Realistic Landing Spot Predictions for Melvin Ingram in 2021 NFL Free Agency
Going into his age-32 season, Melvin Ingram III should have plenty of suitors in free agency. He plays a premium position on the edge and had a productive five-year stretch before a knee injury derailed his 2020 campaign.
Ingram overcame knee and hip injuries early in his career and broke out with a 10.5-sack 2015 campaign. After the Los Angeles Chargers selected Joey Bosa in the first round of the 2016 draft, he and Ingram formed one of the best pass-rushing tandems across the league.
In 2017, they both earned Pro Bowl nods and combined for 23 sacks.
As a standalone threat, Ingram has scheme versatility. He's played defensive end and outside linebacker for even- and odd-man fronts. The 6'2", 247-pounder isn't just a pass-rusher; he's logged at least 10 tackles for loss in four of his last six seasons. He has also intercepted a pass in each of the last three seasons.
Considering his age and injury history, Ingram isn't likely to sign a contract comparable to the top pass-rushers on the open market, but teams should feel comfortable signing him to a deal at around $8-10 million per year.
Where does Ingram fit? Let's go through five realistic landing spots based on roster need, team salary-cap space and past connections with former coaches.
Ingram could jump to an AFC West rival in the Denver Broncos for three main reasons.
Denver has a difficult decision to make on edge-rusher Von Miller's 2021 club option. After missing the entire 2020 campaign because of a dislocated peroneal tendon, he has a $22.1 cap hit next season. The Broncos would guarantee $7 million of his salary if they exercise the option before the new league year begins on March 17.
Coming off a significant injury, the 31-year-old isn't a lock to play out the final year of his contract with the Broncos. Regardless of what happens with him, the Broncos have $43.8 million in cap space to add another edge-rusher to pair with Bradley Chubb. In a division with quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert and Derek Carr, Denver should load up on pass-rushers.
In addition to a potential need and the money to pay Ingram more than most teams, Broncos outside linebackers coach John Pagano has a past history with the veteran edge-rusher. He served as Ingram's defensive coordinator from 2012 through 2016.
The Chargers selected Ingram in the first round of the 2012 draft, which was Pagano's first season as the team's play-caller. The two could reunite under a brilliant defensive mind in head coach Vic Fangio.
The two impending free agents accounted for 39 percent of the club's sacks this past season. They also combined for 47 quarterback pressures.
The Colts have $44.7 million in cap space, which is enough to re-sign Houston and Autry on short-term deals. However, general manager Chris Ballard should inquire about Ingram's asking price as well.
Because of his age and injury history, Ingram may have to settle for a deal worth less than $10 million annually. If that's the case, he could become a cheaper alternative to Houston or Autry.
Indianapolis also has to make a decision on impending free-agent wideout T.Y. Hilton. If he doesn't return, Ballard may pursue another veteran wide receiver to build around quarterback Carson Wentz. With that need in mind, it makes sense to save money at other positions if possible.
Colts head coach Frank Reich had a close look at Ingram as a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the then-San Diego Chargers between 2013 and 2015. His familiarity with the veteran pass-rusher could give Indianapolis an edge over other suitors.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Las Vegas Raiders may have an inside track to signing Ingram if he's a top target on their wish list.
In January, the Raiders hired Gus Bradley to fill their defensive coordinator position. He had the same role with the Los Angeles Chargers from 2017 to 2020, and Ingram earned three straight Pro Bowl nods under his tutelage.
"When Ingram is back, he lights up the room," Bradley said to reporters (starts at 0:38).
If Ingram can put his knee issues behind him, he could become an example for Clelin Ferrell and Maxx Crosby with a few good years left in his career. Before injuries derailed his 2020 campaign, he recorded at least seven sacks in five consecutive seasons.
The Raiders would have to clear cap space for Ingram, but that shouldn't be difficult. They can cut slot cornerback Lamarcus Joyner and trade or release quarterback Marcus Mariota to clear $20.1 million off the books. Vegas has also had trade talks involving offensive tackle Trent Brown, per NFL Network's Ian Rapoport. Dealing him would clear an additional $14 million in cap space.
The Raiders drafted Joyner's potential replacement in 2020 fourth-rounder Amik Robertson. According to Rapoport, Mariota's trade buzz has faded, which may lead to his release.
After the Raiders make cuts to get under the salary-cap limit, expect them to use some of that money on their defense. Ingram has produced solid pass-rushing numbers in Bradley's system and seems like a solid fit for a team that ranked 29th in sacks this past season.
New England Patriots
For the first time in 12 years, the New England Patriots will chase another team in the AFC East standings.
The Buffalo Bills won the division last year with a high-powered offense that ranked second in both scoring and yards. Quarterback Josh Allen made significant strides in his third season, and he has racked up 1,562 yards and 25 touchdowns on the ground across his three-year career.
The Patriots must bolster their pass rush to take down Allen and the Bills. In 2020, Chase Winovich led the team in sacks (5.5) and quarterback pressures (37) despite playing only 58 percent of the defensive snaps.
The Patriots could lose multiple secondary pass-rushers this offseason. Adam Butler, Deatrich Wise Jr., Lawrence Guy, John Simon and Shilique Calhoun, who combined for 12.5 sacks this past season, are all set to become free agents.
New England is projected to have $66.5 million in cap space to retain its rotational defensive linemen, but none of those players compare to Ingram as downhill defenders pressuring the pocket.
Even after his injury-shortened season, Ingram would easily be the best pass-rusher on the Patriots' current roster.
New York Giants
Even if the New York Giants re-sign or franchise-tag defensive lineman Leonard Williams, they'll need help on the edge.
In 2020, Kyler Fackrell led the Giants' outside linebackers in sacks (four) and quarterback pressures (14). Barring an extension, he's set to become a free agent.
Oshane Ximines (shoulder) and Lorenzo Carter (Achilles) played only nine games combined because of injuries. Both defenders still need time to develop on the edge. As a battle-tested veteran, Ingram could serve as an example for the two young outside linebackers while filling a void within the Giants' front seven.
The Giants have $6.1 million in cap space, but they can clear $16.8 million off the books if they release left tackle Nate Solder and safety Jabrill Peppers as post-June 1 cuts.
Solder opted out of the 2020 season, and rookie first-rounder Andrew Thomas took over the left tackle spot in his absence. The Giants selected safety Xavier McKinney in the second round of the 2020 draft and signed Logan Ryan to play the same position, which makes Peppers expendable as well.
Team salary-cap figures and player contracts courtesy of Over the Cap.