FPC Colts continues its free agency previews with Edge Defenders.
The Edge Defender, or defensive end in the Colts new 4-3 defense, is arguably the most important position on the defensive side of the football. They set the edge against the run and get after the most important person on the offensive side of the ball, the quarterback. The Colts had two elite Edge defenders in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, but since Freeney’s release and Mathis’ retirement, the Colts defense has been lacking in this area.
However, the Colts did add two very serviceable Edge defenders last year in free agency. Jabaal Sheard had a career year both in getting pressure on the quarterback and in stopping the run. Sheard finished the season with 5.5 sacks but generated 66 pressures and 30 run stops. John Simon had a solid year finishing with three sacks, 43 tackles, an interception and a touchdown but it was eventually derailed by injury. Even with these two additions last year the Colts finished second to last in sacks with only 25.
The Colts need to upgrade the defensive end position and could look to add to this group via free agency. Elite edge defenders rarely ever reach free agency hence why both Demarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah both received the franchise tag. However, the Colts will still have potential options in free agency.
Only recently released by the Chicago Bears Pernell McPhee enters the top tier of edge defenders in this year’s free agent class. McPhee, 29, was seen as a premier free agent signing in 2015. McPhee has notched 18 sacks in the last three years and has been a top edge defender in creating quarterback pressure too, notching 65 quarterback hurries since 2015. The biggest knock on McPhee is his injury history. McPhee has struggled to remain healthy the last two years which has seen a dip in his production. If we factor in McPhee age (29), his injury history and a slight dip in production then McPhee doesn’t appear to be in a position to be demanding big money in the free agent market. This would work in the Colts favor and could be had for a cheaper deal.
Aaron Lynch, 25, burst onto the NFL scene in 2014, after being drafted in the fifth round out of South Florida, posting six sacks in his rookie season. Lynch followed up his impressive rookie season with a just as impressive sophomore season notching 6.5 sacks. However, since his promising start to his NFL career it’s been nothing but downhill for Lynch, he’s only managed 2.5 sacks the last two years and even reported turned up to last year’s training camp weighing around 300lbs, which is about 30lbs over his usual playing weight of 270lbs. Character issues have followed Lynch around since his college years in which he was rumored to be one of the reasons he transferred from Notre Dame to South Florida.
Lynch has all the measurables you want in an edge defender: young (25), size (6 feet 6 inches and 270lbs) and explosion (10-yard time of 1.52 seconds at South Florida’s Pro Day). It’s whether the gamble is worth it with Lynch, his first two seasons in the NFL are proof he can produce but his latest two years show his attitude needs addressing. With this being said, Lynch will not be getting a big contract in free agency; the Colts could take advantage of this and offer Lynch an incentive driven contract to draw the best out of him.
Alex Okafor, 27, was arguably one of the main reasons for the New Orleans Saints turn around on the defensive side of the ball last year. Okafor paired with Cameron Jordan proved to be a good pass rushing duo, notching 17.5 sacks between them. While Okafor only managed 4.5 sacks himself he did manage to rank as Pro Football Focus’s 22nd ranked edge defender with an overall grade of 84.7. Okafor was also a force against the run posting a 12.6 run stop percentage according to PFF. However, Okafor’s season was derailed in November by an Achilles injury. With Okafor’s injury he won’t be in a position to demand a big contract, the Colts could acquire Okafor for relatively cheaper than expected because of the Achilles injury.
However, according to Spotrac Okafor’s market value sits around $9.4 million per year. At that salary it would put Okafor sixth highest paid defensive end. With the additions last year of Sheard and Simon I can’t imagine Chris Ballard paying Okafor that type of salary especially coming off an Achilles injury. If Okafor proves he’s fully recovered from his Achilles injury and Ballard can acquire him for significantly cheaper then he would be a good addition to the Colts edge group.
The Colts desperately need to upgrade their edge defending group, the free agent market doesn’t have any “big” names but does have some potential solid upside additions. I don’t expect any additions made to be the answer to the Colts edge problem, that’s where the NFL Draft comes in. Adding any of these options would be solid acquisitions but out of the three mentioned Lynch has the biggest ceiling whilst McPhee has the best-sustained production. With that being said I think the Colts add Aaron Lynch this offseason. Lynch has all the physical intangibles you could ask for he just needs to sort out the attitude problem. Surrounding him with mentors like Sheard and Simon would help this and signing him could prove to be an under the radar steal in free agency.
Colts sign Aaron Lynch to a 2 year $7million incentive laden contract.
Follow Elliot on Twitter @UKColtsFans.