On the first day of legal tampering, the Indianapolis Colts made a splash move: placing an exclusive rights free agent tag on wide receiver Daurice Fountain. Kidding, of course. The big news of the afternoon–at least outside of Houston and Arizona–is Chris Ballard trading his first round pick to the reigning NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers for their Pro Bowl defensive tackle, DeForest Buckner. Buckner also reportedly agreed to a new contract, with an average annual value of $21 million. Defensive tackle was a position in need, and Ballard aggressively acquired one of the best in the league. San Francisco signed Arik Armstead to a rich new deal earlier today, which made Buckner too expensive to keep. This move will impact the Colts’ remaining offseason decisions in a major way.
Now that their 13th overall pick is gone, the Colts will not be in a position to draft Justin Herbert or Jordan Love in the first round. They could still opt for a Jacob Eason type in the second round, but the Buckner trade seems to indicate a veteran free agent quarterback is in the works as well. Philip Rivers has long been rumored to sign with the Colts, citing his familiarity with Frank Reich and Nick Sirianni. Rivers would also be playing behind perhaps the best offensive line of his career, and that cannot be overstated. Who wouldn’t want to play behind three Pro Bowl blockers?
Biggest Remaining Needs
With the 34th and 44th overall picks still in tow, Ballard could always make another move to get back into the first round if a player he loves starts to slide. The Anthony Castonzo extension and Buckner trade cross off two of the primary needs heading into the draft. Signing Rivers would address another. That leaves wide receiver and tight end as the most pressing concerns, and players like Jalen Reagor, Tee Higgins, or Cole Kmet should be available in the early-to-mid second round.
How Buckner Fits
Ballard knows that Matt Eberflus’ defense only works with a relentless pass rush. Buckner has racked up 19.5 sacks, five pass deflections, and two forced fumbles in the last two seasons. He will turn 26 tomorrow (happy early birthday, DeForest!), and he is still very much in his physical prime. Combining Buckner with Denico Autry, Grover Stewart, and Tyquan Lewis is a formidable four-man tackle rotation. Justin Houston returns on the outside, Al-Quadin Muhammad flashed at times, Ben Banogu will hopefully take a leap in his second season, and Kemoko Turay should be fully healthy after breaking his ankle. A dominant eight-man pass rush unit propelled San Francisco to the Super Bowl. This group lacks the same sizzle, but it is a clear upgrade over 2019.
How Ballard continues spending money or making deals will further affect the team’s draft plans, but the Colts are clearly not content to sit on their heels and wait for things to happen. This team is determined to return to the postseason in 2020. DeForest Buckner will help them do that.