Free Agency officially opens on March 14. Up until then, FPC Colts will be profiling potential free agent additions at each position. To kick off this series we begin with the Defensive line.
The defensive line has been a position group of strength the past few years and it didn’t disappoint last year, even if the team as a whole did. Colts added Jonathan Hankins and Al Woods who both had great years, grading out very well according to PFF, 85.0 and 84.1, respectively. Now with the transition on defense to a 4-3 under Matt Eberflus, the defensive line will be even more important than recent years. The Colts will rely on the front four getting constant pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterback whilst also holding up against the run.
The defensive line free agency class this year isn’t the best but still offers some potential. There are some more well-known names available but also some lesser-known options that have potential to be steals.
Sheldon Richardson has been pretty consistent throughout his career, never having a Pro Football Focus grade lower than 81. Richardson, 27, has long been a disruptive force in the interior, just last year he was credited with 36 quarterback pressures according to PFF, from the interior position. Richardson would be a great addition to the Colts defensive front. He is considered a top-tier talent by most and would demand a big contract; according to Spotrac, Richardson’s market value is around $11.9 million a year. At that price and with the Colts already invested in Johnathan Hankins on a big priced contract last year I believe the Colts won’t pursue Richardson.
Only recently released by the New York Jets, Muhammad Wilkerson goes straight to the top tier of this group. Wilkerson, who’s only 28, has been leaving off his name in recent years which has seen a dip in his performances. However, it’s undeniable that Wilkerson is a talented defensive lineman; he’s posted at least five sacks in a season four times in seven years. For an interior defensive lineman that is impressive. Even though during Wilkerson’s time in the NFL he has strictly played in a 3-4 defense his skill set and body type translates well to a 4-3 defense also. Wilkerson like Poe and Richardson would be a great addition to the Colts defensive front. Having been cut, whether it being his declining production or poor attitude, Wilkerson doesn’t seem to be in a position to demand a big contract. However, with his declining play and with reportedly poor off-field behavior, Wilkerson seems like too much of a risk unless a change of scenery is all that is needed.
Dontari Poe is probably most well-known for putting on a showing at the NFL Combine in 2012. However, after this great showing his rookie year was nothing short of a disappointment. Since his rookie year, Poe has been a dominant force, having four straight seasons with at least 22 run stops with a best of 30 in 2013. Poe also brings some upside in the pass rush department, in 2017 he logged a career-high 39 quarterback pressures in 2017. Poe has versatility in that he has played in both 3-4 and 4-3 defensive systems. Similar to Sheldon Richardson, Poe is seen as a top-tier defensive lineman in this Free Agency class so would demand a big contract seeing he took a one year price it deal with the Falcons last year. However, according to Spotrac Poe’s market value sits at around $5.7 million a year. At that market value, Colts would be smart to invest in Poe, adding him to the defensive line group they already have would be a big stride to improving the overall defense.
The Colts are in a position, due to a great cap space situation, to add to an already strong group along the defensive line. Adding any of the options mentioned would be a plus. In a perfect reality, the Colts would add Sheldon Richardson and the defensive line group would go from strong to dominant but this isn’t a perfect reality. So I think the Colts should add Dontari Poe this offseason. Ballard knows him inside out from his time in Kansas City, Poe has shown he can bounce back after a down year in 2016 and also show versatility in the ability to play multiple defensive schemes and in his play against both the run and pass.
Prediction: Colts sign Dontari Poe to a 3 year $18 million contract.
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