As free agency draws closer, I get more and more questions about who I want to see the Colts go after this offseason. I'll have some position-specific lists later this week, and Marcus will continue his PFF FA spotlight, but for now, here are my top five overall free agent targets for Indianapolis, not including their own free agents.
For what it's worth, Vontae Davis and Pat McAfee probably make this list if I include Colts. Also, this list is created assuming Davis and McAfee re-sign. It's not a list of free agents I think the Colts should sign all at once, but rather my top five targets considering the Colts needs and cap situation. If the Colts got one of these, I'd be happy. Two and I'd be giggling like a schoolgirl.
1. S Jairus Byrd, Buffalo
Pro Football Focus Grade: +9.9 (+9.5 coverage, +2.3 run defense)
Byrd is considered the best safety on the market due to his coverage skills. Byrd has 22 interceptions over the last five years, along with 33 pass deflections. Byrd has been in PFF’s top 10 for safeties in each of the last three years, and was eighth overall in 2013 despite missing the first five weeks of the season with a foot injury. It was the first time he’s missed since his rookie year, when he missed two games with a groin injury.
Byrd would allow the Colts to play more traditional strong and free safety roles, and would lessen the pressure of LaRon Landry (and everyone else) in coverage.
2. S T.J. Ward, Cleveland
Pro Football Focus Grade: +14.5 (+4.8 coverage, +8.1 run defense)
The best run-stopping safety in football, Ward combines aggressive run defense with solid coverage to be one of the best safeties in the game. According to PFF grades, Ward was sixth overall in 2012 and third last season, while leading all safeties in run grade in both years. Cleveland has all kinds of cap room, and may yet keep him, but they didn’t tag him and may be interested in bringing Jairus Byrd in instead, leaving Ward available.
More fallout from #Browns C Alex Mack getting the transition tag? TJ Ward hits the market, as expected. And Jairus Byrd enters CLE’s view
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 3, 2014
Signing Ward would allow the Colts to run a similar system as they did last season, using the SS and FS interchangeably. While this still isn’t ideal with Landry, Ward would be a major upgrade over Bethea.
3. C Evan Dietrich-Smith, Green Bay
PFF Grade: +14.2 (+6.1 pass block, +3.7 run block)
With Alex Mack and Dominic Raiola off the market, Dietrich-Smith is the best center left. The former undrafted free agent moved to center full-time in 2013, and broke out as a solid all-around option. Dietrich-Smith moves well, although he is a bit undersized at 6’2”, 297 pounds.
At just 28 years old, Dietrich-Smith had PFF’s sixth-best season last year, with “green” grades across the board. He’s not an elite center by any means, but he’d be an instant upgrade over Samson Satele.
4. WR Golden Tate, Seattle
PFF Grade: +10.8 (+10.5 receiving, -1.7 run blocking)
A moderately priced receiver who can be a strong No. 2 receiver, Tate would fit in well in Indianapolis with Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tate is one of the best post-catch receivers in the league, forcing a league-best 24 missed tackles and fourth-best 7.4 yards after the catch per reception in 2013. Tate has extremely good hands, dropping just three passes in 2013 (13th in drop rate among 94 receivers). Tate also can contribute on punt and kick returns, and led the league in PFF’s punt return grade last year.
While Eric Decker is a better fit for what the Colts need from a physical standpoint (bigger, better run blocker, better red zone threat), Decker’s likely cost of around $10 million per year puts him in “NO NO NO NO JIM IRSAY PLEASE NO” territory. If Tate can be had for $6 million per year, I’d do it in a heartbeat. He’d give the Colts incredible versatility with Wayne and Hilton, and would take some of the load off of Wayne’s shoulders as the go-to possession receiver on third downs (led Seattle in both targets and catches on third down last year).
5. ILB Brandon Spikes, New England
PFF Grade: +9.8 (+11.6 run defense, -3.6 coverage)
The Colts need a ‘hammer’ linebacker next to Jerrell Freeman to attack the line of scrimmage in run defense, and Spikes fits that role perfectly. At 6’3”, 249 pounds, Spikes would be a solid compliment to Jerrell Freeman, especially if Josh McNary continues to develop as a nickel linebacker. Spikes had PFF’s best run defense grade for an ILB last season and was second only to Paul Posluszny in run stop percentage. He also led all starting inside linebackers in tackling efficiency last year, missing just four tackles.
Spikes would be a bit of a liability in coverage, but that’s one of the things you get with linebackers. It’s very hard to find one, let alone two, inside linebackers that excel in both phases of the game. There are other veteran options if the Colts want to look at a short-term deal for ILB, such as Karlos Dansby (well-rounded, but may want a higher-paying contract than he’s worth at his age) or Daryl Smith (great coverage linebacker, terrible in run defense at this point in his career). However, when it comes to a what they need right now in the starting lineup, Spikes is a perfect fit.