work with Pagano once again, I would still argue that he's not anywhere near the best option.
Most Colts fans got to know Kruger this past postseason, as he terrorized the Colts' offensive line to the tune of three sacks and 11 total quarterback pressures.
Kruger was easily the best pass-rusher for Baltimore on that day, responsible for 11 of the team's 26 pressures. That pressure was the key component to the Ravens' victory that day, as the Colts struggled to finish drives.
That kind of pass rush will be in dire need next season, as the Colts will likely lose classic Colt Dwight Freeney in free agency. Even though he is aging, doesn't fit the scheme and handcuffed the Colts with an enormous salary, he still was the leader in quarterback pressures by a wide margin.
So, outside linebacker will be a priority in the offseason, and Kruger just may be the answer.
Kruger is one of the best strong-side pass rushers in the business, finishing the season with the best pressure per pass rush snap ratio of any starting 3-4 outside linebacker. In Indianapolis' scheme, Kruger would likely stay at the SOLB position, pushing Robert Mathis to the rush OLB position, a more natural fit.
The only negative to a Kruger sign would be that he's merely average against the run at best. The Colts' biggest struggle this season, outside of pass protecting, was stopping the run, and Kruger is only a slight upgrade in that regard.
BUY: While I would prefer a guy like Anthony Spencer, who rushes just as well as Kruger but is a much better run-stopper, Kruger would be cheaper and a very good piece in the 3-4 puzzle.
No, Anquan Boldin is not supposed to be a free agent this offseason, as he still has one more year left on his contract.
Nevertheless, Boldin could hit the open market due to the Ravens' cap issues. Cutting Boldin would save up to $5.5 million, and the veteran wide receiver will turn 33 next year. Adam Schefter says the move "very well may happen."
If Boldin is released, then Indianapolis fans will immediately look at him as a possible candidate for the No. 2 WR position, which should be vacated by Donnie Avery.
Boldin no longer can consistently get separation, but is a big, physical and tough wide receiver who can go up and get the ball at the apex of his jump. He showed it all postseason with a phenomenal 22 catches for 380 yards and four touchdowns.
Boldin could be a perfect complement to Reggie Wayne (playing the quick, possession role) and T.Y. Hilton (playing the speedy, downfield threat) in the Colts receiving crew. He would fill the need as a bigger receiver, and one that can functioning red zone threat, something the Colts struggled with this season.
SELL: While I wouldn't dislike the move (personally, I love Boldin), I think the Colts will try to go younger here. They already have one aging, slowing receiver in Reggie Wayne.