The old adage tells us that "offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships." That was true for the Indianapolis Colts this year where Andrew Luck guaranteed sellouts at Lucas Oil Stadium and even led them to the playoffs. That was in spite of a defense, however, that often surrendered yards in large chunks.
The Colts' offense needs some depth and tweaking, but is already among the league's best. The defense, on the other hand, still needs some critical parts to bring it up to the level where the Colts can compete for a championship against teams like Baltimore.
Particularly troubling was the Colts' 29th ranked run defense. That means some changes along the front seven. The Colts' own free agent situation will bring about needs in several key positions.
Dwight Freeney says he wants to retire a Colt, but he's most likely gone with no heir apparent at outside rush linebacker. Antonio Johnson and Fili Moala are both starters on the defensive line who are free agents. Moise Fouku was a spot starter at linebacker and a key special teams contributor who can also negotiate with any team once free agency begins.
Today, let's look at those free agents on the market on the defensive line who might be able to step in and help the Colts right away. As always, our lists aren't all inclusive, but focus on the players who we think will actually be on the market (not franchised by their teams) and who Ryan Grigson might be targeting.
Anthony Spencer- OK, our first defensive lineman listed would actually most likely play outside linebacker in Greg Manusky's 3-4 alignment. Spencer is Dwight Freeney four years younger. He's the perfect replacement for Freeney who would fit into a window of a three or four year contract as he enters his prime. He's also a Fort Wayne native and Purdue grad, so Indianapolis would obviously be a spot he would covet playing. Dallas tagged him last year and they couldn't work out anything long term, so I doubt they spend that label on him a second consecutive year.
William Hayes- Hayes can't crack the Rams' starting lineup because of Chris Long and Robert Quinn. He still recorded 7.5 sacks in limited playing time. The former fourth round pick of the Titans would get plenty of time in Indianapolis though.
Wallace Gilberry- Gilberry has been a career back up with Kansas City and this past year in Cincinnati. Still he has 19 career sacks including 7.5 this season for the Bengals. He's got experience playing in a 3-4 in Kansas City, so that shouldn't be an issue for him. An opportunity to start in Indy might be very appealing to the 28 year-old Gilberry. Cincinnati would love to keep him, but they've got a ton of free agents to sign this off season, including DE Michael Johnson. I didn't include him on this list because he'll likely be tagged by the Bengals.
If the Lions don't re-sign Cliff Avril, I still don't see the Colts pursuing the inconsistent end. He can be disruptive, but unfortunately he's shown he can disrupt things off the field as well.
The Colts might take a flyer on a player like Kyle Vanden Bosch if the money is right. I don't see Ryan Grigson overspending for older players, however. If he wanted to do that, he could re-sign Freeney. That leaves guys like Israel Idonije or Osi Umenyioura unlikely to wind up in Indianapolis.
What direction the Colts take here largely depends on what they think of the progress of last year's draft pick, Josh Chapman, who sat out this year rehabbing his knee. If they think the former Alabama run-stopper is their future Casey Hampton or Haloti Ngata, then they'll be looking to provide depth behind him. If they think he's further away, then they might take a run at a player like Casey Hampton himself. Even though Hampton is nearing the end of his career, the veteran nose tackle would be a Mwelde Moore-like mentor to the young Chapman.
If the Colts think an even longer term answer is needed, the market isn't rich with players with 3-4 experience, but here are some that are available.
Chris Canty- The Giants just cut Canty. He can play any of the positions along the defensive line, so it wouldn't be surprising to see the Colts go after him in any case.
Glenn Dorsey- The former first round pick of the Chiefs has been a bust thus far. Could he revive his career playing next to a leader like Cory Redding?
Sedrick Ellis- The same can be said for Ellis, the first round pick of the Saints in 2008.
Alan Branch- Branch has been great in Seattle's 4-3, but I think he would be a stud run-stuffer in a 3-4.
The rest of the pack isn't really any more enticing than Moala and Johnson. Both are still young at 28. Moala particularly really started to come on before getting hurt. The Colts may want to stay with what they know rather than risk money on uncertainty at this position.
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